Friday, 31 July 2015

Play: The Motherf**ker With the Hat

It was on Wednesday night that the organiser of the London Dramatic Arts Meetup group sent an email around to say that there was a last-minute return on a ticket for The Motherf**ker With the Hat for tonight, in the National. A quick check revealed that that seemed to be the best thing on among my Meetup groups tonight, and with the only other tickets available at £50, I quickly booked. Just as well - within half an hour, there were two more people on the waitlist!

The Tube journey wasn't as problematic as the last two days - well, apart from the lack of air conditioning. It was stifling. Having gratefully disembarked, I had a pleasant bridge crossing - it's ages since I've crossed here, and I missed the view. And we'd been instructed to meet in a bar beforehand - interestingly, not in the National itself, but across the road, at the Benugo bar in the BFI. I'm sure I'd seen the sign before, but never paid any attention. Anyway, we'd been provided with a very helpful map, so I knew to take the main BFI entrance, to the side of the National.

Once I'd done that, it was kind of obvious - just on the right, at the top of the steps. And there was our organiser, to lead us through the main bar, past the "Reserved" sign to the library, and even past that again to a small room at the back. Well, and I never even knew this was here! We'd reserved the small room - which actually turned out to be a bit too small for all the people that came. We had to go back out into the library to order - from a barman who looked rather frazzled - and then squashed back in; I was one of the lucky ones who got a seat in the small room. But we had a fine natter until it was time to head across the road. Oh, and I can recommend the very good value chenin blanc - a distinctly fruity flavour.

We entered the theatre by an unobtrusive door that led us practically to the very door of the auditorium. We were scattered between the front two rows - I got a fairly central seat, not in the front row with the unlimited legroom, but the legroom was fine nonetheless. These seats have no armrests, but that's not a major problem - the only significant problem I had with my seat, in fact, was the very low back, the edge of which caught me in the middle of my back, and meant I spent much of the performance hunched over - not ideal, especially for a near-two hour show without interval.

However, we had an undeniably good view. The set design was intriguing - disembodied fire escapes dangled from the ceiling, and were repositioned as necessary, as bits of scenery slid in - from the back, from the wings, and walls descending from the ceiling - to make three separate apartments, as required. The play is set in New York, with language that you might guess at from the title. And the story concerns a happy fellow, recently released from prison, who returns home to his girlfriend with the happy news that he's got a job, and his life is looking much brighter. Until he notices a man's hat - not his - tossed casually to the side..

The writing is terrific. It's sharp, it's snappy, and delivered in very NY accents that made me nostalgic for the place. The characters are vibrant, and with a plot that twists and snakes, even though there's no interval, you don't notice how long you've spent there. (Well, apart from my backache.) It's very funny - it's also engaging, the audience brought right along with the main character as he adjusts to this new reality outside prison. I loved the touch of ending the play on a song - although the fact that he plays it on a cassette, of all things, really dates it. Recommended - but you should book, especially for cheaper seats. Runs until the 20th.

Afterwards, we made our way to the Riverfront Bar, at the front of the BFI - this I've passed many's the time, but never gone in. We had a couple of couches booked at the side - took our seats, and made our way up to the scrum at the bar. I thought £10 a bit steep for a large glass of wine, until I realised it was actually a carafe, equivalent to half a bottle. The server was convinced, for some reason, that I wanted red - I had to tell her several times that I wanted white, despite having already pointed to it on the wine list! To be fair, there was a dj to the side and the noise was deafening. This also made conversation challenging, when we sat back down.. one of our group wanted to dance, but was, sadly for her, the only one! and the dance area was small anyway. A couple of people ordered food, which I should have but didn't. Good conversation was had. And as the night wore on, we who remained became smaller and smaller in number, until in the end, three final hardy campaigners scuttled off into the night. Well hey, a better showing than on Wednesday!

I am sooo looking forward to a lie-in in the morning. Tomorrow, the London International Meetup is off to Yorkshire, which would be nice - except I'd have to be in King's Cross for 7.30am. So I'd have to leave home around 6.30. Heh. Not happening. No, instead I'll head, uncomplicatedly, to the cinema. And I do believe I'll go and see Jurassic World, which I might have seen long ago, except that its IMDB rating dropped. Or yesterday, indeed, except for that last-minute ticket to the Globe! It's showing in my local Vue.. and Yplan still has an offer for the Vue. 'S all good..

Play: Measure For Measure

I was all set to go to see Jurassic World in the cinema last night - but I knew that Let's Do London - For Less was headed to Measure For Measure, in the Globe. That was irresistible to me - I really like the group, love the venue. One small problem - they were sold out: and when I checked, so was everybody else! (Well, they had a standing ticket - and they do say the atmosphere is even better there, in the yard, right beside the stage - but I'm too decrepit for that.)

And then.. I was doing the last blog post, and looked up the Meetup page for links.. and what should I see but that two seated tickets had come available for Measure For Measure. Right! Booked one without delay, and yesterday evening, I eagerly set off. Now, I'm pretty sure there's a go-slow on the Tube - normally, every second train passing through West Brompton heads to town, and you'd never have to wait more than five minutes or so. Yesterday evening, none were scheduled to go to town; luckily, I was just in time for a train to Edgware Road (the next wasn't for nine minutes). Changing at Earl's Court, the platform was nearly as crowded as the day before - at least a train to town came after about four minutes. Sure enough, someone told me today that she'd seen a newspaper report about drivers refusing to work on trains that hadn't been safety-checked..

Our organiser (in his distinctive baseball cap) was waiting outside the river entrance to the Globe with a crowd of people and a wad of tickets - he'd sold a lot for this show! I got one and made my way in.. they hadn't opened the door yet, so I got myself what turned out to be a delicious brownie, and then noticed I had quite a view!

When we took our seats, it was at the very edge of the semicircular seated part of the theatre. I'd been given the choice, so chose to sit in the front row - actually, I think I always have, here! I'd been a bit dubious about the view from right around the side, but you know, it was absolutely fine. Despite the ladder that had been curiously positioned right in front of me. With an identical one over the other side - and, as someone remarked, too well painted to have been left there accidentally - we figured they were part of the production. The evening had warmed up a bit, which is nice for an open-air theatre, and we settled down to watch the production.

Now, I mentioned that it had sold out, and it showed - the yard was crammed. This didn't stop the actors from mingling, flirting, wandering through both yard and seats, climbing the ladders to chat to us, and generally making themselves known! Even for the Globe, this was a high level of audience interaction. The yard was packed enough, mind, to make it hard to bring in the two "wendy houses" they'd left outside.. these didn't last too long, though, as they were meant to represent brothels, which were shortly pulled down under the new, authoritarian regime.

The play basically deals with the conflict between vice and virtue, and how neither need be as clear-cut as you might imagine. The Duke, for reasons best known to himself, takes himself off on holiday and leaves his priggish deputy in charge. The Duke then disguises himself as a monk, the better to observe proceedings - and we are left with the story of a young man whom the deputy has starkly condemned to death for getting a woman with child - a woman that he would have married, but for a problem with her dowry. His sister, a novice nun, pleads his case with the deputy, who is rather smitten, and promises to reprieve her brother if she will sleep with him. How will her virtue endure this dilemma? Will the deputy keep his word? And what does the Duke make of all this, as he wanders through the town, going unobserved wherever he pleases?

A review described this production as having the feel of Blackadder, and I have to agree. It is absolutely hilarious, with all the music, merriment, and audience participation that we've come to expect from the Globe. We had a few issues with sound - one or two of the performers didn't have voices that quite projected enough, and it was hard to hear them when faced away from us. But, you know, we managed, and had a thoroughly great time! And I do love the medieval music that accompanies these productions - quite transported me. I can see why it sold out. Runs until 17th October, with this Sunday's matinee sold out and limited availability for the evening performance. At any rate, booking is strongly advised for this!

And so, afterwards, to the Founder's Arms, a few minutes' walk to the left down the riverbank. With plenty of people enjoying the spectacular view of the City lights from the terrace, the discerning few of us who remained from our original group found a table "inside" - although, with all the full-length windows open, there wasn't much difference. Having had a disappointing Pinot Grigio there before, I switched to Chardonnay this time and was much happier. And there we stayed till they chucked us out, shootin' the breeze. Really, this has become my favourite Meetup group - an unbeatable combo of good shows, good prices, and better company! Now, if only I were organised enough to book some more shows with them.. Watch this space.

Typically for this group, I got home too late to blog. Of course, I was lucky with tonight's ticket as well - a last-minute ticket, with the London Dramatic Arts group, to see The Motherf**ker with the Hat, in the National. I don't think I was the only one wondering at the rapid disappearance of everyone on Wednesday night - the organiser mentioned that, tonight not being a "school night", she did hope that someone would join her for drinks and a post-show chat! I assured her that I would stay, if I could find anyone from the group..

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Play: Hay Fever

Ah, another day, another trip to Leicester Square! Three days in a row - this is becoming quite the habit. Anyway, the London Dramatic Arts group were headed to Hay Fever at the Duke of York's Theatre tonight, which looked like about the best thing on, from a quick scan of my Meetup groups. However, they're keen on sitting as close to the stage as possible, whereas I'm keen on getting the cheapest (reasonable) seat possible, so when I managed a ticket in the rear stalls, from LoveTheatre, at a 47% discount, I took it! (They have a special offer until Friday.) The group organiser was good enough to put me on their list, though.

By the time I was finished at work, there wasn't any point in going home, if I were to meet the group in the theatre bar for drinks beforehand. So I made straight for Earl's Court, where I effectively caught a cattle train to Leicester Square. Truly, I haven't seen such a combination of crowded platform and crowded train at this station before. The first train was too jammed to get on, but I managed to get on the second one. (As usual, being at the very end - back or front - helps.) It wasn't until we got to Leicester Square that the announcer explained that the congestion was due to delay caused by a faulty train down the track.

I turned down St. Martin's Court again, heading for St. Martin's Lane, like on Monday. Passed a fascinating map showing the location of West End theatres. As I passed the Noel Coward Theatre, this time, the homeless guy was further down, rather than on the corner.. When I arrived at the theatre, the ushers who saw my printed ticket thought it was just a booking confirmation, and sent me in the direction of the box office. Which was a good thing, because that's where the organiser was, collecting the tickets for the rest of her group! When she'd collected them - and herself - we headed upstairs to the bar, where she'd reserved a table.

I'd thought I hadn't been to this theatre before - how handy this blog is for checking! It so happens that I've been twice before, but both times back in 2013, and I'd forgotten. Interestingly, both times, I'd also bought my ticket from third-party sellers, and for the rear stalls - once before from LoveTheatre, in Row R, like tonight. Well, well.. I definitely hadn't been in the bar before though, those were the days before I got myself organised to arrive early.

The bar is lovely - plush seating, comfortably upholstered, with rich curtains. There's also a terrace, which gives its name to the bar and overlooks the street - this would be pleasant on a sunny day. It wasn't so sunny or warm today though, and we sat inside, at the table that had been reserved for us in a side room. There were twice as many of us as the last time I joined this group, and we chatted convivially for an hour or so before the show. Cocktails were two for £10, and most had one - but I didn't fancy any and stuck to wine. I must recommend the crisps, though - they were delicious!

When showtime came, the announcement said we only had three minutes. Fibber - we had six! Anyway, we made our ways down, and parted - them to the front stalls, me to the rear. Where I had a comfortable seat at the edge of Row R, as much legroom as I wanted because of the staggered rows, and an unimpeded view of the stage - especially since no-one was sitting in front of me for the next couple of rows. Indeed, there was no-one beside me either, and it would've been easy to move to a better seat - but I decided I was fine where I was, and there I stayed.

This is a typical Noel Coward comedy, with a beautiful set that represents the drawing room of a large country house. It started rather slow, I'm afraid, with two characters who didn't sound at all natural speaking their lines. They did sound rather forced, I thought. Matters improved with Felicity Kendal, who sounded much more at home, as did many of the others - and as the stage filled with characters, the play came into its own, I think - and I found the second half quite hilarious. This run ends on Saturday, and it's definitely worth a look if you like Noel Coward.

The main interval came unusually fast, to allow the actors to change into evening wear, and I headed upstairs to the bar again - where I encountered exactly one of our group! Seems the others weren't so inclined. It was worse again after the performance, when everyone just vanished - not much inclination to discuss the performance, it seems. Never mind, it gave me time to head to Tesco to grab something for dinner. The busker in Piccadilly Circus on the way home offered a rendition of a version of Halleluja that I haven't heard before, and I'm not sure was in English. In the final event of the night, our train was delayed in Earl's Court, and the driver said it was to "even out the gaps in the service". And apologised for the inconvenience. Huh. Yeah, right.

I was headed to the cinema tomorrow - but only because I couldn't get a ticket for Measure For Measure, which the Let's Do London - for less! group is heading to, in The Globe. Everywhere was sold out, including the group. Well gee, guess what I discovered when I opened the Meetup page to get links for this very post - a couple of the group's tickets had come available! so I booked, quick as I could. Excellent - I enjoy the group and I love The Globe. And the tickets, as always with them, are discounted. And for Friday night, my luck continues - the London Dramatic Arts Meetup, whom I joined tonight, are headed to The Motherf**cker With the Hat in the National, and behold, they had sold out too - but a ticket came available just this evening! so I've booked that as well. Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket, eh?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Film: The Last Sparks of Sundown

I had - pardon my French - the shittiest day at work today. So I was glad I'd decided on a comedy! Joint top of my film list (in terms of IMDB ratings) were The Last Sparks of Sundown, and The Wrecking Crew - but the latter was only on in East Dulwich, so The Last Sparks of Sundown, in the Prince Charles, won the day.

Having to stand on the Tube.. and push my way through crowds on Leicester Square.. didn't improve my mood. Nor did the habitually crowded lobby of the cinema. (BTW, don't think about booking a ticket here unless you have to - the ticket collection machines are unreliable.) The staff all stood behind the counter, most with nothing to do, and all affecting the standard waiter stare - you know, the one where they look anywhere but at you, lest you might make them do something. I finally caught the eye of one, pushed through to him and got a ticket. Membership would be worthwhile here if I came more often - they give a substantial members' discount.

There are only two screens here - one upstairs, one downstairs. This is showing upstairs, but first I had to wait behind two ladies with nothing better to do than block the entire stairway with their conversation. They turned out to be part of a large group, henceforth known as The Morons. The Morons occupied the entire back two rows of this screen, it transpired - there are only five or so. I made sure to sit well away from them, down the front. Nonetheless, it was impossible to escape their chattering completely - it continued well after the opening credits. Perhaps they were expecting more ads, who can say. Well, at least the seats were comfortable - they have leather seats as standard in both screens. And they recline! for much less than the exorbitant rates charged at the Curzon.

This is a quirky comedy about two hapless American brothers who inherit a large country house in England. One of them is delighted, as he is, of course, in debt to an unsavoury character, and sees this as his Get Out of Jail Free card. So off these unusual characters pop to England for a couple of weeks to get the place sold. They meet more odd characters, and much inane mayhem ensues.

This is much better, however, than several comedy stereotypes I could name. For instance, there's standard, smutty comedy - the stuff of most current comedy releases. Which shall be nameless - I'm pleasantly comfortable, reclining at home after dinner, and in no mood to piss myself off again. I'm no prude, but it's puerile and I'm sick of it. This film is a world away from that. Neither does it conform to the stereotype of the madcap British comedy - no, it's much cleverer than that. Guess what? The people who made this actually have a good sense of humour!

If I had to describe it, I'd say it's kind of Coen brothers. Has that same kind of highly developed state of ridiculousness. Doesn't fall into any clichés. The actors are funny, the storylines pleasantly daft, and I loved it. Not quite as good as Coen brothers, but if you like that sort of thing, you should like this, and I recommend it. Showing at the Prince Charles for the next two days only, at 6.30. We applauded at the end - go see.

Tomorrow, I'm back to Meetup for the first time in over a week! Well, kinda. See, the London Dramatic Arts group is off to see Hay Fever, a comedy by Noel Coward and starring Felicity Kendal, at the Duke of York's theatre. Great! I love Noel Coward. However, this group has a habit of booking seats near the stage - which it gets at a discount, but still, not the cheapest.. I, on the other hand, managed to get a great deal with LoveTheatre, which has a special offer - valid only on shows till Friday, I think - which got me a seat in the rear stalls at 47% off. This made it absolutely the cheapest I could get, and the seat looked ok, so I booked it. Contacted the group to say I already had a ticket, and they were nice enough to put me on their list and arrange to meet beforehand. Terrific - when I met them before, the discussion was lively and knowledgeable..

Monday, 27 July 2015

Magic: Impossible

Eh, yes. I know I said I was going to a comedy gig tonight. But, you know, I was ambivalent about it - I'd never heard of the comedian, it was over on the other side of town, and I was hardly likely to meet up with the Meetup group anyway! given that I'd never met them before, and most don't have a habit of advertising themselves on the night. So when I got a Londonist email last night with alternative suggestions.. and saw a couple of things I liked the look of.. bye-bye comedy. Again. I suppose I might meet that comedy group someday.

What caught my eye was a magic show called Impossible, at the Noel Coward Theatre. I do like magic, don't see it very often - so this wasn't a hard sell. What was much harder was deciding on a seat. My first consideration was the theatre - this is not a modern theatre, so legroom is an important issue. Sure enough, Seatplan's reviews convinced me that I wouldn't be happy with the legroom in the balcony. For the next price band, I could get a seat in the rear stalls - so that's what I did, in the furthest row forward available at the price - Row Q. I chose an aisle seat, just to be sure of the legroom. And booked on the official website, linked to above - there are plenty of offers, but few, if any, actually beat the official price, and the only real reason to go with anyone else would be lack of availability, or if you wanted a particular seat that wasn't available on the official site.

I hadn't been to this theatre before, but correctly assumed it was somewhere in the maze of streets around Leicester Square - to be fair, most of them are! So I checked Google Maps - which showed me that, indeed, it was just to the back of the Tube Station. And for some reason had me doing a roundabout route, up Cranbourn Street and onto St. Martin's Lane! when it was plain to see that it was much quicker just to turn left from Exit 1 and take the second left, just past Wyndham's Theatre, along St. Martin's Court, to come up along the side of the Noel Coward Theatre. I see they have now included that route. Anyhoo, taking that route, and carefully skirting the homeless man in a sleeping bag on the corner, I found myself at the theatre in just a couple of minutes.

I advise advance booking for this show - not only was it nearly full (on a Monday) but I daresay the box office would find it too taxing to try and sell tickets as well as provide them to prebookers - box office collection is the only option available to late bookers, or overseas customers, and the place was frantic. An usher actually removed the rope barrier to allow me a route away from the box office. It's well enough signposted, and - ignoring the merchandise stall - I made my way to my seat. Where I had the most excellent legroom, and a perfectly good view.

Each seat was provided with a small envelope, tucked into the nook between the seat back and the left arm. A label on the front said not to open it until instructed to do so by the illusionist. Vaguely ominous music was playing, there were some light effects, and it wasn't hard to guess that the small boy wandering, apparently unchecked, through the auditorium, playing with a toy helicopter, was actually part of the show. Sure enough, eventually, he made his way onstage, apparently surprised to have the spotlight on him, and took a seat to the side, where he became engrossed in a book of magic. This was the basis of the theme of the show, which was to return to a childlike sense of wonder at the impossible.

No fewer than eight magicians participated, and although at least some are probably household names - not in my household, I'm afraid. The whole show takes on that X-Factor type vibe - blaring rock music, strobing lights, magicians in leather jackets. And I had an absolute ball! The tricks start out standard enough - the type of thing you think you can figure out. Even at that, the sheer speed and dexterity required to carry out some of these illusions are awe-inspiring.

Katherine Mills concentrated on tricks that involved cards and interlocking rings - for the latter, she climbed to the Royal Circle to sit with the crowd. A couple of the others also provided card tricks - for these, and other performances that would benefit, there were cameras that fed to screens at the side; the feed was also displayed on a backdrop to the stage. But there were plenty of more spectacular acts.. Jonathan Goodwin displayed a variety of talents, including escaping from a straitjacket while hanging upside down with his legs on fire, balancing on nails, and shooting a crossbow at his visibly nervous assistant (who turned out to be his wife). Jamie Allan was enduringly spectacular, performing levitation, playing with lasers, and doing amazing things with tablets. Chris Cox was the most memorable name - he made sure we didn't forget it, clever lad, by constantly repeating it as he performed his mentalism. And the magician responsible for our envelopes was Luis de Matos, from Portugal, who was probably the most endearing.

Ok, here are the tricks that impressed me most: I know the standard sawing the woman in half trick, but I don't get how they do it when there's nowhere to hide the rest of her inside, or under, the box. There were lots of very impressive tricks that involved people disappearing from, and reappearing in, boxes with no apparent trick exits. There was an amount of appearing and disappearing of large objects - a car, a helicopter - from the stage. And even if you figured - ah yes, during that bit when the screen was obscuring our view, they could have swapped these people (or whatever) - they had an average of two seconds to do it. Kudos! Oh, and those envelopes? A very clever trick - four old magicians' postcards in each envelope: turn them over so you can't see the faces, tear the bundle in half, then spend ages shuffling them, taking one aside for later. Start to discard them, and it seemingly doesn't matter what you do to them; when you're left with one card, it'll be the half that matches the one you left aside. I'm sure there's a simple formula, but it was very impressive.

Note: if you sit in the stalls or Royal Circle, you're liable to be picked on. There's a fair amount of audience participation (aside from the envelopes), and the front two rows - and the end of any row - in the stalls is a dangerous place to be. For the bit where they needed several audience members to form a ring onstage around the car that was to disappear, all the magicians scuttled down to the audience, and one positioned himself right beside me and was obviously torn between me and the lady in front of me, also on the end of the row. So I put on my best frowny face (perfected this technique in school) and he picked her instead. Really, I felt I could live without the t-shirt that came with audience participation.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys magic. Runs until the 29th August, and booking is strongly advised - this is an immensely popular show.

On the way back, the guy in the sleeping bag was gone, to be replaced by a guy with a dog, looking dejected, sitting at the station entrance. Really, it'd break your heart..

Tomorrow is looking like a film. After rejecting some films I really wouldn't be interested in, I was left with two at the top of my list (in terms of IMDB ratings) - The Last Sparks of Sundown (a comedy) and The Wrecking Crew, a documentary about the musicians that played on many hit records of the last century. Both look excellent. Honestly, I'd prefer the latter, but it's only on in East Dulwich, for goodness' sake! An hour's journey.. naw, I'll head to the comedy instead, in the familiar (and closer) surrounds of the Prince Charles.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

BBC Prom 7: Delius, Nielsen, Hugh Wood, & Ravel

Delighted to be back to the Proms for the first time in three years! Tonight was #7 - Delius, Nielsen, Hugh Wood, & Ravel - and I booked the cheapest seat I could get. I always figure, for a classical concert - unless you know someone in the orchestra, why bother about the view? You're there for the music, and it's not like a rock concert, where they bounce around the stage and might do something outrageous! So I got one for £7.50 - or £9.15, with booking fee - up in the Circle.

I know it takes longer than you might think to get here, so I made sure to leave in good time. It's only three Tube stops from me, but it's a fair trek from South Kensington station to the Albert Hall. Tonight, not rushing - for once - I timed it. Not counting the four-minute wait for a train, it still took over half an hour to get to my seat. After a five-minute or so walk to my local station, about five minutes of the remaining 25 was spent on the Tube. I wasn't walking fast - but it took me about 10 minutes to get to the end of the subterranean passage that links S Ken station with Exhibition Road. A helpful sign says to turn left for the Royal Albert Hall - after that, you turn left again onto Prince Consort Road (appropriately named after the same person as the Hall), right onto Kensington Gore, and soon you see the Hall peeping out from between the buildings. All of that took about another 5 minutes, and give another 5 to get all the way up to the top of the house, and my seat. Really, you don't want to underestimate it - they don't admit latecomers until a suitable part.

This must have been the first occasion where I've both arrived at, and left, the Albert Hall in daylight - and it's a gorgeous part of town. There are so many beautiful buildings around here; it's just a shame that both my phone and camera batteries were down. In fact, I don't know what's become of my camera battery charger! so it could be some time before I take photos with my camera again. Anyway, I was delighted not to be rushing for once. It's a circular building - the door number is printed on the ticket. There was a bag check at the door, but when they saw my bag, they waved me on - too small, I suppose. I had a lot of stairs to climb, but it's an easy climb here. And then a few more steps to get up to my row.

Seats are comfortably upholstered, but it's awkward to rest your head if you want to.. Anyway, I had no-one immediately on either side of me, so plenty of space to spread myself out. That was interesting - the more expensive seats were much more packed. I'm guessing people wanted to make a night of it if they were coming - do it properly. You know, all the Proms are broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, some on tv as well - like tonight's, obviously, with cameras swooping all over the stage. And they're available afterwards, on the website, for a month. But for my part, I prefer them live - even right up in the gods, the atmosphere in the Royal Albert Hall is terrific.

I didn't recognise most of the programme - and had made the mistake of not actually making a note of the programme in advance. Seeing it now on the event website, I must say that the first piece was well named. In a Summer Garden, by Delius, was evocative of birds twittering, sun shining, and all things summery. Things got more dramatic with the inclusion of the large choir that had hitherto been sitting quietly at the back, but roused themselves for Epithalamion, by Hugh Wood. After the interval, we were treated to Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto, and an absolutely stunning performance of Daphnis et Chloe, Suite #2, by Ravel. With full orchestra and choir, this was going out on a high, the music soaring to fill the space. Man, I love these shows! Classical music was never more accessible.

And so home, nice and early for once! And nice that the underground passage was still open - it closes at 10, so I usually have to come back at street level. After-work drinks tomorrow to bid farewell to yet another colleague who's leaving us, and back to Ireland on Friday, for the weekend. On Monday, I'm attending a comedy night with a Meetup group I recently joined - London Live Comedy - who are off to see Lucy Frederick at the Betsey Trotwood, in Clerkenwell. Long time since I've been up that way..

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Film: The Salt of the Earth

Film it was this evening, and I had to choose from a list of three: a very long Indian one, and two I was equally ambivalent about. So I picked the one that was on closer - The Salt of the Earth, showing in the Curzon Victoria. Now, I am familiar with the Curzon being far too expensive - indeed, they're now somewhat eye-wateringly so, at £18 for a standard cinema ticket. As someone remarked when I told her, for that price you'd expect the seat to vibrate! But well, I did fancy going to somewhere close to home, so the Curzon Victoria was where I went.

The Tube to Victoria was crowded and sweaty in the heat, and I was glad to leave it. Upon exiting the station, I headed for Victoria Street, but knew not to cross straight away, as the interminable construction works have blocked the pavement at the far side, near the junction with the station. So, only cross when you can see you've passed the hoardings. Once I'd crossed, I just kept walking, and there it was, eventually, quite inconspicuous among the chrome and glass facades that line this street now.

I bought my ticket without ever considering buying anything else - I might have agreed to pay this much for the ticket, but they weren't getting any more of my money! Curzon Bloomsbury charges less for documentaries, you know.. I went straight downstairs - at least they signpost the screens well, and despite the lights still being on, I could take my seat straightaway. I'd chosen C10 (Screen 1), which turns out to be beside a pillar. And if, as was the case this evening, your only companions at the screen are seated at the other side, this means it's very private. My seat was a double, which meant plenty of space to spread out - and they're extremely comfortable Pullman seats, whose angle adjusts to how you're sitting. So I settled in.

If I'd paid more attention when I was researching this film, I'd have noticed that it's co-written, co-produced, and codirected, by Wim Wenders. And that the subject is the photographer, Sebastiao Salgado. And I'd have recognised that name. The combination of an iconic filmmaker and an iconic photographer is intoxicating, and I wouldn't have had to base my film choice on location. This really is a dream team, and I was in for a treat!

The film deals with Salgado's fascinating life, and his work. And it's completely stunning. We learn how he drifted into photography for the sheer love of it, and all the work he did in conflict zones, with refugees and so on. The photographs from this period are breathtaking. And we hear how his work in Rwanda left him completely jaded and despairing. And then we hear how, when his father died, he and his wife took over the farm in Brazil, which deforestation had left as a desert. She was the one who had the idea simply to replant it - and now it's a national park, and an example of what can be done. So his latest work - Genesis - focuses not on the misery caused by humanity, but on the beauty of creation.

Wow, what a film. Recommended for lovers of film, lovers of nature, lovers of photography - and even worth the price of admission.

Tomorrow, I'm off - for the first time in two years - to the Proms, at the Albert Hall! Prom 7, tomorrow, features Delius and Ravel, among others. I have a cheap-as-chips seat in the Gods - ironically, costing just over half what I paid for this evening's cinema ticket. Restricted view, but that's not what I'm there for. On Thursday, there are leaving drinks for yet another colleague, and on Friday I'm back to Ireland again, for the weekend..

Monday, 20 July 2015

An Evening With an Immigrant

Nope, that's not what it was supposed to be this evening - I had booked a ticket to see Paul Sinha. But then, while I was at lunch, I got a mail to say sorry, but it was cancelled and I'd get a refund. Now, that didn't help with deciding what to do tonight!

There wasn't much on Meetup, and I ended up back on Time Out for the first time in months. At least I see they've reintroduced the customised date feature, where you can specify an exact date range to search through. Not that it affected me, since I was searching for something for today anyway. I spent ages trawling through comedy gigs and checking them all out on YouTube - they're all practicing for the Edinburgh Festival, next month. Nothing suited. There were a couple of things I'd have gone to, but the Time Out reviews put me off - and a couple more that were sold out.

I was well cheesed off by the time I got to about page 7, and came across An Evening With an Immigrant, at the Soho Theatre. A one-off show, it featured a Nigerian immigrant telling his story - and with no bad reviews to put me off, I decided to go, and I booked.

I was lucky, changing trains at Earl's Court - on both outward and return journeys, one escalator was not operational, but in each case the working one was the one I needed. And I made the theatre in good time, again. A long queue snaked its way around the box office lobby, but it was fast-moving, and I was soon at the desk - where the guy completely misheard my name and nearly gave me the wrong ticket, before realising the postcode I'd given him didn't match. When that got sorted, I was told to wait in the bar - which was already crammed. The upstairs theatre mustn't have been free yet - they often run multiple productions.

We were finally told we were clear to enter, and the long climb to the top floor ensued. Upon entering the theatre, we soon saw that many of the side seats had "Reserved" signs - and without a companion this time who didn't want to sit in the front, that's exactly what I did. We were told not to leave spare seats - they were evidently expecting a crowd. As I waited, I noted the woman beside me, who was reading a book entitled "Theatre of the Oppressed". And underlining bits, and making notes: obviously a student.

A fellow at the back played prerecorded music, and a fellow at the side took photos with cameras that looked professional. The star of the show, Inua Ellams, made a somewhat dramatic entrance, dressed in traditional costume and dancing to the music. He soon shed his garb though, reassuring us that he was wearing something underneath - and spent the rest of the evening in t-shirt and jeans. He perched on a stool, with a script on a stand alongside - he explained to us that he would tell us his story, and this script consisted of his poems.

He also warned us that this was not a theatrical production, and indeed he ran well over. Not one person minded. It transpired, mind you, that many in the audience were his friends. And he proved to be a natural storyteller, with a fascinating tale to tell. His father is Muslim, his mother Christian - and where he comes from, that was not cool at all. Things worsened when, instead of his mother converting, his father decided that he would like to convert instead, and the family started getting death threats.

His father had something to do with the national radio station - I forget what. Anyway, that was the excuse he used to get the family to London, where the BBC was keen to establish good relations with Nigerian radio. His father paid lawyers to handle the family's immigration case, and as he describes it, he ended up in a school that had the whole world in it! Nelson Mandela visited, he said, and this must be where he came up with his idea of the Rainbow Nation..

Well, the family's papers, passports etc. got lost in the mail, it seems, and Royal Mail - unsurprisingly - washed their hands of the matter. They're not liable for anything that's not insured, you see. So the lawyers advised his father to take the family to Dublin for a few years while they sorted this out. When they returned, and his father tried to contact the lawyers, they were nowhere to be found - it eventually emerged that their offices had been raided, because they'd been selling immigrants' identities! So, as he said, there's someone out there using his name..

Officially stateless and forbidden from working, his father nonetheless found work as a taxi driver - until his stroke. So now the family poet had to support them all! Well, he's gone from strength to strength, and at his deportation hearing, the testimony of those he's worked with saved the day, and he got leave to stay. However, his right to stay has to be reviewed every three years - and since it's based on the Human Rights Act, which - in a typically xenophobic move, the Tories want to scrap - well, he still doesn't know how long he'll be here.

All of this was imparted to us in an easygoing, entertaining style, and interspersed with some of his poems. Not all - he just didn't have time. But it was a fantastic evening, although I didn't stay to buy one of the books he was selling from a bulging bag. I enjoyed listening to his poems, but I never end up reading the poetry books that I buy. Still, I heartily recommend hearing him speak, if you get the chance! And out I went, braving the crowds on Shaftesbury Avenue to walk to Piccadilly Circus - because I was in no particular hurry. And I must mention the excellent busker in Piccadilly Circus.. electric guitar doesn't always sound this good.

Tomorrow is looking like a film. Of the three films jostling for position at the top of my list, one is Indian, so I'm dubious - from experience. Besides, it's typically long. Of the other two, I'm thinking I'll go to The Salt of the Earth, simply because it's showing closer, at the Curzon Victoria.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Play: Silent & tourist weekend!

Yes, I know I've been quiet.. yes, I'm still alive! and blogging. Belatedly. Y'see, I had visitors, who just left today, and only now am I getting the chance to tell you all abt it!

So - we were up to last Thursday, when I went to see a play called Silent, in the Soho Theatre, with London For Less! Meetup group (who've now changed their name to Let's Do London - For Less). Yes, indeed. Anyway, I booked myself a ticket and met them there. And for once, I was on time! both for this group, with which I haven't had such a good record lately - and for the theatre, which is the single hardest for me to get to on time. Much better since I started continuing to Leicester Square, so I don't have to trek through the crowds on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Well now, the organiser of this group is never hard to find. He's the one with the baseball cap. And he was sat just inside the door of the ground floor bar, with a crowd of people. So I got myself a drink and joined them. Met one other person I knew, met some people for the first time, and had a good chat until it was time to go upstairs. And oh! such luxury, not to have to rush - I'm so used to galloping up those stairs after some kind soul at the box office has radioed upstairs for them to keep the door open. Still a lot of stairs, but quite manageable if you're not trying to run.

The venue was only about half full, and we were asked to sit in the centre section. I sat near the back, with my companion who was suspicious of sitting in the front row. She was right, as it transpired.. this is a one-man show, and highly interactive. I have seen audience members subjected to worse, but be warned if you are averse to being part of the performance.

The show itself is award-winning, and features an Irishman - whom I'm sure I recognise from a similarly interactive show, years ago - whose story is that he's originally from Cobh, now living in Dublin, and homeless. So far, so depressing, right? Nope - this is one of the funniest things I've been to in a while. It's a disturbing concept for a show: spend 90 minutes (without interval - that would spoil the mood) in the company of one of those homeless men you probably avoid on the street.

Well, it's 90 minutes well spent. He's a natural raconteur, and effortlessly spins us from laughter to sympathy. I wasn't the only one to shed a tear. And his comic turns are hilarious. Not to mention his take on characters we all recognise - the people who pass him on the street, the psychiatrist who utterly failed to empathise with his mental condition. Oh, and that risible ad by the HSE - "Look after yourself. Look after your mental health." Best of all are his takes on Corkonians. Oh goodness me, but he knows the type - the snide, middle-class Cork lady who cares more about what the neighbours will think than ever she does about her sons.

Speaking of which, most of my group were a little baffled by the language. :-) Perhaps this show should come with an explanatory booklet, like The Commitments did when it was first released abroad. References to "langer" and Haulbowline (the naval base in Cork) went right over their heads. Theirs maybe, but not over the heads of the Irish people in the audience - of whom there were a disproportionately high number. I know, because he proceeded to chat to them, and they chatted back. Indeed, when he started to sing a song, the whole audience joined in - which just cracked him up.

We had laughter, we had song, we had dance. He gave a human face to homelessness. I can see why it won awards. Sadly, this wasn't true of everyone in the audience - one person walked out in high dudgeon. He was quick with comebacks, though - which was unfortunate for the first person to leave, who was actually from our group and developed a cough, apparently. Better that, though, than the couple at the back who decided that the best way to express their discontent would be to complain under their breaths for the entire performance, thus intruding on the person sitting next to them. Really people, leave or shut it! Anyway, for my part, I joined the standing ovation at the end. Runs until Saturday, and I can highly recommend it.

Afterwards, we had a delightfully late night in the bar (we few hardcore members). I'm quite sure our fearless leader would have taken it to an all-nighter, as he apparently had the night before, but he just didn't get the support. And so we eventually made it to bed.

I took Friday off, to go and meet my friends, who'd flown into Stansted and taken the train to Liverpool Street, as the more comfortable option. We had planned to lunch in an Italian there, but it turned out to be under refurbishment, so we hit Wetherspoon's instead. We were lucky to get a table that had just been vacated, and had a very pleasant lunch, before heading to their hotel - the same as last time, and which they describe as very good value - quiet, old-fashioned décor, friendly, attentive staff, a great breakfast, and a good location.

And then we hit.. Primark. Well, one of us did, because she's a fan. We others decamped to the nearest pub - the City of Quebec, down an alley across the road. Reading the reviews now, I see it's a gay bar - it's also right off Oxford Street, so attracts some weary shoppers. And persons such as ourselves, who could be described as weary waiting-for-shoppers. The place was dark, dingy, and reeking.. there was no way we were drinking inside, so it's lucky one of the outside tables became free and we sat out there. Service was friendly, though. Still, I can't recommend it - unless you're seriously desperate.

When our companion was finished shopping (surprisingly early), we headed for food. On our way back to the hotel, we came across an unassuming Italian - Il Posto - and managed to get a table there after a short wait. Now, this I can recommend. The food was as authentically Italian as the staff, and there was a great atmosphere! I'm glad we cleaned our plates - I got the impression the waiter would've told us off if we hadn't.. excellent find, and if and when they're back, I'm sure we'll be eating there again!

Afterwards, we just had time to dump the bags and freshen up, briefly, before heading out again. I went on a walk with Walk About London some months back, called South Bank by Night, which I thought perfect for them - and when I found out another was scheduled for the very night they arrived, well I immediately booked the three of us on it. With the meeting point at the south end of Westminster Bridge, we could walk from their hotel - and we did, arriving ever so slightly late. But luckily, having been before, I knew that they stop just down the steps for a brief talk, so I joined the group there. And we went through pretty much the same route as last time - except for missing the actual walk onto the Millennium Bridge to get the best view of St. Paul's, which I was disappointed about. Never mind - despite that, and some small errors in the narrative, it's still a fascinating walk, and highly recommended. Free - donate what you want at the end. Photos for the walk, and the rest of the weekend, here.

Afterwards, I took my guests on a trip that I still think should be part of this walk - to see the Scoop, which I've been to many's the time. I suppose it bookends his walk nicely to have it start and finish at a bridge, but this is only a few minutes' walk away, and has a better view of Tower Bridge, as well as the City lights - quite a spectacular view, if you've just been to a show there! Absolutely shattered - the guided walk itself ran over by half an hour - we crawled home.

At least that day, we had the privilege (ever less common, these days) of taking the Tube; since then, we haven't really - the District and Circle lines, which we needed, were closed for engineering works in that section. (Just like the last time they were here!) Not that we needed them that much, as it happened: I'd decided that a boat trip would be just the thing, and yesterday we'd arranged to meet Helen, who said she'd come up for the day, at London Eye pier to take a sightseeing cruise to Greenwich.

Well, it was a beautiful day - absolutely perfect for a boat trip. And we walked to the pier, which we'd also done the night before, for the guided walk. This turned out to be a mistake - what with me just missing my bus to the hotel, and awful crowds on the bridge, we ended up missing our boat. Poor Helen was left waiting for us. Well, anyway, it gave us time to get ice cream and water - and the boat we ended up getting was much nicer, by Helen's account.

I had tried to get us a lunch cruise - but they were booked up already. This was obviously one of the boats used for that, with tables and proper, swivel chairs - we sat inside, in this section, what with the upper deck being so full. Helen remarked on the cleanliness of the windows, and she was right - many of the photos linked to above were taken through those windows.

Fascinating commentary accompanied us all the way to Greenwich, where we didn't plan to spend too long - with a show booked for that night, we were under some time pressure. So when we saw a Nando's right on the dock, we decided that would do nicely. We would've liked to eat on the roof terrace, but unsurprisingly, there would have been a wait for that, so we ate very pleasantly downstairs instead, the sun streaming in the window on us - and were well fed. Afterwards, we passed the Cutty Sark on our way to the market, where some time and money were spent. A stroll through the naval college afterwards yielded some interesting views, of Canary Wharf and the O2 across the river, before our trip back.

The boat for our return journey was of a different design, covered fore and aft, with an exposed central section - which, of course, was where we ended up sitting. And was probably where we got sunburnt. We were accompanied for our trip by a wedding party, of all things! The bride got a round of applause, and I think they had reserved a space at the back. They disembarked at Westminster with us - where they were headed, I cannot say. For our part, we needed to eat before the show, but not much - so we decided on afternoon tea, and Helen suggested the National Gallery. Where, unfortunately, official afternoon tea had ended in the restaurant - but we seated ourselves in the self-service café and were much revived by the cake and beverages on offer there. Until they threw us out, too.

It was National Busking Day, as it happened, and the focus was on Trafalgar Square, just outside. Sadly, that too had ended by the time we left the café, but we perched ourselves on the edge of a fountain, and were given timetables for the busking festival that runs for weeks yet! And when a bench came free to the side, we took our places on that and people-watched until it was time to head to the theatre.

We really didn't have far to go. The Coliseum is about a two-minute walk from that end of the square, and I'd booked us seats for a contemporary ballet there - showing for two nights only. The building itself helped to convince me that this was the thing to go to - it's so ornate, I was sure they'd be impressed. Which they were. I'd seen slightly cheaper seats on the official website, but got slightly better ones with Discount Theatre - so I booked those, and things looked up when we were told by one of the ushers that it was ok to move forward to better seats, if we could see them! We ended up with a lovely view, and my companions went out at both intervals to photograph the spectacular décor. I do have to wonder whether those who might have paid extra for similar seats would be miffed at others getting them at a discount! Ah well..

There were three ballets, with an interval between each pair. I didn't get much of the story of the first, but it was beautiful to look at - both athletic and graceful. The second, Tristesse, depicted a group of friends who started amicably - with many a titter from the audience at their antics - dancing to well-known classical pieces, played by a pianist who was on stage with them. Things deteriorated, however. The final piece was a hilarious treatise on the proverbial woman scorned - woe betide the man who jilts his bride at the altar!

Afterwards, Helen left for her train by foot, but we had to take a bus. Fair play to Google Maps, whose directions print very well, which is how we found our bus stop, just as the bus arrived. Mind you, when we disembarked and were trying to find our way back to the hotel, said directions could have been better. We got ever so slightly lost, which wasn't helped by the fact that, unusually, it rained on us (slightly) and of course, it was dark and we were tired after a long day. We managed, but it was a nuisance. On my bus back home, I encountered the most interesting crowd - from the man swigging from a beer bottle, right under the "No alcohol" sign, to the middle-aged ladies who looked like they'd come from a wedding, to the extremely drunk (and, to be fair, extremely good-looking) young man - South African it transpired - who flirted relentlessly with them all the way to the terminus. To the amusement of his girlfriend.

This morning, I ended up taking exactly the same route from my bus stop to the hotel that we'd got lost on the night before. I didn't get lost this time - pity I hadn't had those directions with me the first time! (They were slightly different from those of the night before.) And then we walked back to catch the bus to Liverpool Street, and waited a very long time for the #11. Which, when it deigned to come, turned out to be one of the dreaded Routemasters, predictably - and predictably crowded. My companions stood downstairs - I was on the stairs for a while, then got a seat upstairs. A dubious privilege, what with deficient air conditioning (a feature of Routemasters) and non-opening windows. Apparently, someone from upstairs went down to beg the driver to turn on the aircon, only to be told that it was already on. I've complained about my two recent journeys on them, for all the good it'll do - apparently, complaints have soared, but TFL resolutely refuses to accept there's a problem. Probably waiting for the complaints to die down over winter, when there's less sunshine to bake the passengers.

Alighting gratefully at the station, we had lunch at the Merchant of Bishopsgate, which they'd spotted on the ground floor. And were very well fed, on wooden platters - although I think it was misguided to line mine with a sheet of newspaper, filled with stories related to fish, given that I was having chicken. Never mind - it was very tasty, and the service friendly and efficient. Also a great idea to have "small plates" - for those of small appetite, or in a hurry. I'd go again.

And when I wound my way home (by Tube, blissfully!), I finally got time to blog. Tomorrow, nothing much on Meetup, but I found a cheap ticket to see Paul Sinha in the Arts Theatre tomorrow night. It'll be interesting to see him live, for once.. Apparently, it's a preview of his show for the Edinburgh Festival.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Film: Love & Mercy

Last night was a film, and the film listings threw up Papanasam, an Indian film, as top in terms of IMDB ratings. The trailer looked decent - however, typically for Indian films (which tend to be quite long and only shown in the suburbs), the only showing I could manage was at Cineworld Staples Corner. And to get there in time, I'd have to take the 6.30 Overground - which is not fit for human transportation, it's so crowded. For my sins, I've done it a few times before. So, instead, I took the easy option of the second in the list - Love & Mercy: a biopic, as it happens, rather than a documentary, about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who suffered from psychosis. It had a good recommendation from someone in the office, as well as the advantage of showing in the Odeon Kensington, which I could walk to.

I left straight from the office, and it was a mighty pleasant stroll to the cinema. Bought my ticket from the machine, and went straight in, because - as usual here - there was no-one to check it. It turned out to be in Screen 3, which was right at the top of the building. Well, that does give you time to admire the staircase. When I finally panted my way up there, seating was unallocated and I seated myself centrally and relaxed - seats here come up to head level, which means you can lean your head back. Which is nice, and which you don't find everywhere.

John Cusack plays the older Wilson, and vaguely resembles him physically. His older self is depicted about 20 years after the Beach Boys' heyday, suffering terribly from his mental issues, but also under the obsessive care of his psychiatrist - a very shady Paul Giamatti. And the narrative flicks between the 60s - where we see the beginnings of his mental problems - and the 80s, where they control his life.

There's plenty of Beach Boys music in it, of course - and much like ABBA, you can't be down while listening to it. So that's cool. And the story is interesting, as Wilson's new love interest tries to save him from the prison he finds himself in. But.. that's about it. It's interesting, as I say, and those with an interest in music will appreciate the detailed description of how he went about his work. But honestly, unless you're a massive Beach Boys fan, you're not going to get much out of this, and it's probably not worth seeing. Catch it on tv, when it's eventually broadcast there.

Tonight is the London For Less! outing to see Silent, at the Soho Theatre. Tomorrow, I have friends visiting and we're headed on a South Bank by Night walk, which I went on a few months ago and thought perfect for them. On Saturday, we're headed on a sightseeing cruise.. and for more, watch this space!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Play: Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs

Another night at Southwark Playhouse with London For Less!.. This time to see the other show currently showing there - Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs. Well, at least this should have been an easier journey than last week, during the Tube strike..

To be fair, it was. That wouldn't have been hard, what with last week's journey taking 2.5 hours on two buses. Yesterday, I made it quite uneventfully to Elephant & Castle - which was where the fun started. Now, I've been to this station lots of times (specifically to go this theatre). However, I can safely say that I never left the station by this route before.. I don't really remember exactly how I got out on previous occasions, but yesterday I was up stairs, down stairs.. along a Northern Line platform, despite not having come on that line.. and finally up in a lift to an exit I didn't recognise!

How on earth did this happen.. panic ensued, as I didn't have much time before the show and actually had no idea where I was. I zigzagged back and forth a bit - in the pissing rain (no maps available) - and finally, mercifully, caught sight of Nando's. I knew that was on Newington Causeway, just down from the theatre - so at least I now knew where I was headed. How to get across the roundabout was another matter, with all the roadworks, and the railings specifically to prevent people crossing the road.. I finally got a gap in the traffic and nipped along the road to a gap in the railings, was now pointed the right way, scuttled down the road, collected my (discounted) ticket, which had been left at the box office, and made it in a few minutes before showtime. I was wrecked, and must say I didn't appreciate the temperature in the theatre, which was too warm - or maybe it was just me, sweaty after my journey.

And so to the show! Apparently this has been around quite a while, but I'd never heard of it. We have a disaffected arts student who's just been turfed out of art college, in Huddersfield. Stewing in his freezing flat, he becomes more and more angry with the powers-that-be, blaming them for his misfortunes. Somehow, it occurs to him that forming a political party would be the best way to effect change. He ropes a few of his mates into it as well, and the "movement" gathers steam.

The walls behind the stage depict a representation of the painting of Huddersfield by Lowry, helping to reinforce the setting. The stage is sparsely furnished, as befits a student flat. And our expelled student radical strides the stage like a colossus, in his long, military-style coat. The first act is quite funny, as these hapless individuals plan their putsch, like students anywhere - we've all met them, eh?

We were all asked to leave at the interval, so they could redress the stage. I had some more of their reasonably priced wine, and we all chatted about how we were enjoying the play. Before long, it seemed, we were called back in for the second act - handily, you can bring your glass.

Well, what a change of tone in the second half! All of a sudden, this all seems much more serious, and our bumbling students begin to show signs of despotism. It's quite disturbing: and one violent scene in particular is terrifically directed, the music itself and the sharp, jagged movements suggesting blows that aren't struck in reality. Our breath was taken away by the intensity of this part, and we left quite shell-shocked. A stern warning about how mild rebellion can escalate into something altogether more dangerous. It was too late to have a drink really, after - especially with work in the morning - which was a pity. But I really highly recommend this! Runs until the 1 August. (Contains smoking, as it says on the website.)

Funnily enough, I had no problem finding the right entrance to the Tube from the outside.. and despite finding the Tube too hot on the way home, I got home safely, in time for bed but too late to blog.

Today, my colleagues and I had lunch in Dragon Palace - a favourite haunt - for the slightly belated birthday of an ex-colleague of ours.  Well, we discovered that yes, you can fit 13 people around one of those large, round tables at the back. Cosily. I usually have dim sum here, but it was a bit manic today, with one of us taking the orders for the numbers of the different dishes, like an auctioneer! So I went with the a la carte, and had an uncomplicated crispy shredded beef. Which was unremarkable, but filled the spot. Wisely, our server decided, when one person ordered a fork, that we'd all get one, and when one ordered tap water, that we'd all get a glass of that too. Much more manageable.

Tonight, I fancy a film. Checking the film ratings today, they're all over the place - but my selection remains unchanged from the last time I looked. Top of the list was an Indian film - Papanasam. However, Indian films in general are besieged with problems: they generally only show out of town, they're generally really long, and by the way, also tend to be overrated. Well, the trailer for this looked decent - but the only place it's showing at a time I could make is Cineworld Staples Corner - which I'd have to get the Overground to, at a very busy time.

No thanks - instead, I'm going to see Love & Mercy. This is a documentary about the Beach Boys' leader, Brian Wilson's struggle with psychosis. I hear good things. And it's on close enough that I can walk - always a plus. especially now that the weather's improved. For tomorrow, I'm back with London For Less! again - at the Soho Theatre this time, for Silent. And on Friday, I've got friends arriving for the weekend. The only definite thing we've booked so far is, for Friday night, a reprise of the South Bank at Night walk that I went on a few months back..

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Play: Hang

Yes, back again to London - with one difference: the Tubes are running! Oh joyous day. Ironically, of course, I would have to wait until they were, to book something quite close to home. When I checked Meetup and saw that the London Dramatic Arts group were headed to Hang in the Royal Court Theatre, I was interested. RSVPs were closed - but when I found I couldn't get tickets anywhere else, I contacted the organiser, who kindly re-opened RSVPs so I could get a (discounted) ticket. Lovely!

I hadn't been to the Royal Court in a long time, but it's one of those really easy journeys. Tube to Sloane Square, turn to your right exiting the station, and there it is. Takes under 15 minutes from my house - even if the District Line is playing up, as it was yesterday evening: five minutes relaxing at the platform in Earl's Court, then two unscheduled stops before the next station.. Still, I got there eventually, the luxury of the exit escalator taking me to street level.

We were supposed to meet in the downstairs bar - I knew how to get there, but hadn't been in the bar before, as it happens. Well, it's impressively large - which posed its own problems, as I didn't know where to look. Fortunately, the organiser had an eye out for members, and grabbed me just as I was getting confused. So I sat and joined her and the others - there were only four of us in total - while she had a bite to eat, and we had drinks, before the show started.

We were in Row B of the stalls, and with several people having taken their seats by the time we went in, I was a bit concerned about having to push past people (I believe the show was sold out). I needn't have worried; Row B turned out to be the front row, with plenty of space in front - next to a worryingly high stage! Anyway, we had a bit of a search for our seats - the seats in the Royal Court are leather, and as comfortable as I remember, but the numbers are very hard to see. When I sat down, I wondered whether I'd have trouble seeing the action - but it turned out fairly ok, although I did have to crane my neck.

The show is only 70 minutes long - no interval, of course - and we agreed afterwards that this was quite long enough. This isn't in any way a comment on the acting, which is superb, or the quality of the production - it's quite simply such an intense piece, and says everything it needs to in the time available to it. Simply put, we have three characters - two social workers of some kind, and a woman who's come to speak to them about her case. We never do find out exactly what happened to her, but it seems to have been some kind of home invasion, and as the play progresses we become more and more aware of the dreadful impact it's had on her and her children and husband.

This play progresses interestingly - from the start, where the social workers come across as officious: caring enough, but careful always to follow the rules: and the victim is hesitant and shaking in the corner - to a point where she takes control, becomes more vocal, and we suddenly find the bureaucrats are the ones literally hiding behind chairs. Finally, at the end - without wanting to give too much away - she is robbed of her surety again. A concise rollercoaster of emotion, indeed..

This is as good as time as any to mention set design - sparse would be a good word. The only props are a water cooler - which provides an unobtrusive means of giving the characters something to do (get water for themselves and each other) - and a whole heap of office chairs. These are quite disorganised, as per a disorderly office - but they also prove very handy, as characters can decide whether to sit or stand, and where. The position of power seems to be to the left of the stage, and as power shifts from the officials to the victim, they swap sides. All these chairs are even handy to hide behind, as aforementioned!

Some minor quibbles: the walls (black, shiny, but not solid) wobbled whenever the aircon came on, and indeed whenever someone passed close to them. I found that distracting. There were also a couple of things about the writing style: most of the play is full of unfinished sentences. Fine, they indicate uncertainty perhaps - but it happened so often that I found that distracting, too. And when the victim does finally find her voice - my gosh, but she does! and I found the transition a little too extreme to be realistic.

BUT. Minor quibbles, these are. Really, it's been a while since I found so much to say about a production. Runs until Saturday, and I really recommend it if you get a chance - it's remarkable.

We stayed for a drink afterwards, and lively banter kept us there until closing. This is an interesting group of people, and I look forward to joining them again for something in the future. And so home, with some kind of delay on Wimbledon trains, so that I just took the next one to Earl's Court and walked from there, which was as quick. Too late to blog, in the end. Tonight, I'm joining the London For Less! people again, at the Southwark Playhouse again - this time for the intriguingly named Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs.  For which, again, they had discounted tickets (happy days!). Well, I'm imagining - with the Tubes running - it's not going to take 2.5 hours to get there, as it did last week..!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Musical: Gypsy

Ah, it's been a long time coming, a trip to see Gypsy! Then, looking for something to do yesterday, I saw that a Meetup group I hadn't heard of before - the London Dramatic Arts Meetup - was heading there. So I thought, well, why not? Now, their tickets were all sold out, so I went looking for my own. Reading seat reviews (always necessary for London theatres), it seemed that legroom would be an issue in the Grand Circle and the view in the rear Dress Circle, so Stalls it was, and I got a seat in the back. I did join the group all the same, and let them know I was coming.

After that horrendous journey on Wednesday, and with the Tube strike ongoing, I was more careful yesterday and left earlier, straight from the office. The most attractive route was to take the #28 straight up North End Road, then catch the #9 into town. However, I could easily walk to the end of North End Road and avoid having to take the bus - and not only would this save me money, but it seemed the wiser option. Indeed, I was right - during my walk, not a single #28 passed me going in that direction.

I arrived at the stop for the #9 just before it did! Unfortunately, it turned out to be a Routemaster, and crowded. I got a seat upstairs. I'm sorry to say that the criticisms are spot on - the air conditioning is completely ineffective, and you can't open the windows on the upper deck - it's like a sauna on hot days. AVOID IN SUNNY WEATHER. During the 1.5 hours it took to crawl its way into town, I mused that it was as hot as the Hell to which I'd happily consign the striking Tube drivers. Mind you, I was lucky to have a seat - we were completely full by the time we got to Hyde Park.

I gratefully disembarked on Strand, crossed the road and entered the blissfully airconditioned Savoy Theatre, to the side of the entrance to the Savoy Hotel - not down the back, as Google Maps would have you believe. There are lots of stairs down to the stalls - with a plethora of bars. There seemed to be one specifically for the rear stalls,and wrecked as I was, I just didn't fancy trekking around looking for the other bar, where the group would be meeting, none of whom I'd met before anyway. So I had my dinner (a packet of sweet chili crisps), and took my drink into the theatre, where I had a seat right beside the sound booth (lovely, no-one pushing past me!). There was plenty of legroom, and I kicked off my shoes and chilled.

The view was just fine, I thought: 

(Mind you, the people in front of me were yet to arrive at this point.) The show opened to the most incredibly long overture I've ever heard, and it was a relief when the curtain rose. Until we were subjected to the Shirley Temple-esque June. In short, the show is about the famous stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, and deals mostly with her childhood, with her mother (Imelda Staunton) pushing her and her sister, June, around the Vaudeville circuit. June duly runs off with one of the dancers in the show (somewhat of a relief), so mom turns her attentions to her hitherto-neglected other daughter, who, of necessity, ends up as a stripper. And the rest is history, pretty much.

The highlight of the show, for me, was Imelda Staunton - I never knew she had such a voice! The entire audience leapt to their feet to applaud her at the end, and justifiably. All in all, I enjoyed it. Currently booking up to the 28th November, and a decent night out. Plenty of third-party sellers available, but do check prices on the official site first. Oh, and I never did meet up with the group - frankly, I was exhausted and I just crashed in the back for the duration.

Afterwards, I joined a biblical crowd at the bus stop outside. Three #91s arrived in a row, immediately followed by a #9 - which meant that I was ideally placed to squeeze on, as it stopped with the front doors directly in front of me. It was another Routemaster, of course - they focus on particular routes. Now, another disadvantage of them is that you can also enter by the middle doors - which meant people were pouring on simultaneously through multiple entrances. Impossible to control. I soon found myself in a sea of people. Heading upstairs, the people in front of me discovered that there were no seats left on top. You can't stand on top, and there was no way to go back down - so we stayed where we were, on the stairs. I was to find that this was easily the most comfortable place - I had a whole two steps to myself, rails to hold onto, a window to see out of - and I could see the board that alerted us to the next stop. Perfect! And the most oxygen of anyone on that bus.

Unusually for a Tube strike, the bus driver was jokey, and pretended that the bus was non-stop to the terminus. In fact, we didn't stop at a single bus stop until mine, at Hyde Park Corner -  which was handy. We must have waited there for 10 minutes while people squeezed off the bus. It easily took me five minutes to ease my way down the stairs - without stepping on the feet of the poor girl behind me - and through the mass of people between me and the door. Ironically, the #9 that arrived right after us was completely empty..

My next bus stop was adjacent to this one, and I waited for the #74, which would pass within a couple of minutes' walk of home. When it eventually came, it was crammed though, and they weren't letting many on. So many were desperate that I hung back. Checking the bus route map, I saw that the other buses calling there - the #14 and the #414 - passed by Fulham Broadway Tube, which is walking distance from me. And there had been a #14, which had been practically empty. So when another came, again practically empty, and there was no interest from the crowd at the stop - I took that. And ultimately arrived safely home, if stiff and tired. And slightly deaf in one ear, from the woman beside me who was on the phone when I sat down - and stayed on it for the next 20 minutes, yapping constantly (in some language I didn't understand) - she stopped for at most 8 seconds at a time. I counted. I was amazed when she finally stopped entirely..

Oh what a relief, back to Ireland tonight and there's nothing on for the weekend! I need a rest. For Monday, my new group - the aforementioned London Dramatic Arts Meetup - has turned up trumps, with discount tickets for Hang, at the Royal Court Theatre! RSVPs were closed, so I tried getting tickets elsewhere - to no avail. Since they reopened the RSVPs for me before, I thought they might again if I asked - and they did! So I got one. And as I said to them, I'll be much more likely to meet them this time.. Also great that it's a lot closer to home for me. Now, that would've been handy this week..