Friday, 29 January 2016

Comedy: Laugh Train Home

Last night came up as comedy - a cheap ticket to another Laugh Train Home, in fact. I checked out the lineup on YouTube, was happy enough with what I saw - so I booked.

I was in a bit of a grump yesterday evening - waiting for my resident parking permit to be approved, exhausted after my week, just generally out of sorts. Working out all those new driving routes is wearing, y' know, and the drive to Guildford is long. Wasn't sure whether I really wanted to go out at all. But I said hey, staying in probably won't help, and comedy might just be the best medicine. So off I trotted. The last Laugh Train Home was local, but they have a venue in Acton - The Aeronaut - that they use every other week, and that's where it was last night. Google Maps said to get a train to Shepherd's Bush and a bus from there. Well, there were Tube options too - but that'd have been more expensive.

I arrived at Clapham Junction station and checked for the next train to Shepherd's Bush. In two minutes, from Platform 16! I was at Platform 1. Eh - I'd give it a go. I gave it my best, in fact, but the crowds were such that hurrying was difficult - and I arrived at the platform just as it was pulling out. Bummer - particularly after climbing all those steps to the platform. Where did the next one go from..? Platform 1. Sigh. Back again. Made this one, though..

Bus stop C in Clapham Junction is right outside the train station door, and I could catch the 207 or the 607 - I had saved the instructions to my phone. The 207 arrived shortly after I did, and I eventually alighted at Denehurst Gardens - slightly deafened from the really shrill call bell. The Aeronaut was back from there, across the road - and had a sign outside, that said the show started at 8! It was now about 8:20, and I slipped in apprehensively - but of course, nothing had started yet.

It was easy to find the comedy section - the old fella I'd seen the last night was selling tickets, and checking names, at a table just to the right. He checked my name off the list, and marked my hand so I could come and go to the bar - and pointed out the raffle ticket they always ask you to fill out, to win a ticket to next week's show. You drop it in - well, last night it was an ice bucket, by the stage. And then I grabbed a convenient seat - much easier than the last time, when there'd been large groups in. (And the seats were wicker, and very comfy!)

MC for the night - again - was the excellent Robyn Perkins: and, as usual, beware if you choose to sit in the front two rows (I'd had enough of that the last night, and I didn't). The format was the same as the last time - an opener, a break, two more acts, another break, and the headliner. Sadly, I didn't make a note of the names of most of the acts, and can't find a record now - but I did notice this: there was a noticeable improvement in quality as we saw the later performers, and it's very interesting - kind of like watching comedy routines evolve.

The first two guys were obviously naturally funny, but still finding their feet, with notes written on their hands. It was funny in itself, just watching them try out stuff on us and how they recovered if it didn't work. The first guy hadn't yet found the border between offensive and non-offensive, but seemed to be exploring it as hard as ever he could. He was overweight, and made a thing of it. The second guy was scrawny, and made a thing of that - and it was great to see how good they both were at working with the audience! The third guy's routine was more polished - and the headliner (whose name, luckily, is still on the Aeronaut's site - that was Kerry Godliman) was terrific, regaling us all with wry stories of motherhood.

But you know, they were all funny, it was a great night and a great venue, and I was delighted I'd gone. It was mentioned that this is a new comedy club - well, the very best of luck to them! Recommended - runs weekly, here or in the Four Thieves. From what I've seen, they've started really well. Pity I couldn't get a drink, but really, I was starving, and didn't trust it on a empty stomach.

The return journey started by bus, from the stop just up the road from the pub. A couple of buses pulled in as I approached - and then I saw mine, behind them both! Made a dash, but couldn't get there before it pulled away. It can be hard to get bus drivers to wait. And with a string, bitterly cold wind, it wasn't a fun wait for the next one. Mind you, I did get a restaurant recommendation while I was there - we were just across from the North China Restaurant, which an old chap waiting at my stop said his food critic friend had recommended as excellent. So now! If it hadn't been so late, I might have eaten there - but I made my way home, and had a late meal there instead.

My parking permit was approved today. :-) So now I can fly back to Ireland happy - tomorrow, we're off to A Night at the Musicals, presented by a local school, Coláiste Chiaráin, at the Limetree Theatre.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Concert: Farsa Moneda

There I was, browsing Meetup for something to do for last night, and what should I see but Spanish music. The London European Club was hosting a concert by a Spanish group, Farsa Moneda - and what's more, it was in Sands Film Studios! Ah well now - music I love, in an eccentric venue. I booked.

The weather was better yesterday evening for the drive back, and I avoided some of the traffic in town - so, although I still didn't have time to go home first, I wasn't in quite as much of a hurry. And, gratifyingly, I was also in plenty of time to get the Overground straight there - Rotherhithe is much closer than where I was the night before, and I could get the train after the one I'd had to get, on that occasion.

Last time I was here, I got the Tube to Canada Water - the Overground station is much closer, right around the corner really! Mind you, I was glad I had been here before - it'd have been desperately confusing otherwise. Easy when you know how - left out of the station, immediately left around the corner. Then left and across a car park, left down the road and it's on the corner, on your right..

I also knew where to go once I went in. Directed someone else, in fact! But the concert venue (which is called the cinema, because they also show films here) door wasn't open yet, I'd arrived so early. Interestingly, it said 7:30 on the ticket, but I spied a notice from the venue that said the concert wasn't due to start till 7:45. Well, that gave me time to explore - so I meandered through their extensive costume reference library, pulling out a few folders and browsing pictures of costume through the ages. Fascinating place - they make costumes for film and tv, you see, and the place is a warren, with historical costumes visible at every turn.

 If you book, your name goes on a list, although the fellow in front of me bought his ticket on the spot. The young lady selling tickets (and checking names) is in a play, BTW - we were told at the end. So here's some free advertising - it's Miss Julie, at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe. Part of the See 16 Arts Festival. Runs from the 11th - 14th February.

I got in early enough to have a decent choice of seat - and in this venue, the choice depends not so much on proximity to the stage as on your preference among the eclectic seating. Last time, I fancied a chair with a hard back - which was very comfortable, but this time I fancied something a bit softer, and found an armchair that nicely fitted the bill - the springs had seen better days, and creaked a bit, but otherwise it was perfect.

Although, as mentioned, someone did buy his ticket on the night, the event did seem to have sold out. Three in the band, with a guest performer at one point. The two ladies who stayed on throughout seemed to comprise the core of the band. And we were treated to about two hours' performance (including interval, during which - as beforehand - free tea and coffee were available in the cafe at the entrance). It truly was beautiful. My Spanish wasn't up to really understanding what they were singing about, but I've always loved Spain and things Spanish, and as someone behind me remarked at the interval, the singer sang in a very traditional style. Heavily peppered with coplas (Spanish songs of the Franco era), the set was acoustic - the singer, who also played violin, the guitarist, the percussionist/guitarist. A lovely, easy-listening evening.

At the interval, the organiser, having found me, made a valiant effort to round up the other Meetup people. To no avail. Ah well - if they were there, they mightn't have been interested in identifying themselves: and while it's nice to meet, I wouldn't require it of members - as I hear some other groups do..

I was so glad I'd come! They also have an interesting upcoming schedule, it seems, but I can't make the next one, and am not sure of my availability after that. Not a reflection on them at all - I just am that busy!

And so home, and again, too late to blog, with these early mornings. As I say, I should be working from home two days a week, but what with my parking permit not yet having been approved, which makes it attractive to be in Guildford during the day.. And anyway, today was another bittersweet leaving lunch for one of our number, London-based, and who has found it just too awkward to work from Guildford, and is leaving for pastures new. Today's lunch was booked in the Lemongrass restaurant, in Compton, outside Guildford.

I'd researched the route - southbound on the A3, turn off for Farnham on the B3000. Easy-peasy. Except, when I saw the first stretch was on the A3, I didn't bother to research that bit.. which was why I got confused when I saw a sign for the A31, leading to Farnham. Turned off there, and it didn't take me long to realise I'd gone wrong. I eventually ended up turning back to the A3, to head the way I should have in the first place. Quite easy then - down the B3000, left at the roundabout (signposted Compton), and it's a bit along that road, on the right. Huh. My passenger and I were the last to arrive, and the first thing I was greeted with was, "Did you go down the A31..?"

You live and learn. Anyway, this used to be the Harrow Inn, and did look familiar.. it's a lovely old building, no longer a pub - to the distress of one couple who came just looking for that. Service is gracious, although the lady taking our order was rather confused by the tablet on which she was entering the information. I might have ordered a starter, but when she asked whether anyone wanted one, nobody piped up, so I passed. The mains were so filling, however, that we were in agreement that starters would have been a mistake.

I nearly had the pad see-ieuw, but plumped for the chicken with cashew nuts instead - which was absolutely delicious. I didn't hear any complaints from the rest of our 12-strong group about their food, either - I think this would be a safe bet for an excellent Thai meal around Guildford. And it struck me, as usual, what a good meal you can have cheaply once you get out of London.

And I found my way back flawlessly, with an audience of two extra passengers. One of whom was distressed that it didn't take us longer, but never mind.

Tonight, I got a cheap ticket to Laugh Train Home - I've been to that once before, but this one is in Acton. And I still must look up my route.. Tomorrow, it's back to Ireland for the weekend again.. and on Saturday, we're off to A Night at the Musicals, presented by a local school, Coláiste Chiaráin, at the Limetree Theatre.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Play: Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkern

Quite a mouthful - Jane Wenham, the Witch of Walkern. But then, it is based on a true story. Well, I'm always interested in a witch trial - so I booked.

Pity it's in the Arcola - nothing wrong with the place, but it's a hassle to get to from where I live. The cheapest, and simplest, option was to take the Overground directly from Clapham Junction to Dalston Junction, a short walk away. The quickest option, however, was to take a train to either Vauxhall or Victoria, then the Victoria Line to Highbury and Islington, where I could catch the Overground to Dalston Kingsland - the last one that would get me there on time was to pass through Highbury & Islington at 7.23 (show time is at 7:30).

Well, the weather yesterday turned nasty, and driving fast coming back from the office was tricky. And traffic was heavy. I'd checked all my timings, and knew, by the time I finally parked the car back in Clapham Junction, that I'd missed the Overground I needed - so, the more expensive and complicated - but - quicker - option it was.

I scurried off to the station, where I'd decided to take the next train leaving to either Vauxhall or Victoria. As it happened, I was just in time for one to Vauxhall - ten minutes earlier than required by my timetable. Just as well I'd done that route before, though - the upcoming stations indicator on the train was wrong: had us going in completely the wrong direction. Often happens in the evenings - they pay less attention. Also, there was no announcement as we pulled into Vauxhall - nor could I see a sign anywhere with the station name, despite looking.

Well, I made my way onto the Underground, picking up a paper as I passed - I still had a ways to go. (Good job I don't need it tonight - I see there are problems on that line today!) Made it to Dalston Kingsland with a faint hope of making the Overground before the 7:23 - it was nearly 10 past, and they only go every 15 minutes. I was just climbing down to the platform as it pulled away.. But imagine my joy when I saw an extra one scheduled, for just seven minutes time! Don't know why - but I was glad to take it; the train was crammed, but enough people got off that I managed to squeeze on.

It was only two more stops, and I knew the way - out of the station, turn right and it's the second left, down an alley. Now, it's a while since I'd been here, and I'd forgotten that the theatre entrance is around the corner from the bar.. ended up going through the bar and getting completely confused! I did finally figure out where the box office was, and had to squeeze past the long queue of people that were already going in. Ticket in hand, I managed to jump the queue slightly.. well, we did all have assigned seating!

The ushers couldn't really be bothered telling people where their seats were, and I had to ask twice, then ask the person who, it transpired, was sitting beside me, what number the seat beside her was! They do have seat numbers here - on tiny pieces of paper, discreetly stuck to the ridge at the top of each seat, and invisible as you pass along the row. Anyway, that was indeed my seat, on which I sat. Gratefully. I'd gone primarily for proximity to the stage, so was sat at the side - and although it was Row B, it turned out to be the front row for this production.

So. A witch trial, in early 18th Century England. You can guess most of the story already, certainly the themes raised - the dangerous idiocy of the trials, the mass hysteria, the overzealous preacher. The first thing you notice is that they've made a deliberate effort to have authentic accents - the educated clergy speak clearly, but the common folk speak in a deep country accent that can be hard to understand. Even some of the words used are new to our modern ears - this award-winning writer has paid great attention to detail.

It's a wonderful thing to watch. Forget that we've heard this, or similar stories before; it's wonderfully acted, and truly atmospheric - especially when they use music. Another hit for the Arcola, and highly recommended if this kind of story is your thing. Runs until Saturday - contains nudity. Go see!

As we left, there was a crash from the other side of the auditorium. The seating here is tiered, with a flight of steps to the side, and for some reason starts a bit up from the ground. So the bottom step is loose - deliberately, the steps simply don't go all the way down to the floor. And whatever way someone had stepped on the one on the other side - possibly just on the edge - he'd managed to overturn it, which of course he hadn't been expecting. He'd gone sprawling into the props lined up at the side, and could have been injured badly. Black mark there for the Arcola!

I came out the other way, heading for Dalston Junction and the direct train home. Come out of the alley on the other side, and it's just across the road to the right. Good luck crossing, though - the pedestrian crossing lights seemed not  to be working, and we eventually took our chances with the traffic. At the station, I couldn't find a timetable - but the platform indicator said there'd be a train to Clapham Junction in nine minutes. As I descended the stairs, and was hit by a frigid breeze, I was apprehensive - but apparently (despite what the map indicates), this is a terminus station, and a train was just pulling in, which we could sit on. In relative warmth.

Brother, was I glad to get home - the journey took forever, partly because of a lengthy, unexplained delay coming into Denmark Hill. I stopped for chips on the way home, and got home just after bedtime - too late to blog. Well, I should be working from home today, but my blasted resident parking permit is being held up, because I don't yet have papers to prove I own the car, and if I don't come to Guildford I'll have to pay for parking at home! Grr..

Tonight is my only Meetup of the week - I'm off to a Farsa Moneda concert at Sands Film Studios, with the London European Club. Really looking forward to that - both the music, and the fantastic, quirky venue. And it's closer than last night, and starts later - all good. Tomorrow, I got a cheap ticket to Laugh Train Home - I've been to that once before, but this one is in Acton. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend again.. and on Saturday, we're off to A Night at the Musicals, presented by a local school, Coláiste Chiaráin, at the Limetree Theatre.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Play: Give Me Your Love

Eeny-meeny-miny-mo. What was I going to tonight? Depended how I got on today, given that I was risking the drive to the Guildford office for the first time. Not hard, once you get out of London - but London would tax the most experienced driver. Well, neither on the outbound nor the return journey did I get lost, so I felt like going out after. But I'd had enough driving for the day, really - and Give Me Your Love therefore appealed, showing in the Battersea Arts Centre as it is. Walking distance, a cheap ticket, and it sounded good. I booked.

I left early, and took my time strolling there. I arrived about 10 minutes early and collected my ticket - even then, they weren't letting people in, and I moseyed off to the bar and got myself a wine - in a plastic container, so I could take it in. Mind you, when they finally let us in - just after the show's scheduled start time - I saw some people apparently heading in with glasses - not sure what happened there.

It's an old council building, with some fine features - it seems that much of it was destroyed in a fire last year, and they're collecting for renovations. We ascended the fine marble staircase I remembered from the one time I was here before, and were shown into the council chamber - once ornate, now much dilapidated. Tiered seating had been installed - I was to find that my seat was about halfway up, on the aisle. Which was a perfectly decent seat. Thing is, the place was only about half full - so I was effectively at the back.

The play itself centres on a war veteran with PTSD. Who prefers to live in a cardboard box. Which makes it very surreal. This is actually a very clever device, as the play deals with really dark and disturbing subjects, while the talking box brings a degree of levity - less so as the play continues. In summary, it's a very interesting piece, dealing with dark topics. And it only runs for an hour, without interval - and it's always nice to get back some of your evening. Runs until Saturday.

The rest of the week is booked up - tomorrow, I'm headed to a play called Jane Wenham: the Witch of Walkern, at the Arcola. Long time since I was there - well, it's awkward to get to. Might be easier from Clapham Junction. Wednesday is my only Meetup of the week - I'm off to a Farsa Moneda concert at Sands Film Studios, with the London European Club. Really looking forward to that - both the music, and the fantastic, quirky venue. Thursday, I got a cheap ticket to Laugh Train Home - I've been to that once before, but this one is in Acton. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend again.. and on Saturday, we're off to A Night at the Musicals, presented by a local school, Coláiste Chiaráin, at the Limetree Theatre.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Vampire Hearts, Modern Killers: An evening of live horror music and talks

I was intrigued when I saw that Spooky London had organised an evening about vampires. I love my scary stuff, so it didn't take long for me to decide to book. Now, yesterday was a red-letter day for me - I finally made the final deposit payment, and collected my car! Still some paperwork to organise, but it's sitting outside my place as we speak. Which was an achievement in itself, since I got lost on the way back. What the hey, all's well that ends well..

I got all that done in the afternoon, and had just about enough time to eat before the event - if I ate out, not having to cook. Which I'd intended to, anyway, to celebrate. I checked the website for The King and Queen pub, where the event was taking place, but it seems they don't do food at the weekends. Righty-ho, there are plenty of places around Clapham Junction.. so I set off in search.

I was aware that I shouldn't spend too long on the hunt, but I didn't have to - at the end of the road was a pub on the corner that I'd noticed, of course, several times, but never yet visited. Revolution seemed to have a good vibe, so I went in. It was pretty crowded - I found a little table that was free, but with a Reserved sign on it: but the reservation wasn't until 7, which was when I was supposed to be at my event - so that was ok.

I ordered at the bar, paid and collected my drink straight away, and was served the rest within ten minutes - can't complain about the service, although the barman did have to repeat himself a couple of times when I was ordering, to be heard over the pumping music. They have a "hero" special every day - they pick one main course to be discounted; yesterday's was the bacon burger, but I felt like chicken and ordered that instead. With BBQ sauce (the alternative is hot sauce) and fries (instead of salad) and I decided to go for a side of sweet potato wedges.

And it was all delicious! I found the wedges a bit sickly after a while, but the vodka salsa dip that came with them was sublime (there was also a sour cream dip). The fries were great, the chicken lovely - it was a half roast chicken though, and in the end I couldn't finish everything. But I really enjoyed it - the atmosphere was great, the playlist catchy, and the whole meal (including the wine) cost less than £20 - excellent value, by London standards. Definitely one to return to - I was sorry I didn't have time for dessert. Booking essential, though.

Now, these days I have a choice of driving to events, of course. But this one being in town, I figured I'd have trouble parking - so instead I took a train to Vauxhall, where I caught the Victoria Line. Which was confusing in itself, as the barriers I had to pass through looked like entrance barriers to the Tube, rather than exit barriers. Which meant I'd have to touch my Oyster card in without touching out, first. Which is a no-no. But no, they were exit barriers, it transpired - and I was just in time for a train. Which I caught to Oxford Circus.

Streetview proved itself invaluable, again. I've got lost here before - this time, I knew north was past H&M (shops are a good way to orient yourself in this part of town), and I knew which streets I needed to turn onto, and which landmarks were on the corner. Because The King and Queen is not terribly close to the Tube, and some navigation is required. Still, it didn't take me too long to wend my way, and boy, was it vexing to see plenty of parking available in front of the pub! and on a Saturday night, too. Must remember that, in future - I see there's also a parking app you can download. (Well, I never paid attention before!) At least not having the car meant I could drink as much as I pleased.

Inside, the pub is lined with - appropriately - various portraits of English monarchs. Spot the famous face time. It's quite a small space, and it was easy to see there was no sign for the meeting. I asked at the bar as I was ordering another drink, and sure enough, it was through the door marked "Private Function Room". This leads to a flight of stairs - one floor up, there's a landing with several doors, and I found myself confused. Luckily, someone was coming out at that moment, and I was able to choose correctly. Could've done with a sign at this point.

They ticked my name off the list, and I took a seat to the side. Again, a small room - cosy, with fairy lights on the end wall. The seats were standard function room type, and not the most comfortable, but never mind. They didn't actually start at 7 - but by about 7.15, the band kicked off. I'd been a bit dubious about the description, but they were actually quite good. They played to start, between talks, and again at the end, and moved things along nicely - their material, billed as "gothic" wasn't that scary, but did make for a nice backdrop.

The speakers were the highlight of the night, though. First up was someone who did a BA and Master's on vampires, and was now doing a PhD on werewolves. As you do. She spoke about the gradual romanticisation of vampires in modern popular culture, referencing many famous books and tv shows. She's a Twilight fan, but we won't hang her for that! Sadly, not a True Blood fan, and that series didn't feature - but she was really engaged and entertaining, and we loved her talk.

The second speaker was the author of a number of books about vampiric real-life serial killers, with a penchant for drinking their victims' blood. Lovely. Some fascinating stuff in there, and some of his books were available to buy - though I didn't. And it made for a nice juxtaposition with the first speaker. All in all, a very interesting evening - I was sorry not to stay to mingle afterwards, particularly as this was the first of this group's events I managed to get to - but by the time the second speaker was finished, I was wrecked, and made my way home. Hope they stage something else I can go to - I'm not around for their next two meetings.

Arriving in Clapham Junction station again, I decided to pop into Sainsbury's, to treat myself to a box of chocolates as a final treat - and since I hadn't had dessert. Well, I almost regretted it, it took so long to check out - the self-service machine's coin collector wasn't working properly, and neither of the two idiot staff members that came to help me had the faintest clue what they were doing. Neither would they just take the money and let me go - oh no, I must needs stand there while they vainly tried to get the thing to work. Finally, they gave up and checked me out on the next machine. Duh..

Now, I was supposed to go on a walk today. But you know, frankly, I don't have any enthusiasm for it. I have too much to do - including some work I said I'd finish over the weekend. And it's free, so I can cancel easily. Funnily enough, when I was checking last night what time it was on, someone had commented that she was sorry it'd been cancelled! First I'd heard of it, but frankly I was glad, and duly cancelled my RSVP. Sure enough though, today it turns out it was all a misunderstanding, and the walk is still on. In the meantime, though, I provisionally decided to go to a film - which meant I stayed up very late, doing this week's film list! So yes, I do have a film I could go to today - but as I say, think I'll just stay in.

That film list will prove handy for tomorrow, though - assuming I'm not too mentally exhausted, after figuring out my driving route to and from Guildford! Well, or I could get a cheap ticket to a play happening in the Battersea Arts Centre, just down the road, which I can walk to - Give Me Your Love does sound interesting. If I go to a film, it'll be Room - and I see that Cineworld Wandsworth offers free parking in the adjacent car park after 7! so if I do that, or indeed for future performances, I know how I'll be going..

The rest of the week is booked up - on Tuesday, I'm headed to a play called Jane Wenham: the Witch of Walkern, at the Arcola. Long time since I was there - well, it's awkward to get to. Might be easier from Clapham Junction. Wednesday is my only Meetup of the week - I'm off to a Farsa Moneda concert at Sands Film Studios, with the London European Club. Really looking forward to that - both the music, and the fantastic, quirky venue. Thursday, I got a cheap ticket to Laugh Train Home - I've been to that once before, but this one is in Acton. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend again..

Friday, 22 January 2016

Concert: Sufi Chants from Andalusia

When I checked Meetup for tonight, and saw "Sufi Chants from Andalusia" advertised for the World Music Meetup, I was hooked without having to see the YouTube snippet. Of course, I watched it anyway. And promptly went off and booked.

It was in St. John's Church, Smith Square - and, of course, the last time I was there I was travelling from the old flat. All the places I have to redo directions for..! Google Maps suggested mainly routes via Waterloo - ugh. When I restricted it to bus routes, it gave me three - two of which meant I'd have to walk across Lambeth Bridge. Which is fine - and not too long a walk - except that the weather was promised bad, and I didn't necessarily want to be crossing a bridge. So I picked the third - the #87.

Mindful of the delay on yesterday's route, I left extra early for today's bus trip! It was really crowded, and the driver let off all that would get off before letting us on - doubtless to make sure there was room for us all. I sat upstairs, but didn't get much of a view with the fogged windows. Still, as it happened, there wasn't any real delay at all, and the bus got me to Horseferry in about the amount of time predicted by Google.

Straight ahead, and the next left, down Dean Stanley Street. The church is unmissable, just at the end of the road, in a circular opening at the centre of crossroads. And coming that way, the box office is straight in front of you - just down the steps. I picked up my ticket, and made my way into the restaurant, straight ahead. I had about 45 minutes to kill, so decided to kill them here. It looks startlingly like the restaurant under the church of St. Martin in the Fields.. A delicious curry smell greeted me, and I was sad I'd already eaten - instead, I contented myself with a glass of white, and the paper.

I'd just finished both when the announcement came for people to head upstairs for the concert. You can enter via the restaurant - there are signs that direct you to a spiral stone staircase, at the top of which there's a door into the church proper. The usher there who checked my ticket, and saw I had a side seat, explained that, once the concert started, I could move into the central section if there were seats available.

..Which is exactly what I did - the central section can't have been more than half full! So I discreetly popped myself into a seat towards the side of the central nave, with a much better view than I'd had before, and watched an introductory speech by someone who works for LAFZ magazine, who apparently organised this concert - one of a series, it seems. The speech droned on for a bit, the Al Firdaus Ensemble huddled to the side, waiting. It was an age till they started..

Why do I love Spain so much, and things Spanish? Is it because of the Arabic influence? (Almost all of Spain was ruled by the Moors for hundreds of years.) Likely. Whatever the reason, I was swiftly transported - by musical magic carpet; it was absolutely sublime. I find the music hypnotic, the voices elevating it to another plane. I adore this music, always have, and found myself frequently moved to tears by the melodies.

As the evening continued, the seats began to be filled by people arriving extremely late! As much as an hour late, for the people who excused themselves past me - and then opened their snacks, and answered the phone to tell someone where they were sitting. Their open photography and filming of the concert wasn't even out of place - half the audience was at it! Including flash photography. And the guy a couple of rows in front of me must have worn out his arms - he filmed the entire thing on his phone! Well, nice to see such an informal event, I guess.

Anyway, I had the best evening. I'm so glad I live here, so glad I joined this group, which brings me to such great events. Despite not being great at actually meeting - there were no arrangements to meet anyone, and I didn't know any of the others, or see any signs. Par for the course, but it would've been nice to share this with someone.

I exited on the wrong side, and had to do a complete circuit of the church to get back to where I'd started! The bus stop was just across the road - accessed by a zebra crossing. The indicator board said there'd be a bus in about five minutes - which was lucky, because the next wasn't to be for over half an hour! despite the timetable promising one every 10 minutes or so. Had I missed this one, I'd have been on the Tube again..

So. Tomorrow I'm attending what will be my very first Meetup with the Spooky London group, who are running a convivial evening chat about vampires. And on Sunday, I'm with London's Secrets, Tales and Legends, for an enticing walk in Highgate, entitled The Village of the Damned: Ghosts, Drugs and Legends.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Fairytales for Grown Ups: Solomon and Sheba & Play: This Will End Badly

Ooh, I do love the Crick Crack Club's Meetups! So when I saw one coming up - with tickets still available! (they tend to sell out) - I rapidly booked.

Now, this was in The Forge - the other side of town, and one I've always meant to get the Overground to (it's cheaper) but never managed to leave in time (it's also the longest way to go). But hey - although yesterday was Wednesday, and my work at home days are supposed to be Thursday and Friday, I've switched (for the moment at least) to working from home on Wednesdays instead of Thursdays, because some meetings have been switched to Thursdays, and it's handier to be in the office for those. Short story - I was working from home yesterday, and could actually leave in time to take the Overground..

I was surprised when Google Maps sent me around via Willesden Junction, as before. I'd have thought I could get there quicker by taking a train in the other direction, from Clapham Junction, which is the terminus for two lines. But if you count, there are even more stations between Clapham Junction and Camden Road on the East London line than on the West London one. So I set off in good time, and hunkered down for a 40-minute trek - good job I'd picked up a paper on the platform!

I finished it well before getting to Camden Road. Turns out, although it's further than the Underground, it's still only a 10-minute walk from Camden Road Overground to The Forge. Do be very careful though - there are a couple of very large road junctions, with several possibilities, and while the correct route is quite easy, I wouldn't like to go down the wrong road.. Streetview is invaluable here. Turn right from the station, down Camden Road itself, and continue to Camden Town Underground Station. There are at least five roads here - you want the second left, down Camden High Street, keeping the large, redbrick building to your right. It's about the second right after that - Delancey Street, with the Blues Kitchen on the corner. The Forge is the next building along.

The performance area is at the back, past the bar. I've eaten here before, but decided against it last night - they tend to serve food on wooden platters, which annoys me. I arrived just as the house opened; someone in the group had suggested meeting beforehand for a drink, but by that stage it was too late to change my plans - turns out, in the end, she didn't get there early either! I was in time to get a decent seat, though.

Our storyteller came on a few minutes late - standard in London, I've begun to find, and fair enough - it can be very difficult for the audience to make it across town quickly. Dressed simply, in a long black dress and with feathers in her hair, she presented a dainty figure. And she wove us the tale of Solomon and Sheba - what you might call the eternal tale of birth, life, and death. Indeed,  the scroll you can see, pinned to the curtain behind the stage, portrays the Ethiopian version of the story, and was gifted to her; she made reference to it during the story.

There's a real art to storytelling. She's the first female storyteller I've seen, and it was interesting to observe. She had a real knack with changing voices to depict different characters - or, more appropriately, different sorts of characters. Instruments of one kind or another were used extensively, to focus concentration.. they were used to create a most sensual experience. And the whole was an absolute delight, an antidote to some of the other harrowing things I attended this week! I'm really looking forward to my next outing with this group.

Despite the walk not being too long, I was freezing on my way back - it was a bitterly cold night. Mercifully, although I had to change trains (trains don't run straight to Clapham Junction from past Willesden Junction after about 9), I didn't have to wait too long. But it was too late to blog.

Which brings us to today - a very busy day, at the end of which I'd booked to go with the Man with the Hat (Let's Do London - for less!) to an intriguingly titled play - This Will End Badly, at Southwark Playhouse. Despite the ominous title, it seemed booking was good for this. Firstly, I was intrigued to see how Google Maps would suggest I get there from Clapham Junction - I suspected there'd be a bus, and I was right. The 344 would take me right there, and was the simplest and cheapest - if slowest - way to go. But I had time, if I left rapidly..

The stop I had to leave from turned out to be the closest to me - right across Falcon Road. Goodness though, I was glad I'd chosen a bus to get me there early - despite the timetable promising one every 10-12 minutes, it was about 20 minutes before one arrived. It was one of those stops that service multiple buses, too - and we carefully watched every bus that arrived. I'd almost given up by the time the 344 materialised - well, at least I got a seat, and hunkered down for what was supposed to be a 35-minute trip.

The last time I took a bus to Southwark Playhouse, it was during a Tube strike.. the traffic was similar this evening. The bus was 10 minutes later than advertised in coming - the journey itself took 15 minutes longer than expected. I was so glad I was early - I arrived at the theatre fully 25 minutes after I'd expected to. But the house still wasn't open - still, we had an interesting chat until it did, 10 minutes before the show started. I'd have liked food, had I had time..

Well, this is a one-man show, and the one man is on display right from the moment you walk in the door - pacing a square, elevated stage, with a - toilet - on it. Tiled floor, lightbulb overhead - no other detail. And as we took our seats - and waited, since this, too started a bit late - we noticed that, as the lightbulb flickered, he took on different personas. The observant person beside me noted three.

Advertised as 65 minutes, without interval - in fact, a little less, but none the less impressive. The subject matter could be guessed at from the numerous fliers about suicide that were sperad along the seats. Our sole actor portrays three very different men - one that might be described as a "lost soul", pursuing an unusual career: one whose girlfriend has just left him, and who is experiencing unusual symptoms as a result: and one highly confrontational character, maintaining eye contact with the audience as he analyses us.

80s vintage Duran Duran is playing softly as we enter - track after track - and blares to a crescendo as the play proper starts. And from then on, we're treated to a barrage of words. Someone remarked afterwards what a great technical feat it was, and she was right - for the duration, the actor barely draws breath. By the end, he's literally frothing at the mouth.

And over the course of the hour, the plot darkens - the first two characters mentioned describe their lives getting worse, while the confrontational one reveals his true motive - his story takes the longest to decipher. The actor does a brilliant job of switching his demeanour to portray the different characters.. it was intense, and I found myself concentrating so hard that I suddenly realised, towards the end, that it was a long time since I'd moved at all (I was almost afraid to breathe) and I was quite stiff.. Incredibly powerful, movingly played, disturbing, stunningly good. Damn funny as well, almost inappropriately for the subject matter. Best thing I've seen for quite a while. Go see - runs until 6th.

Afterwards, many of us hung around for a drink, but not too many. And we were out of there by 10. On the way home, I was to discover that my bus stop was closed! (road works) and my phone battery chose that time to die. As I decided to trot back to the other stop to check the map, behold and lo, my bus pulled up at a temporary stop I hadn't noticed - and I was home in 25 minutes.

Tomorrow, I'm doing something less harrowing - I'm back with the World Music Meetup for a concert I'm very much looking forward to - Sufi Chants from Andalusia. On Saturday I'm attending what I think will be my very first Meetup with the Spooky London group, who are running a convivial evening chat about vampires. And on Sunday, I'm with London's Secrets, Tales and Legends, for an enticing walk in Highgate, entitled The Village of the Damned: Ghosts, Drugs and Legends.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Play: P' yong Yang

I'd got my own ticket for P' yong Yang tonight, but the organiser of the London Dramatic Arts Meetup group kindly added me to the RSVP list for her group. It was great to meet her again, and the play - about North Korea - certainly sounded interesting. It was a plus that it wasn't a very long journey - indeed, it's walking distance from my last flat; my destination was the Finborough Theatre.

It was so quick to get there that, after getting home, I had to force myself to delay. Eventually, I made for the station in time to catch the 6.45 Overground to West Brompton - I got there at about 6.55, and it was really only about a five-minute walk to the theatre. As I approached, I did wonder - I thought there was a sign to indicate that this is where the theatre is, but I could see none, just one for the "Finborough Arms". Still, I knew where I was going, and went in.

I met her at the ticket desk, just to the right of the entrance. Got my ticket, and a (very reasonably priced) glass of wine at the bar - in a plastic container, so I could take it upstairs to the theatre - and sat with her and another down the back. The other was waiting for his companion, and it turned out they'd been too late to get tickets for this now sold-out show, and were given raffle tickets instead, for a waitlist. That's the problem - not only does this theatre stage good shows, but in a very small venue, so you have to keep an eye on what's selling out.

When the bell rang at 7.25 (five minutes to go), those of us with tickets (now numbering three) went upstairs, leaving him there alone, sadly. In fact, he was never to join us - despite there being some remaining spaces in the theatre, and the fact that they started five minutes late. His companion mustn't have arrived by then. So, we passed through the awkward triple-door access system to the stairs, and took our seats on upholstered benches to the side of the stage - seating here is unreserved. We had a choice of front row, or the one behind - after some dithering, we chose to be right at the edge of the stage, in the front row.

The stage consists of a grey wall, with a kind of ledge / seating area, and dominated by an enormous portrait of Kim Il-Sung. And the play begins with a rendition of what I think is the national anthem of North Korea, heartily sung by the four actors, fists raised in patriotic salute. We're quickly dropped into the story, which follows two fresh-faced teenagers, who bond over their shared love of film, both hoping to get into film school, and make their way to P' yong Yang. Unfortunately, their future doesn't pan out as they would have hoped: and as their paths diverge, and they become aware of harsh realities, they must modify their dreams.

I've said it before, and it bears repeating - what you see in fringe theatres like this one is streets ahead of your average West End fare. It's more original, more challenging - and perhaps the performers are more invested. Whatever the cause, we were treated to an hour and forty minutes (without interval) of impassioned acting. Apart from our star-crossed lovers, there are two other actors - each of whom plays multiple parts.

The play, set in a variety of locations over a span of years, is cleverly written and intense, and the actors brilliantly portray getting older. It was interesting to watch the change in their dynamic over time. Also interesting was the constant drip feed of facts about North Korea - the famine, the gulags, the fact that North Koreans need a visa for P' yong Yang, and perhaps most surprising, the division of North Korean society into three different classes, depending on one's loyalty to the state, as personified by the "Great Leader".

Not a place I'd like to visit, then. But I can heartily recommend this play about it! Runs until the 30th - some dates sold out, booking absolutely advised. Unless you want to take your chances with that lottery! Afterwards, we didn't feel like a drink, but did spend the better part of an hour in the bar, discussing this and that, before returning to West Brompton, where our ways parted. And was I glad to get in from the bitter cold..

Tomorrow, I got in nice and early for one of those Crick Crack Club meetings that are always selling out. Fairytales for Grownups: Solomon and Sheba takes place in The Forge. And I don't have to pass through Waterloo (yippee!). On Thursday, I'm back with Let's Do London - for less!, who are off on a cheery outing to This Will End Badly, at Southwark Playhouse. Which is closer to my new place. On Friday, I'm back with the World Music Meetup for a concert I'm very much looking forward to - Sufi Chants from Andalusia. On Saturday I'm attending what I think will be my very first Meetup with the Spooky London group, who are running a convivial evening chat about vampires. And on Sunday, I'm with London's Secrets, Tales and Legends, for an enticing walk in Highgate, entitled The Village of the Damned: Ghosts, Drugs and Legends. It's looking like a very good week.