Thursday, 31 July 2014

Opera: Cosi Fan Tutte

Last night's plans were changed when I ended up going for unanticipated birthday drinks. Well, I didn't have anything booked, and what I was planning on doing wasn't as attractive..

Then, Time Out delivered quite a shake-up for today. There I was, anticipating a film, and they throw up Cosi Fan Tutte, by the Pop-Up Opera. Ooh, lovely! I thought. Dalston. Really..? Twice in one week? Cruel and unusual punishment! Not railing against Dalston, just against the amount of time it takes to get there, and more particularly, to get back, since by that time of night there are no more direct Clapham Junction trains, and I have to change at Willesden Junction - which generally involves a considerable wait. O well.

Now, the pop-up opera does what it says on the tin - they pop up in unusual venues, for one night only, perform an opera, and pop off again. So, tonight they were in a place called the Dalston Department Store - a deserted warehouse. Entry was by industrial lift. Ooh! Now, it wasn't selling out, but given that I didn't know what the story was with buying tickets on the door, it being a non-typical venue - and given that there was a countdown timer on the website, showing how long was left to buy tickets.. I thought, maybe I'd better book. So I did. Then researched how to get there and back - I discovered it's just past the Arcola, where I usually go in Dalston. For some reason, Google Maps was reluctant to let me come back by Overground - as was TFL - but I carefully checked the timetable and saw that I needed to make a train back by 10.55PM; the ticket said the show would finish at 10.30PM, so that should be fine. Checked my route on Streetview, and what time train I needed to get on the outbound journey, and I was off.

The train I got to Dalston Kingsland this time was a bit earlier than the one I got last - and it showed. The earlier time meant there were a lot more commuters, and the train was packed! On such a hot day, the journey was really unpleasant, and I was dripping in sweat by the time I got a seat, a few stops later. At that point, I could read my paper, where I came across a couple of interesting, theatre-related articles. The first highlighted how London is the theatre capital of the world; witness the figures. The second was a warning about a ticket website - Best of Theatre. Now, I'm sorry, but the people who wrote this article must be very naïve. I don't see a single thing that this website does differently from others. Yes, they sometimes charge more than face value - they all do that. Yes, they sometimes charge more than the official ticket site does - they all do that, too! As I ALWAYS say, shop around!! and ALWAYS check the official vendor. There have been several occasions when I've bought from the official site, because they did the best deal. In fact, I usually go with third-party vendors only when the official site is sold out - not for a better deal. You will rarely get a better deal than with the official vendors. Sometimes, not often.

It was a relief to get off the train and into a cool breeze. I turned right from the station, and proceeded down the road, past the snazzy hoarding, past Dalston Junction station and past a map that showed me I was headed in the right direction. Turned left when I got to the Haggerston pub, and followed the road. By now, there was a crowd in front of me, all of whom were headed the same way. We proceeded to the warehouse at the corner, where a long queue had formed - the lift, it transpires, only holds ten at a time, one of whom is the operator. I was glad I'd got my ticket in advance - so had everyone else, it seemed, and while I figured they'd probably have given me a ticket on the door, I was glad not to have to test my theory. I couldn't see a cash box.

The poor lady taking the tickets had fallen down the steps and injured her ankle - they'd put some ice in a plastic bag and tied it around the ankle, which was propped on a chair. They explained the story to everyone who came - which somewhat added to the delay. Hey-ho, people were asking. We crammed into the lift, which is quite snug when full, and the operator had to squeeze his arm through us to actually get to the controls to let us out! We stepped into a spacious basement, where there was a cloakroom just at the entrance, and further in, a bar to the side, at the back, then folding chairs facing the stage area. There was a piano to one side of the stage, a screen to the other, and a fan operated throughout the evening. Even so, it got a bit stuffy, and hand fans were much in evidence.

Seating was unallocated, and it was already half full when I arrived. I decided an aisle seat was the thing - easier to see. I later decided that an important consideration for this production is to see the screen, because that's where the surtitles are projected. The chairs weren't the most comfortable.. but I forgot all that as soon as the show started.

Because this company is truly fantastic! They are young opera singers, and boy can they sing. The great thing about non-traditional venues like this is that they come and sing amongst the audience, and - especially on the aisle - you can easily end up with one belting out an aria right beside your ear. Believe me, that's an experience. Other points about sitting on the aisle: 1. Keep your feet in, there's a lot of running up and down. 2. If you sit anywhere near the front, you are likely to be included in the show. In some small way - don't worry, no singing required!

Oh, and those surtitles? Well, let's just say they take some artistic licence. They give a gist of the show, in a very irreverent way. I mean, my Italian is rusty, but I don't think that Mozart mentioned Skype anywhere in the writing! Hilarious. A top-class show, for a bargain-basement (literally!) price: every scene was followed by raucous cheers and loud applause. It's only a pity I can't recommend you go see it, because it was one night only. But do check out their website for upcoming productions! BTW, although they started late, and the interval ran late, they still finished before the advertised time on the ticket - a relief for me, having such a long journey to make. And as I waited at the station, I noticed that Irish flag is still there, flapping in the breeze.

Well, it's back to Ireland tomorrow, for the weekend. For Monday, it's a film - and the film listings are as sparse for next week as for this week. There just isn't a lot out right now that's very good! So it's still looking like The Purge: Anarchy.. Oh, and unbelievably, I scored a ticket to Richard III on Tuesday! Courtesy of lovetheatre, and glad to get it! Premium seat too - Row C, of which I'm glad: I hear Rows A and B are liable to be splashed with blood..

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Film: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window...)

...and Disappeared. Or The Centenarian Who Climbed Out the Window and Vanished. Or alternative translations!

Yes, I've done the top-recommended plays on the Time Out page, so I'm back to films - and with a shake-up in the IMDB ratings, this was the highest rated film showing today that I hadn't seen and would be interested in! I'd seen the trailer, so was confident that I'd like it, and off I went to the Prince Charles cinema after work. Of course, that meant a crammed Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square - I didn't get a seat, and I was dripping in sweat by the time I got off. It didn't help that the weather has turned hot again - at least we got a respite yesterday!

Mercifully, there wasn't a queue, and I soon got my ticket. I didn't think I'd have to give the whole title, and indeed, trailed off as she went to ring up my order. I treated myself to a reasonably priced Sprite, which I drank while I waited for the upstairs cinema to open. This is the smaller of the two screens here, but still a decent size, with nice, reclining, leather seats. There weren't many there, and seating is unallocated, so it was easy to get a good seat.

This film is, apparently, based on a best-selling book. Well, it's a helluva yarn! It's a Swedish comedy. The title, helpfully, tells you what happens in the first five minutes. Our hero is a 100-year-old explosives expert, who ends up in a nursing home, where he's rather bored. So one day, he eases himself out the window and heads off. And, as you might imagine, he has many adventures. Mind you, he has form - we get a fair number of flashbacks of an eventful life, that have him involved in the Spanish Civil War, working on the Manhattan Project, meeting Stalin, spying in the Cold War.. and all because of his love of, and capability with, explosives.

Yes, it's completely over the top - as is what happens to him, and his bemused comrades, after he escapes from the nursing home. But it's deliciously funny - think of the kind of humour employed in Fargo. The one point where it falters is in the depiction of world leaders -  Reagan, in particular, looks as though he's wearing a rubber mask, and I don't wonder we don't see him in close-up. Gorbachev ain't convincing either. The others I can't vouch for - I've only ever seen photographs. But you know, it's a small gripe about what is a very enjoyable film. Go see, give yourself a laugh!

Afterwards, I needed food - hadn't had time to eat before the film - but didn't fancy anything fussy. So, rather than the obvious option of Chinatown, I wandered round the corner, where I found a Garfunkels, and was well fed. Good food, really friendly service, not a bad price. Funny thing though - what is it with Garfunkels and drinks orders? Most places serve the drinks first - in Garfunkels, you're left waiting..

For tomorrow's film, it's looking like David, the story of a little Muslim boy in New York, whose Jewish pals think he's one of them. Showing in JW3, apparently a Jewish cultural centre. Well and good, as long as what happened to me the last time I went to see a film in a Jewish centre doesn't happen again..! (See my post on "The Lady in Number 6".) What worries me is they're geographically quite close, and may be run by the same people. Well, I'll go have a look anyway.

Play: Holes

I am certainly ploughing my way through the plays listed in Time Out! Six plays I've been to now, in just over a week. Last night was Holes, showing in the Arcola Tent. Now, I didn't know they had a tent.. anyway, they said payment on the door should be cash, so I figured I could pay on the door (booking didn't seem heavy). And I got out some cash. And at the appropriate time, I moseyed down to the station to catch the Overground to Dalston Kingsland. Dalston Junction is actually slightly closer, but Dalston Kingsland is more convenient for me, given that I can get the Overground straight there.

The trip was so long that the free paper I picked up at the start of the journey was finished a good bit before I got off the train. I finally got a seat about 2/3 of the way there. Witnessed a woman with a "Baby on Board" badge have to ask a fellow a couple of times before he'd get up and let her have his seat - I guess he figured "age over beauty". Probably didn't see the badge at first. Anyway, she got it eventually.

From the station, hang a right and head for the hoarding across the road. That hoarding is on Streetview, it's been there for years. I did notice, last night, however, that the colour on that side of the road has changed from blue to red! Very snazzy. Take that street and follow it around - you soon come to the Arcola. I, of course, was looking for the Arcola Tent, so I kept going. Streetview hadn't been exactly sure where it was, but if you just persist, you come across a (I guess, temporary) wall with "Arcola Tent" prominently displayed. The tent itself is just inside that, and I joined the queue of people who mostly had to to collect tickets. Despite the "cash-only" warning on the website, she asked whether I wanted to pay cash or card - gave me a slip of paper that she'd scribbled on, and I was in.

Seating is on folding chairs - not the most comfortable: an elderly gent sitting near me decided, near the end, that the floor would be better. Legroom is fine, though. The place was more than half empty - glad I didn't pay a booking fee! This is theatre in the round. A circular stage is covered in sand, empty but for a lone stick at the start. This is the desert island that our heroes are stranded on, following a plane crash. There are four characters, and the play progresses from comedy to something darker.

Now, three of these characters work in the same company, and were on their way to a conference. So.. what you're essentially watching is "what would you do if you were stuck on a desert island with the people you work with?" and it is hilarious. You have the head of HR, slightly past her prime and fixated on Ian. Ian is the guy who blusters as if he knows everything, but actually doesn't. And there's Gus, who might actually know something, and whose prime concern when he discovers they won't make the conference is that so-and-so will take credit for his work. He, unfortunately, has broken his arm, leaving Ian as the self-appointed saviour of the group. The characters are brilliantly drawn. And there's a bemused 16-year old girl, who was orphaned in the crash, and finds herself the outsider in this new group. She has a role to play later on, though.

Yep, this is well done. It's always a shame to see something poorly attended, but that's the problem with out-of-town productions. Anyhoo, if you get a chance, it's worth a look - runs until the 9th. There is a basic bar at the entrance, BTW. The running time advertised on the website doesn't include the interval, as stated - so it's just over two hours, altogether. Sadly, I was just in time to miss a train back, so had to wait 15 minutes. During which time I noticed a large Irish flag outside a nearby house. Go figure. In the evenings, there are no direct trains back to West Brompton, so I had a 20-minute wait at Willesden Junction as well. The perils of the Overground, eh? Well, at least it's cheaper! So anyway, by the time I finally got home (and the rain that had been promised found me, just as I was around the corner from home!), it was too late to blog - hence the delay.

Well, having gone through pretty much all the plays at the top of the Time Out listings, I find myself back at films again! I was just re-checking the IMDB ratings, and there's a big shake-up.. there I was, all set to go see The Purge: Anarchy tonight - but I find that it's dropped to 7/10! So that leaves me with The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, showing in the Prince Charles. It's a Swedish comedy. Trailer looks good! And it'll be a relief to remove such a long name from my film list.. Actually, it's looking like films up to and including Thursday (subject to change). There are higher rated films on tomorrow, but for Thursday.. if it's a film again, I will be going to The Purge: Anarchy. So I'm just swapping the nights around! And this is momentous, because it'll be the first time since I moved here that I saw a film rated at 7.. except for films I saw for free..

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Play: Antony and Cleopatra

It was deliciously cool this morning - only about 21 degrees. Google Maps advised me that it would take 36 minutes to get to The Globe - in the event, it took me about 40. Tube to Mansion House and walk across Southwark Bridge. Clever of them to suggest that - I had Blackfriars in mind, but you can see from the map that Mansion House is closer. Their directions are really improving!

The only problem with Mansion House is the last time I was there, I got hopelessly lost looking for a bus stop. It's a complicated junction. So I spent ages poring over Streetview until I was sure I had a fair chance of finding the bridge, which you can't see from the station. In the end, I found my way quite easily. You get your first view of the Globe as you cross the bridge..

Yes, it's that little white building, snuggled in amongst all the bigger ones. Takes no time to get to once you're across. I queued for my ticket, noting that both of today's performances were sold out, as were all the tours - I overheard someone inquiring. Of course, as it was pointed out to her, the tours are more restricted in theatre season. Yes, this is a venue you need to plan ahead for! As I mentioned before, the official website was sold out when I looked, and I got my ticket from lovetheatre.

I really arrived too early.. the doors from the ticket office to the theatre don't open until nearer half an hour before showtime. Today, for a 1pm start, they opened at 12.20. At the same time, the ornate iron gates leading directly to the waterfront open - that's for people who already have their tickets. Or, if you want to make a grander entrance, you could go round that way after you collect your tickets. Otherwise, while you're waiting, there's a bar and giftshop, toilets, and somewhere to sit.

When you're let through into the "piazza" - the area right in front of the theatre - there are bars, an usher going around with a tray of goodies, and a cushion-hire kiosk. Cushions are strongly recommended, by the way, although you can bring your own if you'd prefer - seating is all on wooden benches. I asked about seat backs, but she asked to see my ticket, and said that I probably wouldn't need one - I was in the front row of my section (yay!) and could lean on the balcony. Also, there was a kind of railing behind me, that I could lean against. So I just took a cushion, for £1.

As I waited for the theatre doors to open, I noted the names on all the plaques on the ground - sponsors, I take it. I see Prince Edward has one, over by the theatre wall - good man! Lots of people with the Shakespeare name as well - they probably felt somewhat obliged! Finally, we were let in, and the nice lady told those of us with Upper Gallery tickets to keep going all the way to the top. I was actually the very first in my section. As we passed the Middle Gallery, on our way up, an usher dashed out to us, calling frantically, "Hold on! Hold on!" We assured her that we were headed further up.. It wasn't a difficult climb, anyway. The stairs are wide, and flights short - there are just a lot of them. But not a problem for people with fear of heights.

There were only two rows in my bay, and yes, I was in the front. Second from the end, before the divider from the next section. I had a feeling that no-one would come to the seat inside me, and so it proved - I guessed that lovetheatre had a pair of seats, of which I'd bought one, and they couldn't sell the other. Good job! the legroom is snug in this front row, and in the Upper Gallery, the railings are bunched tighter together than in the Middle Gallery, so you can't stick your legs through them as you can there. So, like last night, I spent the show twisted to the side. It is great to have the balcony to lean on though, and yes, in the Upper Gallery there are safety railings in front of each of the rows behind the front, so that gives you something to lean on. I noticed that, in the Middle Gallery sections to the side, there were benches with backs. I also noticed a wheelchair there, so the Middle Gallery is wheelchair-accessible.

Well, I do love lovetheatre, they gave me a great seat..

Not dead centre, but almost, with a great view of  the stage. Note, in this shot, the side doors for the actors' entrances and exits, and the musicians' gallery. Below it is a pair of large double doors, for the entrance of larger set pieces - closed at the moment. You can take photos only until the actors come on stage. Standing tickets, in the "yard", are just £5, if you have the stamina. Note also that if it rains, umbrellas are not permitted in the yard, but they do sell rain macs. The stage and seating are covered. As the afternoon progressed, it heated up considerably, to the point where it became uncomfortable to lean on the balcony - the wood was too hot. But we did get some welcome cooling breezes.

Well, this is the place to see Shakespeare! The acoustics are terrific, although the actors did stop wryly from time to time to let a plane or helicopter pass overhead, until they could be heard again. Still, they have an easier time of it than in The Scoop, where they don't have such great acoustics! As the show progressed, the odd bird swooped in to sit above the stage, or on the roof above the galleries. Don't forget - this venue, and ones like it, are where his plays were designed to be performed. Certainly, the way Antony and Cleopatra was played today was perfect, with plenty of musical diversion, actresses flirting with men in the audience around the stage, stage effects including very realistic blood bags, and some dramatic stunts with men swooping in on ropes. The interval finishes with a soothsayer gutting, and reading the entrails of, a goat - and I cannot say that it wasn't a real goat, it certainly looked it! So, something to watch if you haven't gone for a drink. All good fun, just as intended.

Although a tragedy, much of this is played as a comedy, and all the better for it. Cleopatra, in particular, is great fun, flouncing around the stage, making the most of being Queen of Egypt. The musical accompaniment is fantastic, and despite the long running time, it's an experience that never drags. I highly recommend seeing anything here, of course - as I left, I looked around, and recognised sights I'd seen on the tour I took, years ago: and I remembered how jealous I'd been that this was a place you were supposed to come to see a play! and they were sold out that day, too. Do try to get to see this - see the website for details of dates of pre- and post-show discussions. Runs until 24th August.

I thought about visiting the toilet before I left, but the queue was too long and it wasn't urgent. I hadn't had time to eat much before I left, so food was next on the agenda. Stay well away from The Swan, adjoining the theatre, for food, unless you have very deep pockets! However, there are three restaurants on the way to Southwark Bridge. I've eaten in the Pizza Express before, and it's good, with a great view of St. Paul's - but I ate in Pizza Express yesterday, so fancied a change. There's also a Greek place - but I've seen Zizzi's restaurants so many times and never tried them, I thought I'd try that. What a mistake, and what a pity, after such a great day! I was quite quickly seated, facing the river - although the view isn't as nice as at Pizza Express, it's ok; you can watch the boats, you get a good view of a fine old river-facing building across the way. The pinot grigio I had was lovely, the garlic bread was excellent. But for my main course, I had, essentially, chicken and pasta in a tomato sauce. Frankly, I'd have expected better from a supermarket microwaveable meal. It was pretty tasteless. And what little chicken there was, was obviously dark meat. As for the mushrooms I was supposed to have - I think I spied one. Well, half of one. And when I wanted the bill, there wasn't a hope of grabbing anyone! When I did, it took her so long to get it that I asked someone else - finally ended up with two bills! No, I won't be back - as I told them in the survey they invited me to complete.

Never mind.. tomorrow, what's coming up is a play called Holes, at the Arcola Tent (ooh, they have a tent!) It's about survivors of a plane crash - topical. I do hope the weather is cool enough not to put me off..!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Play: Bring Up the Bodies

Stepping out of my room today was like stepping into an oven. If I hadn't had Bring Up the Bodies booked.. well, actually, I'd probably still have gone, considering what it is!

For once, they were letting people through the grounds of Earl's Court exhibition centre, which makes a handy shortcut - I'd normally have gone from West Brompton, but I had to run to Tesco first. On the way, I passed a chap dressed as Superman. Ok.. then, as I passed through the exhibition centre grounds, Lara Croft and a French maid passed me. Ah, there's something on, I thought. As I passed the front, and some Manga characters, I saw the sign for Hyper Japan, running all this weekend..

Now, despite Bring Up the Bodies booking more slowly than Wolf Hall, to which it's the sequel, the official website was still sold out, and the cheapest tickets I managed were from Seatwave. This meant I had to head to their office in Moorgate first to pick up the tickets. Ah, but I studied Streetview very carefully, and knew the building wasn't far from Moorgate Station. Indeed, they give excellent directions on their own website - beside Barclay's, opposite HMV. And then, I knew I had to continue in the same direction for the 76 bus to Aldwych, on the same side of the road.

The trick was to exit the station on the correct side of the road - I could see on Streetview that there was an exit on each side. Well, the exit signs at the station were helpful - one said "Moorgate - Eastern side, Southbound buses". Yes, that would be me then! I did a quick reccie when I exited - there was the HMV, across the road - there was the Barclay's, right where it should be. I trotted the few yards down to no. 120. There were signs about how the doors were locked and to contact the security guard. Handily, he was at his desk, and motioned me to the end door. "Seatwave?" he asked as I went in. "Yep," sez I. I had to sign the visitor's book, then took the (tiny) lift up to the sixth floor, as per directions on my booking confirmation. Entered an empty lobby. A woman approached behind glass doors to my right, opened them and asked my name. Yep, those were my tickets she was holding. Step 1 accomplished! She asked for no id other than the card I'd paid with.

I toddled off to my right, looking for the bus stop. Found it just as my bus arrived! Got a seat and sat back to enjoy the ride. I don't generally travel by bus, and particularly not in this part of town. It boasts some gorgeous buildings, and some imposing banks. We passed the Royal Courts of Justice, which I remembered visiting on one of London's Open House weekends - the year before last, now! We also passed St. Paul's, which was thronged with tourists, and where I saw one of the more unusual tourist sights of my experience. As we drove along, coming against us was a pedibus: a metal frame, with a guide sitting up front, with nothing to do but look smug, and a bunch of tourists (I presume), pedalling frantically along behind to propel this contraption along the road. Nice work if you can get it..!

I disembarked in Aldwych (Step 2 accomplished!) and went in search of food. I figured the pickings were better here than in the City at the weekend. Now, I knew not to bother with the Indian or the Thai restaurant here - they're ok, but overpriced for what you get (remember, you're in tourist-land now). So I went for Pizza Express, which gave me just what I expected, with good service and welcome aircon! Also v nice wine, and a great soundtrack. Had they been more attentive, I'd have ordered dessert as well, but what the hey - it was really too hot for it, and they don't have a great range of sorbets.

I headed up the road to the theatre - had to enter at the side, for the grand circle. Made my way through the bar to the toilets, which were very cramped, then back to the auditorium, where I found my seats (I'd had to buy two) had been upgraded! Always nice. Still in the grand circle, I'd been moved forward a few rows. As the rake is quite steep, I was glad of the railings on each side of the steps - most of the rows also have low rails at the back of the seats in front. Strangely, the seats in our row didn't tip, which made squeezing in and out a bit tricky. I must say, legroom for Row G was uncomfortably tight for me - I looked enviously at the patrons in Row D, which has an aisle in front. Although there were some free seats scattered throughout the grand circle - and good luck to those who upgraded themselves! - I didn't see anywhere I could reasonably move to. I was glad of the free seat beside me, considering I spent the whole show twisted into it to give my legs some space. Ironically, online reviews lead me to believe I'd have had more legroom in Row K, which I'd been upgraded from!

Well, I was really looking forward to this production, having seen what they did with Wolf Hall. As I said before, you're in safe hands with the Royal Shakespeare Company - they know their craft. Fantastic, sumptuous costumes - a sparse, but adequate set - terrific use of lighting, and terrific skill in zipping from one scene, seamlessly, to the next, in this pacey tale. The acting is top-notch, of course. You do lose a bit of the impact, this high up, but not enough to be a worry. Wolf Hall dealt with the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the fall of Cardinal Wolsey, and Thomas' support of Henry VIII in the ending of his first marriage so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. In Bring Up the Bodies, the Machiavellian politics continue, as she falls from favour, and those who feel she has wronged them take their revenge. But a strong sense of humour permeates most of the story - until the unavoidable, dark ending.

These are based on the Booker Prize-winning books by Hilary Mantel - thing is though, a third book in the series is due to be published next year. I mean, we're not done with Thomas Cromwell yet! He lived and schemed for a few years more after the events of Bring Up the Bodies.. I actually tried to read the book of Wolf Hall and found it dense, with far too many Thomases - it was hard to keep track. I found the play much easier to follow, and will await a third stage version with glee!

Recommended for anyone who likes political shenanigans. Or Tudor costume. Runs until 4th October.

And now I'd better hurry to bed - not only am I tired after all that running about in the heat, but I have to get up earlier than is my habit tomorrow - I have a ticket (courtesy of lovetheatre) for tomorrow's matinee of Antony and Cleopatra at The Globe! Not only is that all the way across town, but I need to arrive early to book a cushion - all seating is on wooden benches! Still, I'm excited to get to see a play there - I have done the tour, and it looks great.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Play: The Nether

Well, I'm back in the saddle again! See, the last two days, it was just too hot to think of going anywhere - certainly, of traipsing to the other side of town. Today, I might have gone to The Scoop, but by lunchtime there were ominous clouds in the sky, and at lunchtime there was torrential rain, thunder and lightning. It never really improved all afternoon, and was raining again by evening - so an outdoor venue was out of the question.

With Richard III still not showing any availability, I came across The Nether, which has the advantage of showing at the Royal Court Theatre, really close to me. The synopsis sounded interesting, and after the interactive trailer, I was hooked. So I booked myself a seat in the balcony - the cheapest, non-restricted view.

Now, Google Maps assured me that I'd be there in 15 minutes. Fair enough, but the website had also said that there was an interactive kiosk in the lobby, and I wanted a go at that - so I said I'd leave a bit early; I wasn't doing anything else anyway. Good job I did - I'd just arrived in the station when I heard an announcement that the Wimbledon branch of the District Line had delays because of a signal failure at Putney Bridge. Unfortunately, I'd just missed a train - you get a view of the tracks on the approach to the station - and had to wait about 10 minutes for the next. All the trains seemed to be going to Edgeware Road, so I said, especially considering the infrequency of the service, that I'd better catch the next one and change at Earl's Court - and that's what I did. I was waiting a considerable time for the next train to town, but I was only going three stops further on, and the theatre is right next door to Sloane Square Tube station. Just turn right - you can't miss it!

I arrived with 10 minutes to spare. The tiny lobby was quite crowded, but I got my ticket without too much delay. Ironically, although the theatre is called "Jerwood Downstairs", you still have to go upstairs for the balcony - the "Jerwood Upstairs" is one more floor up. There had been no interactive kiosk in the lobby - which corresponds to the circle of the "Jerwood Downstairs" - but the foyer of the balcony had one, which I played with for a bit. It's a Second Life type of experience - the graphics are good, but they don't provide much detail. I do recommend making your avatar fly, it's quite cool. After a couple of minutes of that, I was ready to take my seat, which was in the middle row of the three rows in the balcony, and in the centre of the row. I'm glad I wasn't in the back row - its view seems to be impeded a bit by the ceiling spotlights. As for the front row of the balcony, the website warned that it had restricted legroom. Mine was ok, although it helped that the couple on one side of me moved over one when they realised the seat on their other side was free.

Now, the reason that they have an interactive trailer on the website, and a Second Life type kiosk in the foyer, is that this play is set in a not-too-distant future, where most people spend most of their time in "the nether" - the new name for the internet, essentially. There are five characters in this play, although two of them only exist in the nether, and are alter-egos for two of the "in-world" (real, if you will) characters. One of the in-world characters is a detective, working for a "nether investigation unit", and the play concerns itself with the question - if you commit a crime in the nether, (a) should it be considered a crime in-world, and (b) does it have any ramifications in-world?

This is a very clever play. Well, I thought it was fascinating. I do wonder whether the people in the stalls are at a disadvantage, considering that the in-world characters spend most of their time sat at a table with a screen on top, that gives the appearance of being interactive - a la touchscreen computing. I'm not sure you could see it from the stalls, and for that reason I was glad to be seated upstairs. There is a display on the wall behind them, but it doesn't show exactly what's on the table, and I wouldn't have missed that.

The in-world action serves to remind us of the plotline, but - as did the characters the detective is questioning - I found the sections set in the nether the most fascinating. For those, a digital display on the rear wall resolves gradually into a photograph, then a panel opens in the centre of the rear wall to reveal a raised stage, surrounded by disorientating mirrored walls, and with transparent steps leading up to it from different sides. Until someone does enter from the side, it's impossible to see where the entrances and exits are! It's also completely removed from the style of the rest of the play, as we see this ideal world, created by one of the characters in a Victorian style. With a twist, which I shan't give away, except to say that paedophilia is involved - that's not a spoiler, it's on the theatre website.

And so we return to the question - does the fact that it's happening virtually make it ok? If so, how far are you prepared to go with that thought? And does any of this have real-world consequences? Me, I loved this! Highly recommended, if the subject interests you at all. 1 hour 20 minutes, no interval - so over nice and fast - as someone remarked on the way out, "It's still light!" Adult viewing only - many people will find the content disturbing. Runs until the 9th.

On the way home, at least I got a direct Tube - and got to watch the passengers play "Tube bingo" as two Wimbledon-bound trains were stopped on adjacent platforms at Earl's Court, and literally hundreds of passengers decamped from my train to catch the other, figuring it would leave first! Maybe because it was a newer model. I decided to stay put - I wasn't in that much of a hurry. And - nyeh - mine left first. (Cue smug expression.)

Well, tomorrow, I'm finally getting around to seeing Bring Up the Bodies. I should have seen it ages ago, when I saw Wolf Hall, to which it's the sequel. Staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, they're based on the Booker Prize-winning books by Hilary Mantel. Set at the court of Henry VIII, they tell the story of Thomas Cromwell, who rose high in his favour by supporting and enabling his marriage to Anne Boleyn, despite the inconvenient fact that he was already married. By the time of Bring Up the Bodies, however, Henry has begun to tire of Anne, who has merely managed to provide him with a daughter, despite her promises of a son. And one of her ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, is waiting in the wings.. I loved the first, and am really looking forward to the second. Despite booking being slower for this than for Wolf Hall, the official website was still sold out. After much shopping around, the cheapest tickets - by far - I found were on, where I got two resold tickets for not much more than face value for one! Even though I had to buy two, they were still far cheaper than the next best price. Granted, they're in the rafters, but I hope the view is ok. I have to go to the office in Moorgate first to collect them, then take a bus to the Aldwych Theatre. Will probably grab a bite to eat somewhere in between, given that there's a gap between the office closing time and showtime.

And on Sunday, I'm going to see a play in the Globe for the first time! I've done the tour, but never seen a play there - I'm headed to the matinee of Antony and Cleopatra. The only availability was on Now, the seating is on wooden benches, so I'll have to try and hire a cushion beforehand..

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Play: Intimate Apparel

Firstly, we had a birthday lunch yesterday for two folks from the office - one whose birthday had just passed, one whose birthday was actuallly yesterday. The venue chosen was Alborz, a Persian restaurant I've often passed but never yet patronised. Persian, huh? Well, I had never eaten Persian before, but the menu looked inoffensive enough - as they point out, it's not spicy, like Indian - so I said I'd give it a shot.

22 of us finally agreed to go (oh, and another showed up later). It's not a long walk from the office, but my, it was a sweltering afternoon. Now, apparently someone had rung them before we set out. To warn them. Unfortunately, said warning seemed to go unheeded, as they seemed completely surprised when we descended upon them! Never mind, the place was empty, and they just took all the tables at the bench against the back wall, and pushed them together. Ironically, the birthday girls ended up sitting at one end.

..and then we waited for a very long time. Just as well most of us didn't have to rush back! It duly transpired that what we were waiting for was for the sole waiter to finish putting bread in little baskets. Uh-huh. So, when he'd finished doing that - and his mum, or whatever, provided him with hummus on plates for us to spread on the bread, he finally deigned to take our orders. As someone remarked, he should have taken drinks orders before he bothered with the bread - but I guess they're not used to crowds! Anyway, I ordered apple juice - no alcohol here, even had I not been at a lunch with co-workers: although you can bring your own - and a skewer "combo" - one chicken, one lamb. They come with rice as standard. You could choose to have your lamb three different ways - "tender fillet", "shish fillet", or minced (meatballs). I chose the tender fillet. We also had some fun with the lamb casseroles, which were listed on the menu as vegetarian. :-)

..and then we waited for a very long time. Meantime, mum was behind the counter, flinging apples into the food mixer. Someone who saw my drink - they were delivered to the table as they were ready, thankfully - thought it looked good and ordered one for himself. He was in a position to see what she was doing, and informed me that it took 4.5 apples to make one drink! Sure enough, it was quite the appliest apple juice I've ever had. Applier than many apples I've had, in fact! Drink it fast though, before it oxidises. Thoughtfully, in due course they provided us with a jug of ice cubes, and a spoon.

The food did take a while to arrive - we laughed when we heard what sounded like a grill, eventually being turned on - but it was well worth it. I was glad I'd had the skewers - the casseroles looked a bit watery for my taste, although those who had them proclaimed them delicious. The skewered meat had been removed from the skewers prior to serving, thankfully. So I got a line of beef and a line of chicken, a heap of rice to the side, and some salad. In short, the lamb was utterly delicious and worth a return visit. Went very well with the lemon they provided for you to squeeze over the rest of the food. The chicken was very tasty, but by the end I found it quite salty - I think I'll concentrate on the lamb if (when?) I come back. The rice was perfectly cooked. O yes, yum.. we were well fed, although we didn't have dessert. Mind you, the whole thing took about two hours (with just the one course and drinks) but, as I say, they don't seem used to crowds. And who's counting, anyway? ;-)

So, last night I had a ticket booked for Intimate Apparel, at the Park Theatre. I'd never heard of it, but Time Out does throw up unusual things from time to time. Came well recommended, with the playwright apparently having won a Pulitzer for another of her works. The official website had completely sold out, so I got a ticket - at a small markup - from Wasn't looking forward to the trek across town, though. Still, these things usually work out well. Mind you, for some reason, I always think that Finsbury Park - the nearest station - is on the Overground. It isn't, but I don't get there very often, and I suspect my delusion will continue.

No, it's Piccadilly Line. Well, they're more frequent than the Overground, at least! And then it's just down from the station - as long as you take the right exit; I've made that mistake before, and know to be careful. So I looked up the location on Streetview. A little tight for time, I decided to take the Tube from West Brompton, rather than just walk to Earl's Court. Luckily, it took only a minute before one arrived, and I did make it faster than I'd have walked. Got to Earl's Court, made for the Piccadilly Line. And the *&)*O&^%* down escalator wasn't working again! This is the third time that's happened to me lately - twice here, and once at Waterloo, when they'd turned off the escalators, I think deliberately, late at night. Now, that's all well and good - unless you have bathmophobia. Now, I did have railings, but walking down an escalator presents two problems - firstly, the steps are larger than a conventional stairs, which means more work and is more awkward. Secondly, the lights overhead were shining on the treads, and it was - last night in particular - quite dazzling. Not appreciated, TFL!

Anyway, I made it to Finsbury Park. And the fun started. A signpost in one direction pointed to Seven Sisters Road, which I had noted carefully was on the wrong side of the station. So I went the other way, traipsed all the way to the exit, and saw I was on yet another wrong side. So I traipsed back. Had another look at the sign, and saw that there was a second sign under it, indicating Wells Terrace, which I knew to be near the theatre. Pointing.. the same way as Seven Sisters Road. With a sigh, I went that way, and saw that the corridor forked up ahead, one way leading to Seven Sisters Road, the other to Wells Terrace. Lovely. I took the Wells Terrace exit, trotted straight down the road a bit and there it was. Where I last left it.

Queued for a bit in the chaotic bar / ticket office, only to be told that my printed confirmation would do for a ticket. Good thing I always print them out! I was in the circle, so made my way upstairs and followed the rather confusing signage to the correct side. Took my (bench) seat - nearly at the end of the row - and just had to get up to let in one gent, who turned out to be sitting on the bench just inside me, and chattily told me how it had taken 25 minutes to find the theatre. O yes, that can easily happen if you take the wrong exit..

And so to the play. Boy, was I glad I came to this! As I say, the author's writing credentials were established, and this was a delight to listen to. Set in 1905, the language is a little more formal then we're used to, but that's no bad thing. The lead character is a negro seamstress in New York, the play is about how she spends her days making dainty lingerie for ladies of all social classes, and about how, at 35, she is desperate for a husband - seen as the necessary accomplishment for all young ladies. So she's delighted when a worker on the Panama Canal starts to correspond with her, and things start to develop between them. But is all as it seems? Her friends are certainly dubious about her pinning her hopes on someone she's never met. Is she wise to stake her future on a dream?

The nature of her work acts as a metaphor for our glimpses into the inner lives of her and her friends - the intimacy of the garments she spends her time making matches the intimacy of the characters' revelations to the audience. And oh, her performance is stunning! This part, it struck me early on, could have been so bland. Really, the character is illiterate, inexperienced, slightly prudish. She doesn't use fancy words. She could have been quite dull. But she's played with a quirkiness that's a delight to behold - a sense of fun, and of hope. This is quite some acting, and her perfomance alone makes it worthy of a West End transfer, which I'm sure it'll have in due course.

Cheers and salutations, this is a terrific show! Only runs until Sunday - rush out and see it while you have a chance. Tonight and Friday are sold out on the website, but tickets might be available elsewhere. There's still availability for other performances. Interestingly, my companion pointed out, at the interval, that the audience consisted of mostly women. He was right.. well spotted, sir! I dunno, maybe it's considered the theatrical equivalent of a chick-flick. Whatever - this is better than most of what's on right now, and I consider myself lucky to have seen it.

Coming back, I showed my companion the way to the station, and we were back most of the way together on the Tube. A pleasant chat shortened the journey. If you're reading this, Gerry, it was lovely meeting you, and I hope you get to see lots more good shows in London!

Of course, by the time I got back, it was too late to blog - hence the delay. As for tonight.. it's coming up as The Scoop, where the London Bulgarian choir is performing at 6.30. Mmm, yes. I'm sure they're very good, but then I'd have to schlep across town at rush hour - it's one thing trying to get across town for 7.30, but for 6.30 is that much harder. And I have to wash my hair. I might skip it. For tomorrow, it's a great pity - there's a concert on there at lunchtime that I'd love to go to - but lunchtime isn't doable. I'm not interested in what's on there tomorrow evening. And there's no availability for Richard III for tomorrow. I'd love to see Bring Up the Bodies, but it's not on tomorrow - they alternate with Wolf Hall, to which it's the sequel, and which I've seen. Fathers and Sons is completely sold out for the rest of its run. So.. back to film! Norte, the End of History is a Filipino film, showing at the ICA, topping my list in terms of IMDB ratings. A reimagining of Crime and Punishment, it seems.. and weighing in at four hours. Ooh..

Monday, 21 July 2014

Play: Invincible

I wasn't really in the mood for going out tonight, but had already booked Invincible at the St. James Theatre. Well, at least that's not too far away - so off I trotted. I didn't need to look up directions, nor how long it would take - I know the way well. The trip wasn't without incident, however - the platform indicator at West Brompton is out of order again, and I ended up just taking the next train and changing, as usual, at Earl's Court. The District Line being what it is, we stopped a couple of times before getting there, and the train I changed to had time to arrive, let passengers leave and more board, and move off, while the one I'd left was still standing at the platform. I still arrived at exactly the time I thought I would, and had time to use the rather snazzy toilet facilities at the theatre, for the first time.

I was in the front row, right around to the side, and was rather dubious about the legroom, especially as the seats either side of me were occupied. Well, the chatty, elderly gent to my left promised to move down if the seats were still unoccupied when the show started, but in the end the fellow on my other side, on the outside of the row, decided to move back to a row with a better view - we were at the level of the actors' lower legs, in the front row. Those seats were more expensive, but many were unoccupied. So, the upshot was that I had space to leave my stuff, and to sit sideways, so legroom wasn't too much of a problem. After the interval, the fellow on my other side did the same. So I spread out with great glee, on both sides!

The view was ok - yes, at most points, some actor or other's face was obscured, but it wasn't so much of a problem. And it's nice to be so close to the action. Indeed, when someone on stage dropped a glass at one point and it shattered (one of those that's meant to, I believe), bits ended up in my lap. Talk about feeling included..

Now, this is described on the poster as a "black comedy". I checked, on my way out, because I wasn't entirely sure what I'd just seen. It transferred from Richmond, which means it was a big hit. I can see why. It is very funny, no doubt about that. The characters are readily recognisable types, and there are a couple of topical themes - England's performance in the World Cup, and British soldiers serving in the Middle East. Thing is.. as I say, it's very funny. I laughed out loud at several points. The elderly chap beside me - more of a theatre buff, I think - seemed less impressed, but I do like to be entertained, and I was glad I came.

And then there's the last scene. It's undeniably dramatic, changing the whole mood of the play. And.. then the play ends! Er, did I miss something? Whatever logical explanation I can come up with for the abrupt change of direction, I have to conclude that it just didn't work. I think I get what the writer was getting at - challenging our preconceptions - but it's too extreme a shift in direction, and it doesn't gel. Still, a enjoyable evening - despite the disapproval of theatre buffs (this theatre seems to attract them!) and despite the exorbitant, £3 ice creams. Well, I was hungry - that's the problem with these early starts, no time to eat beforehand. On the way home, I treated myself to a meal at the Buckingham Balti. It's a while since I've been here, and I'm afraid their butter chicken has gone downhill - very bland. I won't be having it again. Still, the peshawari naan was delicious, and a good smell came from whatever the guy at the next table was having, so I won't be boycotting them completely!

The play runs until the 9th - not heavily subscribed, should be no problem getting a ticket.

Tomorrow, I've booked yet another play - Intimate Apparel, at the Park Theatre. It's one of those longer journeys, but what the hey. It was booked out on the official website, so I ended up getting a ticket on Interestingly, I was looking for tickets to Richard III, with Martin Freeman, for Wednesday - it's getting good reviews - and thought I was in when I saw availability on Booked it, and over lunch they contacted me to apologise, and explain that there was an error on their website, and they could offer availability from the 5th, if I wanted. I decided to cancel.. that's too far ahead to plan!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Heathrow Terminal 2

Just back from Ireland - much later than usual. Before I head to bed, let me add a quick note about Heathrow Terminal 2, which I used this weekend for the first time.

Aer Lingus changed to Terminal 2 during the period since I last flew to Ireland, so this weekend was the first chance I had to experience it. I thought I was going to miss my flight on Friday, actually - left work a bit later than I'd have liked, then it turned out there were signal problems at Acton Town, en route to the airport, which meant delays and extra stops. And incessant apologies from the driver. Combined with a sweltering day, this was not a fun journey - at least things got back to normal after Acton Town.

The same Tube stop serves Terminals 1, 2, and 3, so the first thing I had to do differently was turn the other way when I exited the Tube - I previously used Terminal 1. The passageway to Terminals 2 & 3 is nice and modern-looking.. lots of escalators. I emerged at ground level, which was exposed to the elements, to see a bright and breezy terminal building, mostly made of glass. It does occur to me that it was nice this weekend, but that could be a damned cold approach in winter!

Arrivals are up another level, Departures another level from that. So I had plenty of time to scrutinise the building as I ascended. It then occurred to me what it reminded me of - it's the spit of Terminal 4 at Barajas. (My mother remarked that people are also saying it's identical to Terminal 2 at Dublin airport - I guess that's the standard for airport design currently.) The glass walls were handy, as I was able to see Aer Lingus check-in as I was still outside, so knew exactly where to go. Not that it should be too hard - there are only four check-in areas here.

No queues, so a very pleasant experience going through security! Smiley staff, too. Mind you, as the lady in the (upstairs) duty-free shop remarked, wait until more than four airlines are using this terminal.. as I replied, I'll enjoy the quiet while it lasts! She also pointed out how there's a nice view of the runways.

Shopping extends over two floors - more expansive than Terminal 1. Even in the main part of Terminal 1, there wasn't this much space - and if you were going to Ireland, you were shunted into a side-section anyway, where there was a small WH Smith and a Wetherspoon's. Nothing on this scale! (I guess they'll have to take down that "Emerald Gateway" sign now..!) Anyway, I had plenty of time to explore - delays earlier in the day had the proverbial "knock-on effect" and my flight was delayed by an hour.

They were giving out money-off vouchers at the entrance, although you have to buy a considerable amount to be able to use them - so I didn't. Upstairs, where you enter, is mostly eating and drinking - there is, as I say, a small duty-free, but there's a much larger one downstairs. Along with several expensive brand-name shops, and the obligatory WH Smith. Where I bought a bottle of water. I headed for the self-scanning tills, but I think they need a bit of work - you need to scan your boarding pass, but no matter what I did, I couldn't, and someone else was having the same problem.

Kudos to whoever designed the seating - it's fantastic. You realise, the moment you sink into it, that it's ergonomic. Toilets are spacious - plenty of room for cases. Integrated, individual dryers above the sinks - I like that. Ultimately, my flight was called, and I trudged along to the gate. And trudged, and trudged. Although the walking distances probably are shorter, as claimed, they haven't done away with them entirely! And, sadly, our gate was one without a nice view of the runway. Annoyingly, when they announced the start of boarding (finally), they apologised for the "slight" delay. Huh?! As I muttered, I'd like to see the dictionary that describes that delay as "short". Equally annoyingly, the second level of security, between the metal detectors and the gate - the one where they compare your photo to the one that was taken when you entered security - is now right at the gate, where it just slows down boarding. Grrr - very bad idea. All-in-all, though, a pleasant boarding experience.

Returning, our flight was delayed again, by over an hour this time - weather, apparently. Well, we eventually landed, and de-planed. To find ourselves at the end of a queue before we were even off the jetway! Well, we eventually saw that this was due to congestion in the area just off the jetway. A flight attendant called to us to please vacate the jetway, as they had to close the doors. We did our best.. finally, she made her way through the corridors to see what the problem was. Ten minutes, we were standing there! As we waited, I watched two mothers with small babies wait at the "buggy collection point" in the corner to the side. No buggies, of course. One of them ultimately went back onto the plane to see what the story was. And then we were off, finally. Through lots of corridors. Again, I guess walking distances are probably less, but they're not insignificant. I did like that there's duty-free here as you land - they don't have that in Terminal 1. Signs outside direct you to lifts to get to the Tube, ignoring the escalators.

Nice terminal. Just don't expect not to have to walk. And I'm a bit dubious about the arrivals procedure - although maybe it had something to do with us arriving late.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Invincible, at the St. James. Front row, for the sake of a cheap ticket - hope the legroom's ok!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Concert: Hard Facade

Hard Façade abandoned the studio for tonight, to play a gig at Suraya, in King's Cross. Hey-ho, those of us who could dragged ourselves across town. First on, too.. I worked late and left straight from the office. A Piccadilly Line train took me straight there, then it was a not-too-long walk up Pentonville Road, till I came across it on the left. I had bought my ticket online - cheaper - and completely forgot about it until the guy at the door gently reminded me. Anyway, my name was on the list (didn't I feel rock n roll!) and, after a stamp on my arm, I was in. And, contrary to appearances, they do serve wine!

I hardly had my drink in hand when we were told the band would be on in one minute! The concert venue is downstairs - a screen at the top of the stairs shows what's happening on stage to the bar patrons. Just as well - the downstairs area is tiny. As is the stage.

Hard Façade did look a bit cramped up there. Indeed, I really thought Nabeel was in danger of falling off at one point - and the space barely gave them room to move, much less express themselves. However, it didn't prevent them from expressing themselves through their music - and we all agreed, this was a great performance. Musically, if not physically. I really think they've improved - the songs are coming through more now. And the quality of the first few songs, in particular, blew me away. I wonder whether it's the studio time that's helping. Anyway, I can begin to see myself buying this stuff. Best I heard all evening - although I did leave after the third band. Just a pity the set wasn't longer.

A quick word of praise for the second band, Southway. I don't see myself going out and buying their stuff, but you gotta admire their mad energy! Catchy, entertaining. And when she runs through the crowd with a tambourine, you can't help but get involved..

Well, I'm off to Ireland tomorrow, via Heathrow Terminal 2 for the first time. On Monday, I've booked for Invincible, at the St. James Theatre. Unusually, it's transferred from the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond, where it proved very popular. Equally unusually for the St. James, with its snug legroom, I'm not sitting on an aisle. However, I am in the front row, and hopefully the stage is at the same level and I can stretch my legs..

Musical: Forbidden Broadway

Well, I was looking for something to do yesterday evening and came across Forbidden Broadway, showing at the Menier Chocolate Factory. It's a satire of everything currently showing on Broadway (and the West End), and I do believe I've seen it before, but it would be years ago - and they've since included new shows, like Once and The Book of Mormon. The kind of show you can always keep fresh, in fact. And when I checked, they had exactly one ticket left.. and the website wouldn't let me change my billing address. I had to ring the box office to do it for me. But at least I was spared having to decide whether to include a voluntary donation..

Now, I had a minor internal groan at the thought of going to the Menier Chocolate Factory. Nothing against the venue - it's just so far away from me and takes so long to get to! And I had to try to grab something to eat beforehand. Well, Google Maps said I could leave at 7.15 and make it with 10 minutes to spare - mercifully, showing time is 8. I bolted my microwave meal and left at 7.15. Raced to the station, and was just in time to see my train pulling out. So much, as usual, for Google Map's walking estimates! The next train headed to town wasn't due for 10 minutes, so I grabbed the next train heading to Earl's Court and changed there for a train into town, just across platform. And then we sat there for several minutes. And when we moved, we must needs stop again, between stations, and wait again there. Oh, but the District Line drives me mad.. Anyway, we eventually made it to Westminster, where I changed for the Jubilee Line. I just missed a train, but this being the Jubilee Line, there was another due in 1 minute, and it wasn't long before I was in London Bridge.

Now, whatever it is about London Bridge Station, I can find my way to the Jubilee Line from any entrance, but when I'm exiting, I only ever see two options, neither of which was most convenient. Never mind - knowing that the Tooley Street exit was the furthest from where I wanted, I took the Duke Street Hill one instead. The walk isn't too long, but given that it was now 7.51, I could have done without the extra. I had checked it on Streetview, and found the place without problem. Went in the door, and explained to the slightly alarmed-looking person there that I had a ticket for the show. (It was about start time by now.) "Has it started yet?" she called to the person at the box office door. It hadn't. I dashed over there, she checked my name against the two tickets she was holding. Yes, one was mine. She led me through and directed me where to go. I barely had time to draw breath before the show started - good job I had forgotten my phone, so didn't have the bother of turning it off. Seating here is on benches, and reasonably comfortable - although back support isn't great, and mine was a bit stiff by the end. There are no upper levels, support columns, or curvature of the auditorium, so the view is fine from everywhere.

Props are minimal. There's a baby grand piano at the side, a sign over it with the name of the show. And glittering curtains fringe the stage. The show consists of four singers - two hes, two shes - and a pianist. And, with numerous costume changes, they recreate lots of the major shows currently running. The singing is top-notch - I recognise one or two of the performers from other things I've seen around town, but I can never remember their names.

Off the top of my head - they do Matilda, The Lion King, Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Miss Saigon (complete with tiny helicopter, suspended on a wire). They have a skit of Once, complete with a hilarious mocuk-up piano. The guy beside me was complaining to his companion that they hadn't done Jersey Boys, but they did in the second act. The most hilarious for me, and I think the audience in general, was their take on Les Mis. Worth the price of admission all on its own.. The thing I think you most take from it though is a desire to see the shows themselves, as the skits are sung to the showtunes. I was singing away to myself on the way home. Recommended, therefore, for anyone with a love of big-scale musicals. Runs until 16th August.

Nabeel has just been kind enough to send around a map with directions to Hard Facade's gig tonight in Surya. Tomorrow, I get to explore the environs of Heathrow Terminal 2 for the first time, as I fly back to Ireland for the weekend.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Films: Angels Are So Few & Only Make Believe

When I was looking for something to go to yesterday, and it came up as a film, the first of these films (Angels Are So few) came up as the second-highest rated (as per IMDB) film showing in London this week. The highest rated was, of course, Boyhood, which I saw on Sunday. This double-bill was only showing at the BFI, as part of The Ousider Inside section of their Dennis Potter season. And when I looked, it was mostly sold out - so I booked. Their cheap Tuesday tickets were already gone.. mind you, when I checked again (out of curiosity), annoyingly, they had one cheap seat left! I guess, the first time, someone had been thinking of booking that seat, but hadn't gone through with it.

Anyway, off I went, yesterday evening, to the BFI for the 8.15 showing. I see they're still doing construction work at Embankment station, which meant the exit on the BFI side was still closed. Anyway, I managed to get there just in time, if breathless. Good job my row was nearly empty, considering I arrived just in time for the screening, and was sitting almost on the very inside! As it happened, the two seats beside me were never occupied, although they had been booked. Anyway, that have me some room to stretch. And oh, the nice, cold air conditioning was welcome, given the sweltering weather we have this week!

After some speechifying by (a) a member of the BFI team, who SO sounded like he was reading straight from a script, (b) the guy who used to produce Dennis Potter, and (c) someone who acted in one of these films, although he's much older now and I couldn't tell which he was, the first film started. They were both part of the "Play for Today" BBC tv series in the early 70s.

The first, Angels Are So Few, concerns a scruffy young man, wandering the streets, claiming to be an angel and availing of whatever hospitality he can find. He meets his match, though, in the form of a bored housewife.

The second tells the story of a playwright writing the play, Angels Are So Few, for the Play for Today series. He's taking his wife's leaving him badly, and has injured his hand, so can't write the play himself and has to hire a typist. She turns out to be young and pretty, and as the play progresses, he finds himself more and more drawn to her, and some interesting parallels are drawn between their story and the story of the characters in the play.

Well, these really took me back! I have never seen them before, but the staging is so familiar - so many interiors were shot just that way on telly when I was a kid. And it's fascinating, how, as shown in these films, in those days sex couldn't be shown explicitly - you had to have some kind of overlay of pictures. Gosh, it's a while since that was true.. You can watch the second as a standalone, but it makes more sense to have seen the first, since it's based on it. Interestingly, in the second play, you get extracts from the first, with different actors (for my money, the first actor made a better angel - odder, with a hint of danger about him). One other observation - I really felt that housewife's frustration. My, how restrictive a housewife's lot was in those days! Yep, very interesting films to watch, if you can get hold of a copy.

As I headed back to the station, I crossed the bridge on the near side, figuring I'd cross under the bridge when I got over, to reach the entrance that was open. Paused for a moment to admire the beautiful view. When I got over, however, I discovered that the pavement was completely closed under the bridge as well! I walked up the pavement in the other direction for a bit, thinking to find a cross street that I could use to double back - but I soon discovered I was passing a park - which, of course, was closed at night - and it seemed to go on for quite a bit. So I returned to the bridge instead and had to cross the road, walk to the next set of traffic lights and cross back. Unfortunately, despite there being crossing lights, there are no corresponding lights for cars on the second half, and despite my crossing light being green, traffic was still pouring past me! So that was a slightly hair-raising road crossing..

Well, for tonight I was checking the Time Out listings, and came up with a new show. Forbidden Broadway is a parody of all Broadway & West End shows currently running. Sounds good, and when I checked there was.. ONE seat left! Showing at the Menier Chocolate Factory, which is no longer actually a chocolate factory. Now, it's been a while since I saw anything here, and my billing address has changed. And the website wouldn't let me change it! I ended up having to cancel the purchase and book over the phone. I guess they have now changed my address. Tsk, Menier Chocolate Factory..

Tomorrow night, Hard Facade returns from the studio for a one-off performance at Suraya, near King's Cross. And then, after a somewhat hectic week, it's back to Ireland for the weekend!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Film: Begin Again

I wasn't that keen on heading to the cinema again this evening - film fatigue, maybe! But anyhow, I said I would - Begin Again looked decent and is, conveniently, playing in my local cinema. So off I trotted in the evening sunshine, conveniently passing the postbox just as the postman arrived - an hour late, I might add - to make the final collection of the day. Handy - I had something to post!

Not so much of a queue this evening. Neither was I prevailed upon to go to a free screening next Thursday - I forgot to mention, but someone did offer me a ticket to one while I was queueing yesterday. Unfortunately, it clashes with Hard Facade's emergence from the studio into the light of day - well, night - for a one-off gig, at Suraya. Never mind. Today's cashier not only replaced my voucher - and let me choose my own seat - but gave me a second voucher when - well, I'm not exactly sure what happened, but it seems the system made her, not realising she already had. Never mind, I now have two again! And I got to choose my preferred seat.

Now, Begin Again has Keira Knightly as an undiscovered singer-songwriter in New York, who's playing a small club open-mic night when she's heard by Mark Ruffalo, an A&R man who's just been fired by his business partner, Mos Def, and who's massively impressed by what he hears. We soon get flashbacks to what led them here - not only has he been fired, he's separated from his wife (Catherine Keener), and misses her and their daughter very much. Keira has her own baggage - she's just broken up with her boyfriend, a rising rock star who's discovered the temptations of fame - played by Adam Levine, the real-life frontman of Maroon 5CeeLo Green also shows up a couple of times.

But this film is all about the music. It reminded me so very much of Once - remember that? A few years back.. a somewhat iconic film, set in Dublin, about a busker who meets a young lady that helps him produce beautiful music, and an ambiguous love story between them, despite the differences between them, and despite other parties being involved. This film is also set in a city, and tells the story of music made under difficult circumstances. Albeit they're more successful in this one, and she's not actually a busker - but she is staying with one. That romantic attraction is there, despite their other partners. The music is even of the same style. Ah yes, I kept thinking of Once. And do you know, it's not surprising - they have the same (Irish) writer / director, John Carney! Hey, an Irish actor even makes a surprise appearance as a lawyer towards the end - take a bow, Simon Delaney!

So, it's quite simple. To decide whether you'd like this film, listen to some of the soundtrack. Or the iconic song from Once - Falling Slowly. There's nothing to equal it in this film, but the main track - the one in the trailer - is quite good. And if you enjoyed Once, you are bound to enjoy this film. Because, again, it's all about the music. I'd go so far as to say (assuming you don't hate the soundtrack) that this is the kind of film to make you appreciate music again. I was certainly tapping my foot in time..

Tomorrow is a double-bill of films of quite a different hue - I'm off to the BFI to see a pair of Dennis Potter films: Angels Are So Few and Only Make Believe.