Monday, 30 March 2015

Play: The Cutting of the Cloth

Well, Meetup had nothing scheduled for tonight - which was something of a relief, after last week's antics! Instead, I turned to Time Out.. and after tortuous hours, on Page 26, I came across something that sounded like an option and wasn't sold out! The Cutting of the Cloth is showing in the Southwark Playhouse. I had a look around for offers, and found plenty - but none to beat the offer advertised on Hot Ticket Offers, which guaranteed 1/3 off the price on the venue website if you entered the code HOT. So I did, and booked a seat for tonight.

I set off in light rain; I'd had to look the directions up, it's been a while. Handiest for me was Tube to Embankment, then Bakerloo Line to Elephant & Castle. Of course, the District Line was as relaxed as usual - but I'd set off in good time. Thankfully. At Earl's Court, more sprightly souls made a dash for the train at the adjacent platform, which was also headed into town - but I was in time, as I say, and couldn't be bothered. Which was just as well, as we then waited there a further 5 minutes..

After a short stop upon finally exiting Earl's Court, we did eventually get to Embankment, where I changed, and got myself to Elephant & Castle. They actually have excellent directions in the confirmation email, and as they say, take the exit for the South Bank University. After taking the packed lift to surface level, I did - make sure not to follow the crowd if there's a crush to the left as you exit; there are more barriers to the right. Upon exiting, head to the left down Newington Causeway, cross at the crossing, and the theatre is on the right, just past the bridge.

Seating is on comfortable folding chairs, with plenty of legroom. And I hunkered down, ready for the performance. Now, this is set in a tailor's workroom, in 1954. We have four extant workers - the cranky old master tailor who won't use these new-fangled sewing machines, his put-upon daughter, another master tailor who favours the machines, and another woman whose relationship to him is unclear, but she may be his wife. Enter the naïve young apprentice tailor, who has the misfortune to be apprenticed to the cranky old guy.

They seem to be doing the tailoring for real. The sewing machines and steam irons do seem to work, and they spend much of their time stitching. It's interesting to see them hammer the jacket shoulders into shape. Sadly, that's about as much as is interesting about this play. It's a shame, I really wanted to like it. Time Out had warned that it had no plot, but I've seen good plays before that hadn't. The acting and staging are good.. it just lacked, for me at least, any engagement. I didn't see anything new in it. It reminded me most of an old play that you might watch on television, and it occurred to me that, if I came across this on television, I'd turn it off or change the channel. It seemed to be headed in a very predictable direction, and when the major dramatic climax of the first act arrived, I found it very ho-hum. So I left at the interval. At least the lift in the station was less crowded on the return journey..

Anyway, it runs until Saturday, if you're interested. Booking probably advisable - it was almost full tonight. And besides, then you can avail of that offer!

Tomorrow night, I'm headed there again, for These Trees Are Made of Blood. Set in Argentina during the Dirty War, I do hope I find it better than tonight's.. it was sold out for at least one performance, so I said I'd better book.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Exhibition: Wonderfully Wicked Witches and Old Women

I liked the sound of Wonderfully Wicked Witches and Old Women, when I saw it on Meetup. An exhibition of Goya drawings, complete with various witchy entertainments and a guy playing Spanish guitar - which I love. It was advertised by the Fill My Weekend group, and I got the last spot, goodee!

Well, I was telling Helen about it on Monday, and she found the official event link (above). I hadn't been able to - it's on at Somerset House, and their site isn't the easiest to navigate. I checked, out of curiosity, to see whether tickets were sold out there too - and was very vexed to find out that, not only were they not, but they were cheaper than in the Fill My Weekend group! Then I remembered - they were the group that went to the Top Secret Comedy Club; I went too, but independently, and got in cheaper. They were all sat over the side, with name badges.

Well, I went back to the Fill My Weekend site, and, seeing there was a waitlist, I posted the above URL there for anyone who might want to make use of it. And pointed out that tickets were cheaper there! Half an hour later, I got a message from the organiser, saying that he charged a little extra to cover his costs, and that he was very miffed that the tickets weren't sold out on the official site - he'd booked on the basis that they would be, and he'd be having words with the manager!

Oh, and when I checked the site again, my post had been removed. What a cheek! So I privately messaged as many people on the waitlist as would take messages from people they didn't know. By and large though, they seemed to prefer to go with the Fill My Weekend group and pay the extra. Well, up to them. Must be some costs he was covering, though.. at an extra charge of £1.50 per person, with 50 people going - that's £75 profit. Assuming he didn't get a discount for bulk-buying the entrance tickets.

So, off I trotted yesterday evening. I was tied up at the office, so was a bit late arriving, and missed the organiser's meet n greet at reception. Shucks, what a shame.. It's a while since I was in the area, and it's a good job I looked up where to go - I had thought Embankment was the closest station, but it's actually the one after, Temple. The District Line was as slow as ever, but that was ok - I knew the event was on till 9, and since I wasn't pushed about the meet n greet, I was relaxed. Just as well - the train was late arriving at West Kensington, had to have a little rest between there and Earl's Court, had to have another little rest at Earl's Court, and another little rest before the next stop, Gloucester Road. It seemed to find a second wind after that, and eventually chugged into Temple.

Up to the Strand and turn left, keep going till you get to Somerset House. The Courtauld Gallery, where the exhibition was being held, was well signposted, and I stopped by the reception desk to collect my ticket. I should've told her first off that I'd booked through Meetup - in that case, you don't get a ticket, you get a name badge. I was pretty miffed at my treatment from this group, so wasn't too keen on it, but I slapped it on my jumper, inside my coat, and figured it wouldn't get noticed anyway. Interestingly, as I climbed the stairs to the exhibition, I noticed that someone else had abandoned his, leaving it stuck to the banister. Guess I'm not the only one cheesed off!

It's a beautiful old building, and the event ranged over three floors: photos here. A fellow sat at the base of the main stairwell - which was a good location for him - playing the Spanish guitar so that the sound wafted through the rooms above. Which was a terrific effect. Pity he disappeared for an hour. The first thing you come to is the cafe, which was hosting gin tasting. I'm not into gin, so I continued my climb. On the floors above, scattered amongst the artworks, were some fabulously attired witches, with marvellous tall witch hats and extravagant Gothic makeup. One was hosting a talisman-making workshop, one posing for a still-life drawing group. Anyone was welcome to join in, but I don't much like drawing, or arts n crafts. One was telling horoscopes, but frankly, these horoscopes seemed a bit quirky for my taste, and I passed.

Instead, I started with the exhibition proper, which is a collection of Goya drawings from an album the art historians have named "Wicked Witches and Old Women", which comprises the theme of most of the drawings. They're fascinatingly grotesque, most engaged in disgusting or risque practices, and were never meant for public consumption. (Too bad!) Informational snippets on the walls beside the drawings explain that assembling the album was no mean feat - all the albums were broken up and the pages sold individually, and while some of the drawings have references, not all do. Even when you figure out which album they belong to, getting them in the right order is another challenge. Again, some have page numbers but not all, and sometimes the only thing they could do was to look at the back of the page, and see whether the ink from another page had marked it.

I hung around for an art history talk that described two paintings with women in them. I don't know much about art, and sometimes it's nice to have someone explain a famous painting to you. It was such an interesting talk that I hung around for her next one, too. The event didn't finish until 9, but I left after this second talk. The group was planning to go to the pub after, but I had no interest in meeting them. I'd seen some people with the name badges as I roamed the galleries, but a group this large isn't conducive to meeting people. I spotted the organsier at one point, prowling the stairs - I avoided him, naturally. I don't think I could have been civil.

It was a good event - and will be repeated in May - but I doubt I'll be going to any more events as part of this group. I'll check out what they're doing - they have interesting ideas - but I bet, whatever it is, I can get it cheaper myself. And neither last night, nor the other time I was in the same room as them, did I see any mingling going on. Not a group to meet people, then! Granted, of course, I didn't go to the pub after - but I might have expected some interaction before that!

Back to Ireland today, and a double bill at the Southwark Playhouse on Monday and Tuesday - on Monday, The Cutting of the Cloth (1/3 off the ticket price with Hot Ticket Offers - i.e., just enter HOT at checkout), and on Tuesday, These Trees Are Made of Blood, about the Dirty War in Argentina.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Walk: The Barry Wise Wise Tour of Soho

Tonight, Meetup threw up another walk - and my decrepit knee was just about working, so I said I'd probably manage it. This one was the Barry Wise Wise Tour of Soho, and gee.. by today, the only Meetup members on it were me and the organiser! But I was told that other people had booked directly through the event website (yay, no extra charge for booking through Meetup, BTW - other groups take note!), so it's not like it was just going to be the two of us and the two hosting the walk, or anything..

I left in plenty of time, which meant I hardly had anything to eat, as usual. Compromises must be made, after all. Even on the one-stop journey on the District Line, there was a red signal - but we eventually got to Earl's Court, where I took the faster Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square. I'd got an email the day before, with a map showing the meeting point in Soho Square, and a quick check on Google Maps revealed it's quite close to the Soho Theatre, where I've been many a time. So all I had to do was swing through Chinatown, take the street running alongside the Curzon Soho, and keep going till I found the square.

I was the first there. Goodee! Don't you just love when you're the first in a place and you don't know any of the others, and you can't quite figure out whether to approach random strangers? People drinking in doorways are probably not the best to approach under these circumstances, and I didn't - trying to appear simultaneously inconspicuous and obvious to anyone who might be looking for me was tricky.

I needn't have worried. These folks arrive in something like a blaze of glory, with a shopping trolley festooned with balloons. They set up camp, not right beside me, but just across the road - which was convenient enough. And proceeded to start the music. Yes, there's music throughout. I figured these random strangers were as good as any to approach, and when I did, Barry spotted me and announced the tour name. So that was all right then!

My name was checked off. You can purchase wine (red, from a carton, served in a Styrofoam cup) for £2, or a hip flask of rum & coke for £10, with a logo on the side. And then we mooched around for a while until the others gradually dribbled along. Never fear on that count either - they do like you to call if you're running late (the Meetup guy - who works with them - provides his mobile number with the email confirming location), but honestly, I got the impression they'd rather trawl the streets of Soho shouting the name of the person they were missing than let one get away!

The comedy starts straight away. There's a natural banter between this pair, and they just work into it everything that happens around them, while sticking to a loose script. Right from the beginning, you know this isn't going to be your standard walking tour. Mind you, the reason I say that has nothing to do with the dog-walker who was inconvenienced by having to walk around us as we gathered in an alley for introductory remarks - and other weirdness. Yes, I don't quite know what happened with this dog-walker, but apparently he muttered something, some guy in the group sniggered, and before we knew it, the dog-walker had shoved the other guy's girlfriend and was really spoiling for a fight. Took a couple of minutes for the situation to defuse.

What the hey! It's Soho. We wandered around for the next couple of hours or so, spotting blue plaques, dodging traffic, and with Barry & Clive, the fellas whose walk this was, engaging with, and generally annoying, the passing public. Really, they should be getting danger money - this isn't really the place to be doing that. Some passers-by were really intrigued by their antics, though.

Midway - well, at some point - we stopped on a street corner for free tea & custard creams. Ah goodee, dessert for me! And Barry entertained us with a really rather good rendition of I Dreamed a Dream, standing round the back of the Queen's Theatre, where Les Misérables continues to be shown. The evening ended in the red light area, where a large line of people were obviously camping out. We asked them why. Turns out they were waiting for something to do with a clothing brand, Supreme, and that this is the only European branch of that chain. Right..

I'd have liked to hang out with the guys in the pub where the tour officially ends, but actually, I should already be in bed! Work in the morning, you know. Maybe if it'd been a Saturday - they run tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Anyway, I can heartily recommend this tour - if you have a lively sense of humour. It's nice to see some of the backstreets of Soho, and you will be entertained..

Tomorrow is, of course, that Meetup event where I had something of an argument with the organiser. I'm headed to Wonderfully Wicked Witches and Old Women, at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. Now, I had trouble finding the official link to this event, so was delighted to get the last Meetup place for it, courtesy of the Fill My Weekend group! Then Helen found it for me - and darnit if it wasn't cheaper on the official website, and there were still tickets there: unlike the Meetup site, where all tickets were booked up.

I was rather miffed - I hate paying extra, although it wasn't much. And seeing there was a waitlist, I thought the people on it should know this, so they could go on the official site if they wanted. So I posted a message to this effect on the event page on Meetup, including the URL they needed. Half an hour later, I had a private message from the group organiser, explaining that the extra charges were to cover fees for running the group (I believe you have to pay to set up a Meetup group!), and he was rather miffed that the official tickets hadn't sold out - they generally do, and he'd be having words with the manager!

What really vexed me, though, was that my post has been removed from that page. So I took to privately messaging as many people as I could on the waitlist, in case they could use the information. Up to them - I just thought they should have the choice. So, not very impressed with this group so far. Expecting to enjoy the evening, all the same - there's Spanish guitar, for one thing, and I do love it..

Back to Ireland for the weekend. For Monday, with nothing scheduled on Meetup that I could make, I took to Time Out - and Lordy, was that a pain! I had to go through 26 pages before I found anything. And they all append under Time Out's terrible new site design - which means it takes the page forever to load. What with that, and trawling through all the comedy shows they recommended, none of which suited - and through the shows that weren't showing that day, because you can't specify by day anymore unless it's "today" or "tomorrow" - and through the shows I couldn't get a ticket for, or could, but not for a price I was prepared to pay - I was relieved when I finally came across something that I could get a cheap ticket for and wouldn't hate. So I'm going to a play called "The Cutting of the Cloth", at the Southwark Playhouse. Official price £18, but there are plenty of offers. The best I found was with Hot Ticket Offers, who have a deal with this theatre for this show. Simply enter the code HOT on the theatre website when checking out, and the price drops to £12. And seating is unreserved, so it's win-win!

For Tuesday, I had rather less trouble - I'm headed to the same theatre, as it happens, to see another play, called These Trees Are Made of Blood. No deals on this one, mind. It's about the Dirty War in Argentina, and I booked because it did seem to be booking heavily.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Film: Mommy

Oh joy, my internet is back!! I called Virgin Media this evening - their website said the helpline was open till midnight, so I called just after 9. Turned out to be an automated voice, which led me through list after list of options, before telling me that the service team went off at 9. Grr! But they also advised me to start by unplugging the router and leaving it off for 5 minutes. And guess what.. it worked.

So here I am, to tell you that yes, I did go to Mommy today. It's showing in quite a few places around town, but the closest to me is the Cine Lumiere, in the Institut Francais. I do not believe I've been there since I started the blog.. and that's nearly two years ago! Goes to show how much is on - because it's a really nice place, and delightfully close to home for me. Anyway, I decided on the early showing, and left straight from the office.

A wonderfully short Tube journey - three stops - saw me in South Kensington. Mind you, I'd had to look up the route from there, it's been so long! When you exit the station, look for the white NatWest building. Head up that street, leading straight away from the station. Take the second right, by which time you should see signs for the Institut, and the entrance is in a small cul de sac on the right hand side - you should see the film posters. As you enter, a marvellous, white marbled lobby presents itself. The box office is on your left - there's generally a small queue. When you have your ticket (£10 standard), proceed up the grand staircase - there's just one screen, to your left. This showing was practically empty - they often are. Sit where you please - the seats are a plush pale blue, with plenty of legroom. And as I settled in, I remarked to myself that this is the easiest evening's entertainment I've had in a while.

This is a remarkable film. It's set in Quebec, which - appropriately for the venue - means it's in French. Not French as spoken by the French, mind you! Québecois French is notorious, particularly for its pronunciation - as I overheard someone remark to her companion on the street outside as I walked back to the station, that French was weird. If you speak French but are unfamiliar with this pronunciation, you'll struggle. Don't worry, though, even in the Institut, this was subtitled in English!

It's about the single mother of a teenage boy with ADHD and a dangerously violent streak. Forget all the preconceptions that might lead you to, though - this is a beautiful film. Not a schmaltzy film, not a depressing film. It's inventive, it's a joy to watch - the cinematography is beautiful, the acting superb. The story twists and turns in directions you really don't expect. The characters are real, and engaging. The boy with ADHD reminded me so, so much of a boy with the same condition that I gave private tuition to, some years back. He had exactly the same mannerisms. He committed suicide a couple of years after leaving school.

It's a terrible condition, and the film is at times scary, and often offensive. An elderly couple at the front left after a while, probably disgusted at the character's antics. The Evening Standard review said that the only thing not superb about the film was the script - and it is indeed a masterclass in swearing. But oh, oh, the soundtrack.. you know all the songs you've come across in your life and absolutely loved, and have forgotten all about? Odds are they're in here. I only wish I could get a copy of the soundtrack.. Go see, this is a superior film. That's the advantage of restricting myself to high-rated films - they are a cut above.

Afterwards, I was hungry - and although there are a couple of good restaurants on the way back to the station, I fancied my local Chinese. A Tube came without delay - when we stopped at Earl's Court, there was another delay "to regulate the service". An announcement then said the next train to arrive would also be headed in our direction. We all looked poised to jump off and go for that one. Some did so. However, ours left first - only to be stopped at a red signal immediately after, to let the other train through. Tip: take the more modern-looking train, it'll probably be given priority.

Tragedy at the Chinese - they no longer have spring rolls on the menu! and those were the single best dish. Darn - I mustn't have ordered enough of them. Frankly, that removes much of my preference for this place..

Tomorrow is the comedy walk through Soho. Hopefully, I'll be ok for it. I see the only other Meetup member that seems to be going is the organiser of the Unique Events group. And on Thursday, I get to meet the organiser of the Fill My Weekend group, which could be interesting, as I've done my best to publicise the fact that the event for that evening, Wonderfully Wicked Witches and Old Women, still has tickets available on its own website. Despite them being sold out on the Meetup website - where they're also more expensive. Now, he's taken down the post I put on that event page to that effect - but I've contacted as many members as possible on the waiting list, and hopefully I can help some..

And after all that, it's back to Ireland for the weekend! Phew..

Musical: Made in Dagenham

Gosh, Made in Dagenham seems to have been showing forever.. and I wondered whether I'd ever get around to seeing it! Well, I finally did last night. Cheapest tickets available from the official website - although there's a flurry of offers about - and of course, I bought the cheapest seat I could, in the Upper Circle.

I hadn't been to the Adelphi before, but it turned out to be easy - Tube to Embankment, carry on up Villiers Street to the Strand and turn right, and it's on your left. The first train to arrive was advertised on the LCD as going to Edgware Road, but luckily turned out to be headed into town instead, so I didn't have to change. Mind you, we were held so long in Earl's Court ("to even out gaps in the service", of course!) that when another train to town pulled in at the adjacent platform, several people dashed for it. I thought to do the same, but thankfully I was still just outside the train I'd got off when the driver announced that we were leaving now, so I hopped back on.

The Adelphi is no distance up the Strand. It has a grand, Art Deco style. As I went in the door, the guy who checked my ticket informed me that I'd be upgraded to the Dress Circle, and to see his colleague inside for more information. Result! Another good reason to buy cheap tickets. I had to wait quite a bit for her - she was quite busy - but eventually she showed me to the box office, where I was given the same seat number I'd booked - just in the Dress Circle, as promised. Out of interest, the seat I'd originally booked cost £15 on the official website (including fees) - the seat I was upgraded to cost £55 on the same site. How satisfying..

An upgrade to a lower level always at least means fewer steps to climb. As I did so, the announcement said the show would start in two minutes. Hah! I didn't think so, and I was right. Handily, there was a merchandise stall on the Dress Circle level as well as in the Lobby, and I bought a packet of Munchies - I'd only had time for a sandwich before I left, and I was hungry. When the usher at the door of the Dress Circle scanned my ticket (which was the original I'd booked and printed out), of course it said "Wrong Area". And of course, he let me in anyway.

My seat was on the aisle, third row from the back. I was to be glad it was on the aisle - for a £55 seat, the legroom was surprisingly snug! I was beside an elderly couple. From that row, the top of the stage was cut off by the floor of the Upper Circle, above us, but we didn't miss any of the action.

Well, this show is terrific! I'm so glad I didn't miss it. It's based on the true story of how a group of women working in the upholstery department of the Ford plant in Dagenham, in 1969, objected to being classified as unskilled workers, and went on strike. And while they were at it, decided to demand equal pay for women as well, which wasn't the law in Europe at the time.

The production is first class. The sets are inventive, the musical numbers catchy, and the singing top-notch. The couple beside me expressed disappointment to the manager, who wandered by at the interval, that it's closing on the 11th - but these things do happen. Interestingly, the reason he was there was to ask us whether we found the temperature ok. Yes, we did.

Also at the interval, the fellow sitting behind me remarked, in a Cork accent, to the people sitting beside him that he's very sorry, but he's been living and working in Dagenham for six years, and no: they don't all sing like that! I was to find out the reason for the manager's strange question about the temperature when this Corkonian returned, complaining of the extreme heat..

Highly recommended, great fun. As I say, runs till the 11th - shop around for deals, but if you want the absolute cheapest tickets (which worked well for me!), stick with the official website.

My internet is down at home - hence, no blogging from there for now. Tonight, I'm thinking of going to the pictures - and top of the list is a Canadian film called Mommy, showing in the Cine Lumiere, the screen in the Institut Francais. It's ages since I've been there, which is a shame - they have a lovely screen, with plush, comfy seats.

Then for the next two days, it's Meetups - tomorrow, for my sins, I've booked to go on a comedy walking tour of Soho. Assuming my knee isn't playing up too badly - the foot is better, the knee's been troubling me since Friday.

And on Thursday, I'm headed to Wonderfully Wicked Witches and Old Women Late Night at the Courtauld Gallery. Now, I booked this via the Fill My Weekend Meetup group. Honestly, I found it difficult to get a direct link to the event. Funny thing is, I was telling my friend Helen about it yesterday, and she tracked down the link. So I had a look, just to see whether they were sold out on the official website too. Since I got the last ticket on Meetup.

Imagine my annoyance when I discovered that, not only were there still tickets on the official site, but they were cheaper than on the Meetup page! Now, I've already passed over a couple of Meetup events I could get cheaper on my own. So anyway, and particularly because there was a waitlist on Meetup, I posted a message to that effect on the page - people could still get tickets, and cheaper, at the above address. About half an hour later, I got a private message from the group organiser, explaining that the extra charges were to cover Paypal charges (I love it, we have to pay him extra to charge us!) and "group charges" (what, name badges?). And that he was very annoyed there were still tickets available (yeah, I bet!), and had booked these tickets on the assumption they'd sell out.

Oh, and guess what? The message I posted to the site has been removed. I messaged a couple of people on the waitlist directly with the information, but the rest don't accept messages. Ah well, their loss! I am looking forward to the event; I find the topic fascinating, plus there's live entertainment, including Spanish guitar playing. And I absolutely love Spanish guitar. But you know what? I'm very cynical about the approach that the Meetup group organiser is taking, and if I do get a name badge, I may be removing it as the night goes on. And my chances of going to another meetup of this group? Not good at this point.

And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend..

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Play: Death Ship 666

Of course, I was originally supposed to go on a Meetup event today - Ken's Events, a walk around Wimbledon and Putney Commons. And then that was postponed, on account of the engineering works on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line. Which coincided nicely with a massive blister on my foot, courtesy of yesterday's walk - to be fair, the footwear wasn't really appropriate. So, instead, I booked to see Death Ship 666 at the Leicester Square Theatre.

My foot's been aching all night, so it's a pity this was matinee only - I would have loved a longer rest. Anyway, I applied a blister plaster and dragged myself out. I discovered I could only walk quite slowly, so the trek to Earl's Court was rather hard. I took longer than usual, so was rather worried about being late - but the Piccadilly Line whisked me there in good time, despite the obligatory stop halfway through (probably to "even out the gaps in the service", although no announcement was made). I hobbled with as much speed as I could muster to the theatre, and queued at the box office (I couldn't be bothered printing at home).

Again, I had a seat near the end of the row - three seats in, I wouldn't like to be at the very end. The view was quite sideways from there, but you manage. And of course, I needn't really have worried - they started quite late.

This is a parody of the sinking of the Titanic. So you get some nautical sets - well, bits of sets. And bits of the soundtrack of the film blare over the speakers. This turned out to be a nuisance right at the start, as it drowned out what the actors were saying. I think they might have noticed this quite quickly, because it wasn't a problem for the rest of the show.

Six actors portray lots and lots of characters. They achieve this by running off one side of the stage (frequently) and reappearing on the other side in a slightly different costume. Which actually works really well! One scene even has the captain / evil electrician adopting both personas, an arm through one sleeve of each of two different jackets, clipped together at the back. So he can adopt a different character, depending which sleeve is turned towards the audience.

This is excellent! I recognise some of the actors from previous comic productions, and they are as skilled as always. Their comic timing is perfect. The story is utterly and delightfully daft, and well worth an afternoon indoors. Runs to 90 minutes, including interval, and only one more performance, on the afternoon of Sunday 24 May. Trot along if you're free.. recommended.

Afterwards, I was starving, given that I'd eaten all the food in the house and had had nothing left for breakfast. So I decided to head for Garfunkel's - uncomplicated and filling. There's one just across the square. Instead of my usual garlic bread, I had soup - mushroom, served with some excellent malted bread. And I had the reliably filling bbq chicken melt - chicken topped with some delicious bacon, smothered in bbq sauce. Comes with chips, and I had a side order of onion rings. Delish! Scoffed almost all of it, and predictably had no room for dessert - sadly, because they do an excellent chocolate fudge cake. Service was as friendly as you could hope for - she even drew a smiley face on my bill! :-)

Afterwards, I dragged myself to the Tesco just off Piccadilly Circus, where I bought tomorrow's breakfast. Then dragged myself onto the Tube, and home, where my feet are now up again, and hopefully not so much dragging shall be required to get me to work in the morning. And tomorrow evening, I've booked for Made in Dagenham - cheapest tickets available through the official website.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Walk: Jack the Ripper

I've lived here now for nearly three years, and in all that time have never been on a Jack the Ripper walk. Fancy! And there being so very many of them. Anyway, one of the Meetup groups - Loose End Events - arranged to tag along on a free one tonight, so I said it was about time - and off I went.

We were supposed to meet "outside" Tower Hill Station at 7.30, for an 8 o'clock start. Now, "outside" a Tube station can mean anything really - so, with plenty of time, I decided to get there early. I can get the Tube straight there, but those engineering works between Earl's Court and Wimbledon meant I had to walk to Earl's Court to do it. Fair enough, it's not far. And I was just in time for a train that passed through Tower Hill.

When I arrived at Tower Hill, there was really only one exit, so I kept my eyes peeled as I walked outside. There are a lot of construction works, and hoardings, and I spied a sign pointing in the direction of the station entrance, which was apparently around the corner somewhere. Hmm. Anyway, I was early and had time to go that way if I needed to. First, however, I scanned my surroundings for anyone that looked like a group. Finally, I caught sight of the Meetup sign that the group organiser was rather discreetly holding. :-)

He turned out to be a gregarious, chatty fellow, there with a friend of his - and apart from them, I was the first to arrive. Bit by bit, the others dribbled over, catching sight of the sign - or maybe we just looked like Meetup people. There were about a dozen of us altogether, including a lady who'd asked was it ok to bring her puppy. And she wants him to have a Meetup profile, too. Why not, I say?! He was a gregarious fellow himself, introducing himself enthusiastically to all around him.

We waited for quite a long time for the guide, identifiable by his orange umbrella. Well, we were early. Meantime, we were in the curious position of being right beside a couple of guides on one of the paid tours, who led off a couple of groups while we were waiting. One of those guides even came over to ask whether we were waiting for their tour! There was a food stall, manned by an entertaining chap, and a beggar with another dog, nattily attired with a tartan scarf, sitting just over there. Our doggie was at first wary of that doggie, but they were soon friends. Yes, even canines get to meet up at these things.

Eventually, our organiser found our guide (at the entrance, round the corner), and off we trotted. It drizzled briefly at this point, but that was the last rain we saw. After the introductory speech, our first stop was just across from the Tower of London:

After setting the scene for us, he led us off into the backstreets of Whitechapel, and started to tell us the gruesome details of the murders attributable to Jack the Ripper. There was some brisk walking and quite a lot of standing around to hear the stories. Thing about this area is, most of the old buildings have been demolished, either through war or economic need. But he did his best to evoke the scene, bringing us to as many places as possible that were associated with the crimes. And a couple of atmospheric alleyways, one of which was, apparently, used as inspiration for the Harry Potter films.

So far so gory. Light relief was provided by all the other Jack the Ripper groups, crisscrossing each other simultaneously! (One tour given in Spanish.) As we crossed Mitre Square, where one of the bodies was discovered, we counted no fewer than seven other groups, standing in little knots at various bits, just out of earshot of each other. As our guide told his story in an alley just off the square, another group could be seen passing the entrance to the alley. As we stood and listened on a street corner, we watched another group cross the road, just before a third group headed down the pavement past them, in our direction.

Popular, then. I did notice one of the groups, whose guide was projecting images of the victims onto the walls at relevant points. I remember the ad for that. Sounds good, but frankly, in real life I thought these flickering photos looked a bit tacky.

One of our last stops was, oddly, in Spitalfields Market. I don't think there was a connection - apart from that it's in the vicinity. It's really to give the guide a chance, with good lighting, to take a group photo, which he'll email to anyone who requests it (you give him your email address). It was unfortunate that during his story here, music was blaring over the side as people did some setting up or dismantling, I don't know which. The photo would also have come out better, I think, if the stall frames had actually had anything in them - but they were bare.

Never mind, we finished back out in the dark, outside Christ Church Spitalfields:

Here, he led us through the dafter speculations about the identity of the killer, invited us to give him our emails, and asked for the tip that is customary at the end of a free tour. I did check my wallet, but honestly, the smallest note I had was £10, and I didn't feel like giving him that - and the largest coin I had was 20p. And I didn't feel like handing him a pile of change either. So I left it - although I would've given him something for his efforts if I'd had it. I do believe this tour is quite good enough that you can avoid paying the fees charged by others.

The Loose End Events group - what was left of us - duly trotted off to the Wetherspoon's in Liverpool Street Station, a short distance away. It was heaving, of course - a fabulously ornate space, apparently it used to be a hotel ballroom. After we'd all managed to fight our way through the queue at the bar and get a drink, we repaired to the far end of the eating area, where we clustered around a tiny table and had a fun time hanging out together.

Yup, this was a fun evening and I'd do it again. Looking forward to whatever this group comes up with next. Well, depending! ;-) Mind you, my feet suffered.. I'm out of practice at this length of walk, and barely managed to stagger to the Underground station. Turned out the Piccadilly Line, which I'd planned to take from King's Cross to Earl's Court, was closed on that section because of a broken-down train. So Tube to Edgware Road it was, and the District Line from there to Earl's Court. That's the thing about having to travel right across town - you have options. And I was lucky, again, that both trains were ready on the platform for me when I got there. Mind you, I was confused for a minute at Edgware Road, where the train destination read "Kensington Olympia" - before I realised that it must go through Earl's Court to get there. And so I survived to get as far as home.

Hours later, my feet are still killing me, although I've had them up for ages. Which means I'm very glad that the Ken's Events walk scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed, on account of the aforementioned engineering works. Instead, I'm heading back to the Leicester Square Theatre - figures, never been there before and now heading there for the second time in four days - where they're running Death Ship 666, a parody of the Titanic disaster. When I checked, it was about half sold out - so I booked.  Woe is me, though - it's a matinee; I could really do with a lie-in. And on Monday, I'm finally going to Made in Dagenham - cheapest tickets available on the official website.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Ballet: Carmina Burana & Serenade

Ah, you see, as regular readers will know, if something isn't booked (and sometimes even if it is!), it ain't certain. I was intending to go to Life Is Sacred, part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at the Curzon Soho. There was also a Meetup group going.. and then, as of today, there wasn't! I guess I wasn't the only one to think that it was a bit rich, charging a £1 admin fee for doing pretty much nothing. Anyway, I decided to see what else was on - and there it was. Carmina Burana, the ballet. Well now, I do love Carmina Burana. So that was that!

What's more, it's showing at the Coliseum.. and they've closed the balcony for it! Tickets for the Dress Circle were actually affordable, and I booked one. And there I was, thinking I'd never be at that level again! Encouraged by such a rare event, as soon as I could I dashed home to change into nicer clothes. Not necessary, but you know, sometimes you just want to live up to the occasion.

Interestingly, on the Tube, I read a newspaper review of the show - described it as "grandly theatrical". I got there with time to spare, and made my leisurely way up the grand staircase. This time, I was second row from the back, squashed between people on either side. Still, the view was excellent, despite the ceiling (the floor of the Upper Circle) cutting off my view of the top of the stage. The ladies in front of me were enthusiastic - unfortunately, this meant they leaned forward in their seats, which is a real no-no; the people behind you can't see as well if you do that! Well, they weren't too obstructive. As for the warning to turn off mobile phones, it went pretty much unheeded of course - hence, of course, someone's mobile going off during the first half.

Yes - despite the order in the title, "Serenade" actually came first. This is a piece set to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for String. No story, just movement to the music. Long, floaty skirts and synchronised movements by lines of dancers. It's absolutely beautiful. Well done, the Birmingham Royal Ballet! And then we were into the interval, and given my stomach's grumbling during the performance, I felt myself entitled to an ice cream. I retreated to the auditorium to eat it though, avoiding the chaos of the lobby.

It seemed a long time until the second half. You could see how the lower two levels of boxes on either side had been reserved for the choir, who filed in at the beginning of the second half. Carmina Burana always does require a lot of performers! Well, the whole second half was an absolute delight for me. I'm a sucker for the music anyway, and the choreography matched it perfectly. Three priests find themselves compelled by Fortune to abandon their clerical lives, and give themselves over to debauchery. This work is actually great fun, with the priests rather bamboozled by the fair maidens around them. And Fortune comes on as a real femme fatale. Never has ballet been so saucy. Also, as the newspaper article describes, it's a veritable wonderland - you keep wondering what's coming next! Just like the musical work, really.

Oh, I absolutely loved it, and I'm so glad I caught it - three days only! So tomorrow (Saturday) sees the last performances (not tonight, as incorrectly stated in the paper). Most tickets already allocated - booking recommended.

Tomorrow, I'm booked into a free Jack the Ripper walk, with a Meetup group called Loose End Events. About time I went on one. I'm glad it isn't until evening, mind - I could do with a rest! On Sunday, I'm booked into yet another walk, with Ken's Events Meetup group - a walk around Wimbledon and Putney Commons. Unfortunately, there are engineering works on the Tube, which would make it more awkward to get to. We'll see how I feel after the walk tomorrow. And on Monday, I'm finally going to Made in Dagenham, a musical about the ladies employed in a clothing factory in Dagenham, who went on strike for equal pay back in the 60s. Tons of sites selling tickets, but as sometimes happens, the cheapest tickets are available from the official site.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Musical: Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho

With nothing I fancied scheduled in Meetup for tonight, I resorted to Time Out. After loading no fewer than 9 pages, I finally came across Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho. Oh goodee, I thought - a chance to diss the witch. Irresistible. Seeing how full the theatre already was last week, I booked - a seat in Row E, which was the closest to the stage I could get without being right at the end of the row. I was three seats in.

I didn't think I'd been to Leicester Square Theatre before - theatres in and around Leicester Square, yes, but not this theatre specifically. Anyway, I had no trouble finding it - it turns out to be the door I've passed so many times, just beside the Prince Charles cinema. Starving, I just had time to wolf down the sandwich I had the presence of mind to buy on the way home, and made my way into town. As I approached, I realised where I'd seen the theatre name recently - there are construction works next door, and a sign on the hoarding assures passers-by that the Leicester Square Theatre is open for business. I must have passed it on my way to see Citizenfour in the Prince Charles, last Sunday week.

I'd printed out my ticket at home, which saved me queueing at the box office - there was a queue for the theatre, as it was! The theatre itself is downstairs, and I made my way straight to my seat. I was further to the side than I'd anticipated, but it didn't impede my view of the show. I was wise to book - I do believe it was a sell-out.

The show is simple, with few props and only three performers - one of whom is a very impressive Maggie. The others wear vests and a variety of accessories to represent different characters, as we are treated to a potted history of Maggie's time at the helm. Before the show, and during the interval, 80s disco music blares from the speakers - it's also used to great effect during the show.

This show is - absolutely hilarious. Really, I thought I'd enjoy it, but not this much. This is a Margaret Thatcher you don't mind applauding! He really does a good take of her (yes, it's a man in drag), and his comic timing is spot on. He's also marvellous at dealing with hecklers, of whom there were several. The main part of the story deals with her part in the passing of Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality by local authorities, or the promotion in schools of homosexual lifestyles as normal. Have no fear though - this is politics lite and even if you never heard of it before, you'll be gently educated, and know all you need to by the end.

I literally laughed till my cheeks hurt, and was delighted to join in the universal standing ovation at the end. Oh, but I am glad to be back in London. Runs until Saturday - tomorrow night is sold out, but there are still tickets available for both shows on Saturday night, although both are mostly sold out. You have been warned - if you intend seeing this, move fast!

Tomorrow night, I'm thinking of a film. Top of the list is a Turkish film - Selam: Bahara Yolculuk. Unfortunately, it's only showing - typically for Turkish films - in the Odeon Lee Valley, which takes over an hour to get to from where I live. Even going to the earliest showing possible tomorrow, I wouldn't get back till after midnight. So, I don't think so - not for something I'd never even heard of before doing the list! Instead, I'll head to Life Is Sacred, part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival showing at the Curzon Soho. It's a documentary about peace efforts in Colombia. Ironically, the London Film & Documentary Club (one of the Meetup groups) is also going - but they're charging a £1 admin fee if you go with them! so I'll go on my own, thanks v much. I'd better keep an eye on how it's booking though - these things tend to book out quickly at the last minute.

On Saturday and Sunday, I've booked a place on walks with Meetup groups. On Saturday, I've secured a free place on a Jack the Ripper walk, courtesy of "Loose End Events". Always wanted to go on one of those. And on Sunday, I'm back with Ken's Events, on a walk around Wimbledon and Putney Commons. Assuming I'm not feeling too exhausted after Saturday! It's a nuisance, though - I could normally get a Tube straight there, but because of engineering works, which are scheduled for every weekend and alternate among lines, I'll have to get not one, but two, buses! Well, we'll see how I feel.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Restaurants: The Abbey Tavern, Flanagan's on the Lake, & The Grove

Back in Ireland at the moment, and reviewing three at once because it took until the third to have anything worth saying.

On Saturday, we went to the Abbey Tavern as usual. Got about the last parking space - there had been a confirmation AND a wedding in the church across the road. Plus the regular Saturday crowd - they remarked, as we went in, that we'd arrived at just the right time; the crowd was beginning to leave. Honestly, I wasn't in the mood for this place, but what can you do? I had the steak, which was basically fine, if a bit tough. Hadn't the appetite to finish it. I also asked them out straight not to include salad, which I never eat. And boy, am I sick of the sprig of wilted parsley they always perch on top of every dish. Ah well, anyway it was, as I say, fine.

Yesterday (Mother's Day), my mother wanted to go to Flanagan's on the Lake, where we hadn't been in a while. So off we went, on what turned out to be an unusually nice day, and took the scenic lake drive. Again, we got the last parking space by the water - and when we went in, we saw why. It was packed! The narrow bar in the middle, where you enter, separates the two eating areas, and the corridor there includes a podium with one of those "Please wait to be seated" signs. There's a convenient, and comfortable, bench there, so there we sat until a nice (she turned out to be Polish) waiter got us the manager, who told us there'd be a 15-minute wait. We couldn't have got anywhere else in that time, so wait we did, and watched all the families out with their mothers.

The poor, frazzled manager pointed in our direction every time he dashed past - to remind himself, I think. And he really did his best to seat us as soon as ever he could. Handily, we were seated in the round tower section, which is a bit quieter and has good views. And our waiter (that Polish girl again) suggested that, instead of the table she'd been told to seat us at, we might like to take a wall table that was free, and surrounded by plush armchairs. Ok then, we said - she okayed it with the manager, and we sat there.

We didn't fancy the starters - so I just had chicken, my mother just salmon, and we ordered a side of sauteed mushrooms. They were out of the chicken special, so I had the a la carte coq au vin, which I've had before. It does surprise me how small their chickens always are. Still, it was extremely tasty, and the accompanying veg had been cooked with honey, by the taste. The mash was strangely bland, I thought. Still, my mother was happy with the taste of hers too, and we were both tastily and plentifully fed. Which is just as well, because the mushrooms we'd ordered - which we didn't have the appetite for - were dessicated and rather tasteless. The glasses of wine were generous to a fault - although no-one offered us the advertised free glass of champagne for mothers - and my dessert (lemon chocolate cheesecake - lemon on a chocolatey base) was delicious. I could've done without the accompanying coulis though, and must remember to ask for it without next time. As for my mother, she ordered pannacotta - this is where she first had it. She wasn't as impressed this time with the strawberry one she was offered.

But all in all, service was terrific - despite the crowd - and the surroundings pleasant. The food was very tasty, but the portion sizes, as usual, far too large.

Finally, we had business in Ennis today, and decided to eat at The Grove. Carvery was over - which was lucky, my mother hates it - and we got the last booth by the wall. Curiously, a neighbour of ours seemed to be conducting official-looking business at the table next door, but wasn't inclined to discuss it with us. So our curiosity had to go unsatisfied.

There was a lot of noise from the adjoining section of the bar, where it turned out a 16th birthday party was in progress. It continued right through our visit, with servers passing in with trays of sandwiches and finger food, and constant replenishment of jugs of orange juice. Which does provide some excuse as to the extremely slow service we received. Still, I do think there's a lack of management somewhere if servers have time to wash cutlery and fold napkins while customers are waiting for menus.

I ultimately had the chicken in pepper sauce, which was on special but they actually do here quite often, and which I know is good. And my mother, of course, had the salmon. We also decided to have a side of garlic bread. We got our drinks quite fast.. and waited for our food. And waited, and waited, and waited. Coincidentally, it was just after my mother complained that the food finally arrived. Reminiscent of the bad old days here, when service was patchy at best - I hope they're not slipping back to that.

The chicken was excellent, as ever - as was the fish. And the lack of wilted parsley was appreciated. Don't go for the garlic bread though - they use those hard little bread rolls to make it, and once those are toasted, they go as hard as rocks. Inedible - I left nearly half. We had plenty of time, so decided to order dessert. We finally grabbed someone to get us a menu. She sullenly took our order, and to be fair, the desserts were lovely. I give their chocolate fudge cake a thumbs-up. I didn't leave a tip, though.

Back to The Abbey Tavern tomorrow, probably, and their wilted parsley. And back to London the day after, and the day after that I'm out on the town again, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho at the Leicester Square Theatre. It's a drag show, and sounds like a fun night. And was nearly sold out, so I booked..

Friday, 13 March 2015

Concert: Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts

Last night, I went to my second Meetup event. Ken's Events had organised free tickets to a classical concert at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, so I decided that sounded like a plan, and registered. Priority was given to holders of the Ken's Events card, so I bought one of those too. With it, you get in free to all their events for a whole year, so I figured that's good value - considering they run 4 or 5 every week, and I nearly went to one already last Saturday.. before something better came up!

One of the attendees posted a comment on the site, asking whether anyone was willing to accompany her back to the Tube afterwards - she was a bit nervous. When I discovered we were headed in the same direction, I offered, and we agreed to meet beforehand.

The group was meeting in the Victoria pub at 6.15, which meant I needed to go straight from work. I checked on Google Maps, and it's only a short walk from Victoria station. When I got there, it didn't take long to identify the Meetup people, who were clustered near the entrance. Easier than Saturday, for sure! The eponymous Ken turned out to be an elderly Northern Irish guy, with a great memory for names - he had a list of attendees, but I was glad I'd brought a receipt for my purchase of the Ken's Events card; he had no record of that. I now have a physical card.. which I have to mind for the rest of the year.

The pub was packed, and our large group (42 attendees in all) crowded in wherever we could. Service was fairly efficient, and I did manage a glass of wine. The lady whom I'd offered to accompany home gave me a beautiful red rose in thanks... this was lovely of her, but I did have to carry it around for the rest of the evening, which was rather awkward.

The criterion for leaving for the concert seemed to be that everyone had arrived, and we set off with plenty of time to spare. It's not a long walk, but wove through several backstreets of Belgravia - knowing I'd be part of a group, I hadn't bothered to check the route myself. We duly arrived at the classically designed St. Peter's Church, and got our free tickets.

We took a pew (literally) - or rather several. We were nice and close to the music, and of course the high-ceilinged church provided excellent acoustics. The programme started with Shostakovich and Ravel. The performers, all recent graduates of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, were as accomplished as you'd expect. You know, someone asked me at the interval what I thought of the performers - you couldn't fault them. In particular, I used to play piano - and the pianist was stunning, playing a beautiful piece by Ravel.

This led into a quartet of Chinese pieces, played on traditional instruments. Gorgeous. Only thing was, I was starving, and kept thinking how much I'd love a Chinese meal right then.. At the interval, wine and tea were served to the side: free, but a donation was appreciated. After the interval, all eight musicians came on to perform a series of pieces by a Hungarian composer whose name I didn't recognise - I only learned as much as I did by sneaking a peek at a programme the people in front of me had left when they went off for drinks at the interval.

Afterwards, the plan was to head to the Wetherspoon's in the station - we were headed straight back to the Tube, but decided to walk along with the group. Ken set a blistering pace - I imagine he was dying for his "drinkies". He ended up having us cross the busy road in front of the station, right in the middle of traffic! We were there for ages, and someone who had noted that the concert finished earlier than advertised mused that maybe the extra time was allotted for crossing the road! Silly place to cross. Anyway, we finally made it, and eventually completely lost Ken as he dashed across the station concourse. Never mind, we wound our way through the warren of corridors to the Tube, and were soon home. Of course, I haven't had a chance to shop all week, and had finished what I'd bought on Sunday - dinner last night consisted of most of a Chocolate Orange.

I'd have blogged last night, but wanted to check first what I was doing next - there was nothing I fancied on Meetup, and since Time Out updated its search function, it hangs almost every time I want to use it. So I had to wait to come into the office, for a better internet connection. So, the plan is - back to Ireland today for a long weekend, and my next night out in London is on Thursday - when I'm headed to a saucy show called Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho: a drag comedy about Maggie getting lost in Soho and becoming a cabaret star. Showing in the Leicester Square Theatre. Not many tickets left, so I booked.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Top Secret Comedy Show

I was seeing what Meetup might have for yesterday, and came across the Top Secret Comedy Show. The format is that they have a warmup act, who's free, and then you pay a small amount for the main show, whose participants are secret, but generally include one who's known on television. Now, the warmup act is always Russell Hicks - I looked him up on YouTube, and really liked his act.. and besides, if you book in time, the price for the rest of the evening is only £1. (The Meetup group was charging £1.25, but I got in early enough to get a £1 ticket from the venue website, so I booked separately and went in on my own. If I'd waited until Monday to book, I'd have had to pay £5 on the website.)

The first thing that's secret about the Top Secret Comedy Club is the location. Well, not that secret - I mean, they do give you the address - but Streetview doesn't show any sign of it. Still, I figured, Drury Lane is easy enough to find, and I can figure out where #170 is when I get there. I got tied up with software updates at work, and had to leave straight from there for Covent Garden, which I see is again exit-only until November, while they upgrade the second pair of lifts.

I followed Streetview's directions to Drury Lane, which took me down Endell Street and Shelton Street, which becomes a narrow alleyway as you get to the Drury Lane end. That's correct - just continue down the alleyway, it actually turned out to be perfect for where I was going. Once I got to Drury Lane, across the road I saw #167, then #168. Things were looking up. I continued in that direction, and shortly came across a flight of stairs leading down, blocked off from the street by a transparent porch, on which was posted a small sticker saying "Top Secret Comedy Club". Right! This was it then.

There are no further signs until you get to the bottom, where I handed in my email confirmation, explained that I was here for both shows, and got a stamp on my hand to confirm that I was entitled to stay on after the interval. Inside, I got a drink at the bar at the back before it got busy. They have heavy curtains on rails to block off sections of this basement - seating for the first (free) show was past a curtain that partitioned the main seating area in two.

Now, Russell Hicks makes a completely improvised show out of gently ribbing audience members. So, if you don't want to be his guinea pig, don't sit in the front two rows - and I didn't. Interestingly, unlike last Saturday, this time it was easy to spot the Meetup members - they all had name badges and were sat to the side. I think they spilled into the other side section eventually - there were lots of them. Ok fine - I was here on my own tonight, and I didn't make contact. I took an aisle seat, and was pestered the whole night by people climbing over me on their way to and from the bar.

Just after 7, the show started. Gotta recommend Russell Hicks, I think he's brilliant. I really enjoyed it, and there was a good vibe. I was sorry when he finished, at abt 7.45. I was even sorrier when the advertised start time of 8.15 for the second show dragged on to 8.30, before an MC that I found incredibly annoying came on, and we had to endure him for fully another 15 minutes before the next act came on, at about 8.45. I wasn't much impressed, either by this act or by the one after him, and when they took a break just after that I made my escape, glad to get home and get something to eat! And glad, under the circumstances, that I hadn't gone with the Meetup group, so I could please myself how long I stayed.

In general, this show is probably variable, but is definitely cheap - and Russell Hicks, warming up the crowd for free from 7, is absolutely worth going early for! After I'd fed myself, there wasn't time to blog.

Tonight, I'm going to a Meetup event proper - a concert by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square. Free tickets available from Ken's Events, the Meetup group involved, and priority given to holders of the Ken's Events card. So I bought one - it's cheaper than getting a regular ticket for the concert anyway, and it'll be valid for all Ken's Events for a year, so could represent a real saving for me. Indeed, Meetup is so far at least good for two things - interesting ideas of things to go to, and saving money! Then I'm back to Ireland for a long weekend - not returning until next Wednesday night.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Opera: The Indian Queen

I'd never heard of the opera The Indian Queen, by Purcell, but what extracts I could find of it on the ENO website sounded good. And the guy they had reviewing it on that website mentioned that it's a beautiful choral work, and I love Baroque opera anyway. So I booked - one of the cheapest seats, natch, at an unusually good value £12. Near the side aisle, so I'd have a railing to get me down the steep steps of the Coliseum balcony.

When I arrived, the lobby was chaotic and there was a huge queue heading for the balcony stairs. I finally learned that the balcony was closed and they were upgrading us - not enough seats booked further down, I guess! I did worry slightly about where I'd be sitting. As we queued, and two ladies tried desperately to cope with the demand, the bell rang several times for us to take our seats. Someone was worried we'd miss the start, but was assured by one of the ushers that they wouldn't start until we all had tickets. I'm not sure they stuck rigidly to that rule, because I'd hardly taken my seat when the lights dimmed and the orchestra struck up. Mind you, the opera was scheduled to run for 3.5 hours, including interval! Naturally, they wanted to get going.

Ah yes, my seat. So, I was upgraded to the Dress Circle - two levels below the balcony, and a level I've never before visited. Immediately, I had far fewer steps to climb. And I got to go up the elaborate central staircase. When I got there, I was delighted to see that the steps were much shallower, and I could negotiate them without difficulty. And when I took my seat, I was dead centre of the row, had more space than in the balcony (especially with the seat beside me free), more legroom, a more comfortable seat (plusher and with excellent lower back support), and was oh, so much closer to the stage. I spent the whole night savouring the experience - I'll probably never be that low in the Coliseum again (not if I'm paying, anyway). That seat I was moved to, that I got for £12 plus fees, had a face value of £105. Not so shabby.. Feeling flush in consequence, I treated myself to an overpriced - but tasty - ice cream at the interval.

Now, this opera is a curious thing - Purcell never finished it, and died with only 45 minutes of music written. The story concerns a Mayan princess who marries a conquistador - of course it ends tragically. Anyway, it soon becomes apparent how they filled in the majority of the content - there are several dance sequences, depicting Mayan legends. Gaps in the music are filled with cricket sounds - gaps in the narrative are addressed by the very effective use of a Latina narrator, who at the end takes on the role of the princess' daughter. Well, I'm guessing at her origins, given how naturally she seemed to take to the pronunciation of the complicated Mayan names. Speaking of narration, I did notice a sign language interpreter to the side, which I thought was overkill, given that there were surtitles too.

I thought it was just gorgeous. The music is truly sublime - and I thought it was a lovely touch when, wanting an offstage choir, they decamped to the boxes on either side of the stage and sang from there. The melodies are lovely, with some terrific opportunities for the singers to show their range. Well done then to the Purcell content! As for the show around it - it's truly audacious. It'd have to be, with so much time to fill. I think it works - the fusion of song, dance, and spoken narrative is striking. The backdrops are suitably alien-looking and vaguely Mayan. (Unfortunately, in the second act, one of their huge backdrops kept getting stuck whenever they tried to lower it.) Truly, I do recommend it - but you need a good deal of stamina, it's so long. Only two performances remain - Thursday and Saturday.

In Guildford today. I was looking at Meetup for the rest of the week, and found something I'd be interested in tomorrow - the Top Secret Comedy Club. Apparently, 68 people from Meetup were attending, last I checked. Mind you, the organiser is charging £1.25.. I went on the venue website and got a ticket for £1! It's another of these venues where they try out new comedy, and apparently they can get some famous faces. On Thursday, I am going to a Meetup event - a classical concert by the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts at St. Peter's Eaton Square. So, two places I've never been before. And we're told that the organiser of this Meetup has some free tickets for the event, priority going to holders of the Ken's Events card. So I bought one - not only would it be better value than having to buy a ticket for this event, but it'll probably come in handy for future events held by this group - there are lots. I think Meetup might be good for my finances!

And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend..

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Film: Citizenfour

Well, I decided to head to Citizenfour today. It's showing in both the Prince Charles and the ICA - I chose the Prince Charles, purely because that was the earlier showing. And I even managed to get there in time! (Roughly, despite having to weave my way around many groups of confused tourists.) Well, they were showing ads - I don't mind missing them, it's the trailers I enjoy. There weren't any this time, mind. I got a seat in the back row - love their comfy leather chairs. Didn't quite love the fact that, at various points during the film, we could hear The Sound of Music blaring from somewhere nearby..

The trailer for this looked good, it's had a consistently high rating, and been in the listings for ages. Justifiably - it's an immensely powerful film. Won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature last year. This being the third in a series of exposes by the director about the doings of the American government following 9/11, she's moved permanently to Berlin to avoid the worst of the government's surveillance of her. In short, it's the story of Edward Snowden, starting with his early communications with journalist Glenn Greenwald, and carrying through the breaking of the story as far as him being granted a year's asylum in Russia, and his partner joining him there. (Interestingly, as an aside, I see Glenn Greenwald has moved to live with his partner in Rio, citing fear of arrest if he returns to the States.) Hmm.. so that's four people the US government has driven out of the country for breaking this story.

Let's be honest - this film, and the story behind it, is a PR disaster for Obama. He comes out of it looking like either a liar or - more plausibly - a puppet. As someone pointed out in the film, he once promised to curtail the very actions he's now seen to support. If you don't happen to know the story, Ed Snowden worked for the NSA as an IT systems administrator, meaning he had highest level clearance. What he found there shocked him, and he decided to share it with the public. That's what got him - and everyone around him - into all this hot water.

What he found was that the US government routinely snoops on anyone it feels like, without court approval. And then lies about it to the court - "Oh no, your honour, we don't do anything like that!" Funny, I seem to remember this was pretty much what Watergate was about. Funny, I never heard of Woodward & Bernstein having to flee the country.. or, for that matter, Alan J. Pakula, who directed the film. How times change.

A note near the end of the film puts 1.2 million people on the US watchlist. Mind you, Ed Snowden's opinion is that the UK is much worse in terms of the surveillance it keeps on its citizens. I wouldn't be surprised (the US dog does wag the UK tail, as ever). A couple of other things struck me in the film. One was the mention by the leader of a group of activists of how the government was trying to link people's debit cards to their Metro cards, so they could centralise data collection. Ooh, another reason for me not to go contactless (same thing, in London)! and an explanation for why the government is pushing it so relentlessly. Well hey, it's of no advantage to me anyway. So I'm happy to skip it.

Another thing that struck me in the film was when one speaker said, "You know how everyone's talking about the destruction of privacy? Try substituting, for that, the word 'freedom'. Now how does that sound?"  Quite. It's been said before - if the terrorists push the US government into abolishing all its citizens' rights, including the liberty for which it's historically famous - doesn't that mean that the terrorists have already won?

Stirring, thought-provoking stuff. Executive producer Steven Soderbergh. Go see. Oh, and hello to any NSA Europe outposts that are monitoring my blog! (Not a joke - they had Angela Merkel's phone number, in the film). Nice to have you here - keep reading, I could always do with more readers.

Coming out, I was hungry, but unwilling to go to Chinatown - the quality is generally bad, and even when I find a good place, it doesn't stay good. Passing tourist trade, you see - no incentive to improve. I'm also spoiled by having such a good Chinese, five minutes walk from home. I could have eaten there, but was on a downer from the film. Instead, I fancied doing a shop and eating at home. I knew there's a Tesco just off Piccadilly Circus, on Regent Street, and I figured that wouldn't be so far to walk from Leicester Square. So it wasn't - but it's been a while since I did it, and I had to consult a map, passing several raucous buskers en route. Basically, head across Leicester Square with the Tube Station behind you, and you'll be in Piccadilly Circus in minutes. Take the next left for Tesco, when you get there.

For tomorrow, I've booked a ticket for Purcell's Baroque opera, The Indian Queen, in the Coliseum. And I'm off to Guildford on Tuesday..