Thursday, 28 July 2016

Play: Taming of the Shrew

The Man with the Hat has been doing something a bit different this year (apart from varying his hats). He's been organising two outings to each of his shows in the Globe. Well, I was to be glad of it for the Taming of the Shrew, since I couldn't make the first of his trips to that.. his second outing was last night, and I was delighted to book it.

I couldn't avoid going to Guildford, but although I always worry about making it back in time to get to the Globe, I haven't had an issue yet, always making it in time to catch the bus. And I seem to be leading a charmed existence in that respect - yesterday was the second time in a row that it arrived just when I did. And thus did I arrive at the Globe in plenty of time to collect my ticket, bringing the rain as I came. (Sorry..)

Got a front-row ticket for once, which was nice!

No, I wasn't out there - that would be the London for Less than a Tenner group. I had a seat, with Let's do London - for less! Great to be so close to the stage.. without having to stand.. the more so when that rain came back, with a vengeance. Just as well the Globe offers rain smocks (you can't use an umbrella as a groundling, not during the performance, anyway):

Someone remarked afterwards that it was so humid that they were uncomfortable to wear - although they could soon be taken off, as the rain dissipated. I wonder whether that's why the entire cast left the putting-on of their shoes until they were ready to start (more curiosities in what is a year of weird and wonderful stage productions, here):

Now, I'd heard tell that this production of the play was set in Ireland. Indeed, the blurb about it on the Globe's own website had it set during the Easter Rising. And they should know - certainly, the players were Irish, the costumes were of the time - no sign of any actual fighting, but I suppose, in this centenary year, that was their inspiration. Of course, the show started with some Irish music - a flute and a bodhrán, and for the second piece, a remix of the Cúilin.

Gotta say, I've never seen Shakespeare done in an Irish setting before, and I thought it worked a treat! Certainly, the comedy fitted nicely.. I could easily believe the characters came from Dublin, for all the talk of Padua and Mantua. And the wedding was a fine example of an Irish hooley. Why, they even threw in a cúpla focal of Irish:
  • Gabh mo leithscéal (excuse me)
  • Maith thú (good on ya!)
  • Go raibh maith agat (thank you)
  • Céad míle fáilte (100,000 welcomes).. this last in response to "go raibh maith agat" - whereas the response should have been "(tá) fáilte romhat" (you're welcome). So a bit of a play on words there.
Here endeth the lesson. Anyway, in a nice comedic touch, Hortensio's wife, despite having virtually no lines for the entire thing, keeps appearing on the sidelines, stealing the show with a "hmph!", or smoking a ciggie. Bianca is nicely played as a little bit two-faced, playing up to her father while sneering at her sister. Speaking of whom, Aoife Duffin played a blinder as the half-cracked redhead, Catherine. What a pity, that for the single character required to sing solo, she couldn't hold a note. Star of the show for a number of us, however, was Petruchio, played with a swagger by the Corkman, Edward MacLiam. (Thought I detected a slight Cork lilt, all right..)

Yep, a good show - and we had some discussion afterwards about the misogyny of Petruchio's treatment of Catherine after they are married. Despite this, we enjoyed it - and as the sun went down..

..and at the end of the play, they sang a song to the tune of The Parting Glass.

Our parting glass was had in the Swan, where we shared a table with Globe staff, and fought for service amid a scrum at the bar. Confusing menu, by the way - large glasses of wine are not advertised, and it wasn't until someone beside me ordered one that I realised they offered them. £8.50, if you're interested - just ask.

Well, I'm back to Ireland this evening for an extended stay - weekend flights at this time of year are expensive, dontcha know? Back on Wednesday of next week, and that Thursday (4th August) I'm off to Shakespeare's Avengers Assembleth: Age of Oberon, at Theatre N16. Got a cheap ticket, and frankly this was the closest of what I was looking at. Might drive - it's a quick one, quite local, and there should be parking on nearby residential streets. Then I'm off to Helen's for the weekend - she's got a big bash planned, with an Alice in Wonderland theme! (Costume currently hanging on my door, thank you..) And on Monday 8th, why, I'm back with the Man with the Hat.. we're off to see Gladiator, in an outdoor screening at the Guildhall, with a visit to the Roman amphitheatre underneath first.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Play: Stalking the Bogeyman

Someone recently mused that the Man with the Hat has developed a thing for taking us to intense plays on Mondays. Well, I don't know about that - but there has certainly been a number of them recently. Last night was Stalking the Bogeyman, at Southwark Playhouse - an hour-long production about a man who discovers that the man who abused him as a child is now living down the road from him.

Working from home yesterday, I had plenty of time to make it. And just as well I was a bit early to the bus stop, because so was the bus! And when the driver realised this, he began to stop at every stop along the way, and wait some seconds - just to regulate the schedule, we guessed.

What the hey, I was early. Nipped to the toilet first and ran right into Judy Garland! (Through the Mill, the excellent show about her life, is still playing there, till Saturday, in the other theatre.) Mind you, by the time I'd got a drink from the bar and headed down the back, where we usually meet, there was a whole flock of people there already! Fair enough - we sat and chatted until the Man determined that the house was open, and we flocked in.

This one is showing in "The Little", and the first thing I spotted as I entered was a large, framed eye on the wall straight ahead. It's not the only one, mind - the whole place is dotted with them. The walls are covered with newspaper clippings, maps - I saw a streetmap of Denver, and figured that was where this was set - pictures, shelves, apparently randomly positioned chests of drawers, mounted high on the wall. The props in the stage area are minimal - a couple of benches, basically. Everything else they need is on the wall, and some of the posters echo references in the play - a Star Wars poster, a poster for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

We wondered why it was late starting - well, see, we were obviously waiting for the Man with the Hat, who stole the show with a late entrance, accompanied by a ripple of applause from his flock, scattered all around the theatre - not quite theatre in the round, but we were seated on three sides of the stage. Ah, the responsibility of shepherding a straggly flock. The play's protagonist was already on stage, though.. poring over a notebook, lacing up his shoes. And when the Man with the Hat was sitting comfortably, the lights went down and we began.

This is a lovely, intimate venue - you're never very far from the actors, and as it turned out, less so on this occasion; the main protagonist may have been centre stage for almost the entire thing, but the other actors frequently sat amongst the crowd until required - look out for the Reserved signs. Six actors in total - the author, his bogeyman, and their respective parents, a couple of whom play multiple roles.

It's told with an immediacy and an attention to detail that smacks of it being a true story - and it turns out that's exactly what it is, as told by a journalist who was raped as a child and later plotted revenge. Part of the intimacy of the play comes from this being such an uncomfortable subject - and over the course of an hour so intense it was practically immersive, we were asked to acknowledge how these things happen, we were presented with some graphic details, and we were made to consider what revenge we would find fitting.

The acting and writing is superb. It all rings true, as we meet the creepy rapists, the feisty drug dealer (also abused as a child), the appalled parents. Oh, it's intense all right - I'm glad there wasn't an interval, to break the mood - but it's more enthralling than depressing. Yes, parts of it are horrifying - but this is ultimately the story of a survivor. Runs until Saturday week, and very highly recommended. Bring something to fan yourself with though - it was very hot.

Afterwards, we flocked to the bar again, but our numbers gradually dwindled until just the two of us die-hards (not including the Man with the Hat, who'd escaped by then) were left to be politely ejected.

And so home. Too late to blog, certainly, given that I was in Guildford today. Yes, I say "was".. a couple of things combined this morning, including a bad cold I've been nursing all weekend, to knock me for six - and having dragged myself all the way down there, a couple of hours later I dragged myself all the way back. And when I crawled through the door, I needed my bed - so there's been a slight delay with this post.

Tonight, there was a whole heap of comedy on, and upon checking the lineups, I decided that the best of the bunch was Max & Ivan - Loose Brie Edinburgh Previews, hosted by London Live Comedy, all the way over in Shoreditch. Well, I'm still a bit woozy, so I don't think that's likely to happen - no, an easy night in beckons - dinner and some more sleep, up early in the morning again.

After all, I want to conserve my strength - the Man with the Hat is at the Globe tomorrow night, to see The Taming of the Shrew. Seated rather than standing, thankfully - and I'd have to be on my deathbed to miss this. Interestingly, they seem to have linked the thing to the Easter Rising.. now, I know it's the centenary and all, but it seems kind of a curious connection. And then I'm back to Ireland myself on Thursday - not flying back to London till Wednesday of next week!! Why, you may ask.. well, weekend flights at this time of year are so expensive..

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Film: Bayou Maharajah

Another beautiful day. Another fluey day (although it's on the way out, I think). So, a film it was - nice n easy, on my own, no-one to talk to, so I could rest my throat. Less of an issue if I got the sniffles. And top of my list was Bayou Maharajah, which has a limited release, and wasn't convenient for me to see yesterday. Today, it was showing at 1pm at Picturehouse Central.

Again, I wasn't asleep very early, so I woke quite late - and although I had time to get into town, I didn't quite have time to take the bus. I had looked up a Plan B though, which saw me taking the train to Waterloo again. (It isn't a frivolous notion to take the bus, you know - £1.50 each way as opposed to £2.20 for the train and £2.40 for the Tube. Which made a one-way fare of £4.60 for me today: over three times the bus fare.) Anyway, in Waterloo I headed for the Bakerloo Line, to get to Piccadilly Circus - but the people on the Bakerloo Line train looked as though they'd been waiting a while, stepping off the train, looking at the boards, looking around for information.

Sure enough, shortly after I got on, the driver announced severe delays, and said if we could make alternative arrangements, we'd better. So off I went, consulting a Tube map on the way: Northern Line to Leicester Square, then the Piccadilly Line back to Piccadilly Circus. Just as well I'd originally planned to get the bus - I was out early, and still made it to Piccadilly Circus with 10 minutes to spare.

I love how easy it is now to find your way out of Piccadilly Circus Tube station - and once out, having Streetviewed it, I knew where to go, and soon entered the cinema - first time this year for this one, too. Queued for my ticket, and headed upstairs - some nice touches with the décor: also seen in this display for Absolutely Fabulous:

There'd been a warning notice downstairs about the temperature in the cinemas, saying their aircon was broken, and that they had water available outside the screens, and if anyone wished to leave because they felt uncomfortably hot, they could get a refund if they left within 15 minutes. Very obliging of them! but not needed - they obviously got it fixed, because it was quite cool in ours.

Bayou Maharajah is the story of James Booker, as told through archive footage, and interviews with those who knew him; a couple I knew, Harry Connick Jr. (whose father had dealings with him), and Hugh Laurie. I didn't know anything about James Booker previously - I was to learn that he was a musical genius, but plagued with drug problems, drink problems, mental problems, money worries.. not to mention the eye that nobody knows how he lost. But it's not just a gossip piece; Harry Connick Jr., in particular, took us through a particular riff, as Booker would have played it, and explained just how the complications he introduced made it special. And the whole film was interspersed with his music. The trailer is a good indication - if you like the music in that, you're likely to like the film.

I did, and I'm glad to know about the man. And it was lovely to finish so early in the day, and have the evening to myself - long time since that happened. Strolled to the bus stop in the sunshine - and was just puzzling over the "This bus stop is out of use" sign on it when my bus arrived, and took me straight home. The journey home was enlivened when the two elderly ladies that had got on, each dragging a shopping trolley absolutely laden with bags of who-knows-what, and who had placed them in the most convenient place - the buggy / wheelchair area - were challenged by a lady with a buggy. An interesting altercation ensued, but no blows were struck, and since they all got off before I did, I didn't have to climb over them to get off, either.

Tomorrow, I'm glad to be back with the Man with the Hat (and the followers of the Hat) - it'll be nice to see friendly faces. We're off to Southwark Playhouse, to see a play called Stalking the Bogeyman..

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Plays: Best of Bare Essentials & Film: Embrace of the Serpent

Helen popped up to town again yesterday, and again asked me to choose what to go to. Well, with nothing leaping out at me, again I sent her a shortlist, again she sent me a reduced shortlist, and I started at the top. Which led me to the Best of Bare Essentials, which had a ticket offer. Coolio, I booked.

She was coming into Waterloo, which made that the focus of Google Maps' instructions - and their suggestion was to take the Northern Line to Leicester Square and walk from there. She was on the earlier train she could have got, and I got a bit held up.. and when I came to Clapham Junction, behold, there were no trains leaving immediately. Plus the departure boards on the platforms had the trains arriving slightly earlier than claimed by the main board. Anyway, they sent me off to Platform 7 again - and again, after a bit, the mention of a train departing from there disappeared from the departures board on the platform. Fortunately, I dithered before giving up on that platform, and just as I was leaving, a nonstop train to Waterloo arrived.

We met by Mr. Stay Puft..

..and, on our way to the Tube, passed a little shack devoted to Ghostbusters stuff. Including travelcard holders - which was handy, because I needed one. So now I have one! with a fetching trimming of ectoplasm.

In Leicester Square, we took Exit 1 - although, since we were headed down Cranbourn Street, we should properly have used Exit 4.. for future reference. Never mind - head right down there from Exit 1 (or left from Exit 4), and at the junction, take the second left. This will take you to the notorious Seven Dials - the junction of seven roads, at one time famous for its gin shops, and for the past 200-odd years, famous for being easy to get lost in. And still is - although, as Helen remarked, it'd be worse in a car! (Traffic is manic, even down these narrow streets.) Google Maps to the rescue, and we turned off left of Matilda.

The Seven Dials Comedy Club is an unassuming black doorway to the right, at 42 Earlham Street. Just up from Donmar Warehouse, across the road, where I haven't been in an age. A very obliging lady at the desk, just inside the door, checked off my name, and upstairs we went. (There is a lift, too.) It's a lovely, modern space, a bar with tables, a rail of coathangers as you come in..

So we had wine, and as we hadn't had dinner, we had crisps.. like Southwark Playhouse, you can take drinks in with you, and in due course we were let into the performance space. Which was boiling, especially when they closed the windows to keep out the street noise. Rows of chairs, seating unassigned, so we sat in front of a fan. Which wasn't immediately turned on.

We had an MC for the night, and from what he said, it was apparent that Bare Essentials is A Thing. How did I never before hear of it..? Anyway, it fosters new playwriting (and this was their first night in their new venue) and that night was the Best Of. The idea is to strip things back pretty much to basics - they'll provide a table and chairs, basically, and off you go. Excellent! I'm a big fan of productions that use a couple of boxes and a pea, and make you use your imagination. I could name others that think that's just lazy.. well, takes all kinds. He also mentioned that we'd been provided with mini fans - also known as programmes.

Six plays, two halves. For the first - Thin Air - a rope was stretched across the stage. We were to discover why.. this was a soliloquy by a tightrope walker, before she steps onto the wire. She delivered the whole thing standing on a stool.. she told us about her history in the circus, and we wondered why she now seemed reluctant to step out.. at the end of a poignant performance, we found out why, and for me, this was the performance of the night.

The Leaving of Things, part of a full-length piece, focused on a young couple, in some kind of awkward first meeting situation, trying to get the courage to perform a transaction. And taking us to the interval was The Maltese Walter, where an unassuming chap called Walter took himself to the psychiatrist, as his fiancée wasn't too impressed with his superpower - the ability to transform any situation into Film Noir.

At the interval, we were urged to Tweet about the show - the winner would get a free drink. While we did that, we got some cold water from the bar - and soon enough, we were back in the overheated performance room, for the last three. The News had three friends, sitting in a hospital waiting room, waiting for word of their seriously injured friend. Love in Freefall examined what would happen if two soldiers, involved in a skydive as part of their training, got involved in a love triangle. And we finished with How to Murder Someone and Make Sure They're Absolutely Definitely Dead, in which a jilted lover plotted to murder his ex's new boyfriend.

Well, we didn't win the Tweeting contest - but it was a fascinating night, and I'll be keen to hear more of Bare Essentials.. Helen didn't have time to eat, sadly, and we went straight to the station for her to catch her train. And when I'd seen her off, I took the bus home.. where I started on my film list, for the first time in nearly two months! Today's weather was promised beautiful, and I should have done something outdoorsy - but I've come down with a moderate case of the flu, and am trying to take things easy.

..I didn't even get the film list finished last night, although I stayed up very late. So, a late start today, and I got the thing finished mid-afternoon. I was stunned by what came top of the list, most particularly because of its 9.4 rating - I've seen ratings like it, but not for a mainstream film like Jason Bourne! So I'm really excited to see that. Sadly, it seems only to be previewing this week, on Wednesday and Thursday - neither of which I can do. Next on the list was Bayou Maharajah, a documentary about James Booker. Only showing today at 4pm at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, which turns out to be all the way up in Seven Sisters. By the time I determined that, and how to get there, I had 15 minutes to get dressed and presentable if I were to make it in time. Heh, wasn't happening.

There was a Bollywood film, Madaari, which didn't really appeal. So that brought me down to Embrace of the Serpent, an interestingly titled black and white film set in the Amazonian jungle in the early part of the 20th century. And it was in the ICA, which I hadn't visited yet this year. Cool! Didn't need to book, and I just nicely had time to set off to catch the bus.

The 87 is a nice bus route, taking you through Westminster, to Trafalgar Square and Aldwych. And it was a lovely day for it - as long as you weren't on a Routemaster, with windows that don't open. And as long as you didn't have to go on the upper deck. I wasn't, and didn't, sitting downstairs beside an open window that wafted the odd cool breeze my way. Got off just before Trafalgar Square, at Horse Guards Parade, where I followed Google Maps' suggestion, walking straight through the ornate building just ahead, to Horse Guards Road on the other side - and so to the Mall, with the ICA just across the road. I'd forgotten what a gorgeous area this is on a sunny day:

Got there a bit early, got a ticket without trouble - but they don't tend to open till the last minute. I hadn't eaten (again), and would have got something from the café except that there was such a queue. So I mooched around their interesting bookshop until they opened the doors and let us in to the screen. It ended up about half full, I noticed.

Some trailers for arthouse films I'd heard of but not seen - and we were into the main feature. Now, Embrace of the Serpent tracks the story of an Amazonian shaman, switching between two phases of his life, during each of which he meets a German scientist on the trail of a mythical Amazonian plant that cures all ills. There's a lot to like in this - it's absolutely beautifully shot, and although there has, unsurprisingly, been criticism of its shooting in black and white, missing the gorgeous tropical colours - as someone pointed out, you get to concentrate on the story this way: and it's not a travelogue.

Indeed, it's not - we are left in no doubt how much trouble the white man brought to the Amazon, and the shaman is rightly suspicious of both men. We see the traces of the murderous rubber barons, we see some effects of the well meaning missionaries. And although the scientists themselves are curious, and eager to integrate with the natives, we see the limits of their understanding, too.

The shaman strides majestically throughout, even in later years. Yes, a lot to like.. and I wish I had liked it more. However, I did find it very long.. Avoid, I think, unless you really have a passionate interest in the native peoples of the Amazon. Anyway, on my way back I cut through Trafalgar Square:

..and tomorrow, I think I'll hit the cinema again. With my film list now done, it's a lot easier to choose what to go to - and Bayou Maharajah is showing somewhere closer tomorrow. It's at the Picturehouse Central - 1pm is a bit early, but I intend to go to bed earlier too! As for Monday, it sees me back with the Man with the Hat, who's headed to Southwark Playhouse for a drama called Stalking the Bogeyman. Hope my flu dries up by then..

Friday, 22 July 2016

Champions of Magic

When I was looking around for something for yesterday, a cheap ticket popped up for Champions of Magic. Sure, I always love a good magic show. So I booked - and wouldn't you know it, the very next day got an email for ShowFilmFirst, offering free tickets to the same show. Tarnation..

Anyway, I made it back as quickly as possible from the office; this was near Russell Square, which meant something of a trek. The cheap route would be a combination of two buses; the fast route was to catch the train to meet the Victoria Line, take that to Euston. And it would've been tight to get the bus, so I chose to go the train/Tube route.

Turned out to be a very good idea - Google Maps can be optimistic about timings, and despite their prediction of a travel time of about 30 mins, it took more like 45. Even though the trains are back to normal. And that was just to get to Euston.. factor in my complete confusion in Euston rail station, as I hadn't thought about what exit I needed, and it took me another five minutes just to get out of there and pointed in the right direction! And with another few minutes required to walk there, I got to the venue with about 10 minutes to spare.

There are a lot of university buildings in the area, and Logan Hall turns out to be part of UCL - enter on Bedford Place. I was slightly worried about finding a particular room in a university building, but figured I'd follow the crowd; sure enough, lots of people were arriving as I did, and anyway, there's a separate entrance for Logan Hall, just to the left of the steps to the main door, as you enter. Inside were lots of Just for Laughs posters - this show is part of the festival, it seems - and yes, crowds and crowds of people brandishing ShowFilmFirst tickets. Hmph.

Seating was unreserved, and as we entered, we were asked how many were in our party, and shown to a seat. Mind you, the place was only about half full.. I got a perfectly fine aisle seat, not too far from the stage. Took a while for it to start.. a lot of people arrived late, and it took  while to seat them.

The show started with a lot of dry ice. Lots of flashing lights too - beware, anyone who has a problem with that. Five magicians, they have, but we only saw three in the first act.. First up was a babyfaced conjuror called Edward Hilsum, who performed fairly spectacular tricks with doves and candles.. Faye Presto's set, with interlocking rings, was quite funny.. but for me, the absolute highlight was the mentalist, Alex McAleer. I know they have their tricks, but he did seem quite spectacular: and as for having plants in the audience, well done on picking them, when the volunteers are chosen by throwing a "chimpian" (stuffed baby chimp) backwards over your shoulder into the audience, and having your volunteer be the one who catches it..

They were in the lobby at the interval, but I didn't bother - stayed where I was and read the paper. Fay Presto opened the second act, with a bit of audience participation - very impressive, although there was a bit of a blunder when she was supposed to open a sweet packet to produce something she'd earlier taken from an audience member. Unfortunately, she'd given the sweets to a child in the audience.. who, of course, ignored her instructions not to eat them.. and NO, the child hadn't noticed anything in the sweet packet when she'd opened it..

We were just enjoying the mentalist's second appearance when the fire alarm went off. Shortly after, we were asked to leave, and wait across the road - just as well the evening was warm. Yep, full fire alert - a fire engine arrived, firemen entered the building.. it transpired that a student, in adjacent student accommodation, had left a fork in the microwave and started a fire. O dear. Anyway, I used the break to check my route home: thought I'd saved it as a memo, but they don't save automatically on my new phone, and it was gone. Still, what my new phone does do spectacularly well is pick up on WiFi signals, and I was able to check it live, online. Meantime, Edward Hilsum and Faye Presto obligingly came out and entertained the crowd.

It was a while before we were let in again - perhaps 20 minutes. Which was a problem for some people, and not everyone returned - unfortunately for the mentalist, who'd previously asked us to guess what was written on a blackboard, suspended above the stage and covered in a red cloth:

..of course, the person who'd guessed correctly (and written the answer in a box, which the mentalist opened on stage) had now left..

The show was closed by a couple of magicians we hadn't seen before. Young and Strange were more a comedy double-act, entertaining us with some impressive illusions and some wonderful stagecraft. And in a perfect finish, they had confetti shower the stage and front few rows like snow.. several of the kids ran down in delight, to play in it.

Not honestly the most spectacular magic I've seen, but there were some very impressive acts, and it's a terrific family show. Runs till Sunday - recommended. On a ShowFilmFirst ticket, if they have any left.

I got the bus back - turned out that the 168 would take me to Elephant & Castle, where I could pick up the 344, but that every single bus that stopped at the bus stop I was waiting at went to Waterloo, where I could pick up the 77. So, when one of those came along, that's what I did - although I had to wait forever for the 77. And when I got home, I had to feed myself - so that was as much as I got done last night: no blog.

Tonight, Helen and I are off - again with cheap tickets - to the Best of Bare Essentials, a set of short plays by new writers, showing in the Seven Dials Comedy Club. I'll be meeting her at Waterloo.. by the Stay Puft marshmallow man. :-)

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Top Secret Comedy Club

Back with the Man with the Hat last night for Top Secret. Now, these days I tend to research both the fastest travel option, and the cheapest (feasible) for wherever I'm going. And despite an early morning start, I didn't get away from the office as fast as I'd hoped, so the fast option it was - train to Waterloo, and the 521 to Holborn.

Mercifully, although it was hot, it was more bearable than the day before. Still, there were more delays at Clapham Junction, although the departures boards were less confused than the day before, and sent me straight to Platform 10. There was an announcement about speed restrictions due to the tracks buckling in the heat - which may have had something to do with it. Anyway, I was still the first from our group to arrive at the club..!

Met the owner on the way in, told him I was with the Meetup group. That was news to him - he hadn't realised we were coming last night! Hey-ho, he was happy to stamp my hand, and take my name, and in I went. And so to the bar, where a glass of house white was £5, but I didn't have cash - and I hadn't realised, but there's a fee for card payments under £10. Hey-ho, I'd been considering buying a second straight away anyway, to avoid the crush at the interval. He looked at me oddly, but could hardly say no.. and I do have two hands, after all. And for when I needed a hand to do something else, there was a convenient table tennis table..

We chatted in the bar area for a while, then as showtime approached, decided to take our seats..

Initially quite empty, the place pretty much filled completely by the start of the second show. And I found myself in the second row, with a mostly empty row in front: dangerous situation at a comedy club. However, the first performer - Stephen Carlin - was very good about not needing us close to him. And entertained us heartily for an hour or so.. by which point the front row had mostly filled up anyway. At the interval, seeing I was sat with the gents, the Man invited me to take a seat with the ladies in the group, further back - well now, I'm not one to prefer women's company over men's, but I thought it would provide variety, as well as making me a lot less visible from the stage. So back I went.

My drinks lasted me sufficiently that I didn't have to hit the bar for the rest of my time there. The lady beside me said they'd told her that she could get food outside and eat it there - and being starving, that's what she did. Very obliging of them..

For my (minimal) money, this was, overall, the best lineup I've seen here, and I had a great night! We were well started off with another Scot, Leo Kearse, who was hilarious. I hadn't checked the website in advance, and was delighted when that Romanian comic took the stage.. and I finally managed to get his name! Radu Isac it is, and one of the funnier guys out there. I'd heard a few of the jokes before, but they're still good - and although he sometimes challenged the audience, he was well used to that. Finally, funniest of the night for me was the last on: Tom Ward, of the distinctive haircut. Thank goodness for the Edinburgh Festival, and all these comedians wanting guinea pigs to test their new material on.. we get some fantastic shows out of it.

Some of us stayed on for drinks after, in the White Hart, as usual, down the road. And it fell to me to lead them there - which I do believe I did rather well. Table at the back, as ever, and convivial conversation was had - and we were eventually joined by some more people, who had gotten sidetracked somehow - making a decent turnout. Of course, it was considerably past my bedtime by the time I left, considering I'm in Guildford again today. I knew the stop I needed for a bus to Waterloo, and was to discover that almost any bus that stopped there would do (just not the 91). And so home.

For tonight, I got a cheap ticket to a magic show; Champions of Magic is showing in Logan Hall, in UCL. Mind you, I'd just booked the thing when I got an email from ShowFilmFirst, offering free tickets..! And tomorrow, Helen and I are off - again with cheap tickets - to the Best of Bare Essentials, a set of short plays by new writers, showing in the Seven Dials Comedy Club.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Concert: London Philharmonic

Scorchio! Hottest day of the year, yesterday, apparently. So when I noticed that Ken's Events (and one of his subsidiary groups, London Art, Comedy & Culture Lovers) were off to a free concert by London Philharmonic in Canada Square Park.. well, that sounded just perfect. Mind you, Ken was charging £2 extra for the privilege of going with him.

Hmm. You know, there are groups that would be worth the extra; regular readers will guess which groups I mean. Ken's groups just aren't worth it - well, not to me, at least. Of course, to a great extent it depends on whom you'd meet. So anyway, I decided to go - independently of Ken. Which would be easy enough - for the couple of times I've met him, I doubt he'd remember me. I also doubt I know anyone who would be signing up with him. And it was great when someone (whom I met through one of the groups that would be worth paying to go to..), upon hearing what I was up to, said she'd go too..

I was working from home, and had to nip out in the late afternoon to shop for food. Well, it was a good taster of the journey ahead of me - it was actually uncomfortably hot to breathe: so I did my shop in the closest place possible, making sure to include a cold drink for the journey. So, when I eventually set out, it was with a cold drink, and a hat for the sun.

Knowing my companion was going to get there before me (and also not wanting to spend more time on public transport than I had to, in this heat), the fastest option was required. So, train to Waterloo, Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf. Now, trains from Clapham Junction to Waterloo are generally very frequent on weekdays - one per minute, at least. So imagine my surprise to find that there wasn't one due for 10 minutes! From Platform 7, unusually - well, I dragged myself to that unfamiliar platform, only to have the display change after a few minutes, to show the next Waterloo train departing from Platform 10. Down the stairs again, up the stairs - not appreciated in the heat - and got there just in time for a Waterloo train. Thankfully - I don't know what the problem was, but there definitely was one, and I was glad to get out of there.

Also glad to get a seat, given the overheard remark of a disembarking passenger earlier that it was 40 degrees on the train. And so to Waterloo, and the Jubilee Line - where I didn't get a seat - and into baking heat at Canary Wharf. Must be all that concrete and glass - temperatures are always more extreme out here, either too hot or too cold. And, as usual, I was completely lost - despite having printed a map of the short walk to Canada Square Place. See, skyscrapers all look pretty much the same, if you're not on first name terms with them, and there are almost no other landmarks. One map I found actually pointed me in the wrong direction! No, the only way to find your way, out here, is with GPS. Get your phone out, open a maps app.

Wandering around confused on hot concrete isn't a great way to spend your time, and while I was - and just before I found my way - I got a text from my companion to say she was utterly lost, too. Mind you, that had been some minutes before, when I was underground and couldn't receive it - and by the time I arrived, relieved, at the stage, she'd plonked herself on the verge of the grassy bit, near the front to the left of the stage. Good location-spotting: we were also just in front of the large screen, to the side of the stage:

(Isn't it nice I have a working camera again?) Anyway, she'd also obligingly brought nibbles! Well, Ken had advised his attendees to bring a picnic - I just hadn't really had the opportunity to shop for it. Good one - I must return the favour. As for the official rules about not bringing glass - rubbish, there were tons of bottles of prosecco around (and no officials in sight anyway). In fact, there was a marquee bar a short distance behind us, selling bottles of prosecco doubtless.. and as for the furniture ban, it only applies on the grass.. put your garden furniture on any spare patch of concrete you can find.

When I arrived, the orchestra were actually playing - despite it not being anywhere near time. Turns out they were rehearsing - in their summer clothes. Sure enough, when it came to time (well, slightly after), out they came again in evening dress. As my companion remarked, the ladies had it easier - they could wear strappy dresses. Although the gents did forego their jackets - with the exception of the conductor, who valiantly wore a tailcoat throughout.

The repertoire for the evening was the Barber of Seville Overture, followed by Mozart's Symphony #40 in G Minor, and, after the interval, Beethoven's 5th Symphony. All widely known and popular pieces, and it was lovely to see the City workers coming out to enjoy them.

And while some bored teenagers present had obviously been dragged along, it was a joy to see those with a real love for the music, absolutely enthralled. And it's a lovely thing, to bring the Arts to this expanse of concrete and glass..

Afterwards, we made our (mostly separate) ways home, noting what a short and easy walk it is in the other direction, from Canada Square Park to Canary Wharf Station! It helps that you can see the Underground roundel almost immediately..

From Waterloo, I took the bus home, since the concert had finished so early (by 9), and since it was now cool enough to risk it - and all along the way, could see folks in their lightest summer clothes, and still looking sweaty and uncomfortable. Still didn't get home early enough to blog, given that I'm in Guildford today, and I've now made it a general principle, I think, to come earlier and leave earlier - the traffic is unbelievably lighter!

Tonight, the Man with the Hat is off to Top Secret again: and so am I. For tomorrow, I got a cheap ticket to a magic show; Champions of Magic is showing in Logan Hall. Mind you, I'd just booked the thing when I got an email from ShowFilmFirst, offering free tickets..! And on Friday, Helen and I are off - again with cheap tickets - to the Best of Bare Essentials, a set of short plays by new writers, showing in the Seven Dials Comedy Club.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Play: Fury

Man with Hat, check. Soho Theatre, check. Didn't matter that I hadn't heard of the play - I booked. Now, I get to work from home two days a week, and this would have been a great candidate for one of those days - the play started at 7, and Soho Theatre tends always to be troublesome to get to. Sadly, it wasn't to be.. however, my boss and I came to an arrangement whereby we'd leave at 7:30am (!) to get to the office early, and could then leave at 4:30pm.

It worked a charm - we flew back, and I could set out in a relaxed manner. It was a scorcher of an evening, as it had been a scorching day - the kind of day where your own skin is too hot, you know? I needed a train to connect to the Victoria Line - one to Vauxhall was the next that I could make. And boy, was I glad to get a seat - both on train and Tube.

Oxford Street was its usual nightmare of slow-moving tourists.. perhaps worse than usual, in the baking heat. Anyway, I was in plenty of time to join the others in the bar in the lobby of the theatre, where the Man had a couple of tables reserved. We sat, we chatted, we drank - when the announcement came to head upstairs for the show, a number of members made a bolt for it. And then there were those of us that didn't. Hey, you know, it's all very well wanting to get there early and all, but - as per a discussion I had earlier in the day - it ain't always necessary!

Well, we did make it in time, and took our seats in the Upstairs. It would be the Upstairs. Practically every time I get to Soho Theatre, I end up in the Upstairs, up all those flights of stairs to the topmost theatre. At least it was deliciously cool. Unusually, seating for this production is in the round - circling a pretty bare stage, a kind of plinth in the middle, a sofa on one side. Some seating at the edges is meant for performers, as became obvious when one audience member was asked to move his bag under his chair, out of the way.. of an actor, of course.

Fury, the show is called - 70 minutes, no interval. Five actors: one a single mother of two boys, one the neighbour in the flat overhead. The others play multiple roles. This is the most intense show I've seen in a long time. It's the story of a young woman who made some unwise choices (who hasn't?) and suffers for them - time and time again. The whole focus is on her, all the other characters seen through her eyes. As things get worse for her, the audience is riveted on her - a terrific performance by Sarah Ridgeway. The fury of the title is hers - and in the end, is turned in the only direction left to her..

Other characters are underdeveloped - stereotyped, or just outlined. But this is one woman's very personal story: as stated in one line, "someone needs to make a decision". Is everything her fault? Is it the fault of people who think they know her "type"? Who's to blame - and why? A very thought-provoking piece, utterly engrossing. Recommended. Runs until 30th - booking also recommended, it was sold out tonight, I think. On a Monday.

Unusually, we stayed in the lobby bar afterwards - it's a while since we've done that. Well, it is convenient, and wasn't busy, for once..


And - as often happens in Southwark Playhouse, as someone remarked - the actors came out to the bar afterwards, too. But we left them in peace, tonight.

I made sure to go home via Waterloo, which has a distinct theme these days, owing to its appearance in a certain film:

The 139 got me there (from Haymarket), the 77 from there to home - once I'd found the stop, and with alarms that wouldn't turn off and must have annoyed the driver no end.

Now, tomorrow, Ken's Events (and one of his subsidiary groups: London Art, Comedy & Culture Lovers) are off to something interesting - the London Philharmonic is playing a free concert in Canada Square Park. Free picnic mats will, apparently, be distributed, and it's supposed to be a scorcher of a day. Perfect combination, in fact! Ken, mind you, is charging £2 to go with him - so I'll schlep along independently, thanks v much.

On Wednesday, the Man with the Hat.. off to Top Secret again: and so am I. And on Thursday, I got a cheap ticket to a magic show; Champions of Magic is showing in Logan Hall. Mind you, I'd just booked the thing when I got an email from ShowFilmFirst, offering free tickets..!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Comedy Night: Lucy Porter, at charming Islington pub The Old Queen's Head

Yes indeedy, another night with the Man with the Hat. London for Less than a Tenner was off to see some comedy in Islington - a ways to travel, considering I was in Guildford today, but a late enough start that I thought it was ok. I'd never drive up there, so I researched my options - the quick, and the cheap. Outbound was to be quick - train, then Victoria Line. Google suggested getting off at Highbury & Islington and walking, but I preferred the idea of changing to the Northern Line at King's Cross, and walking from Angel - what time I'd save in walking at street level, I'd probably use in changing lines, but it'd be less vexing; I know the walk from Highbury & Islington is a long one, I've walked to the Almeida from there, which takes longer than I fancied!

I made it home in decent time, got a train almost straight away, got the Tube, spent forever changing lines, and disembarked at Angel at about 7:40 or so. Turn right from the station, take the right fork at the green, and the Old Queen's Head comes up eventually on your right. Entering, I didn't see the Man, or the Green Hat he'd be wearing - I knew the gig was upstairs, and also knowing the general unreliability of upstairs bars, bought my drink downstairs. Made my way gingerly upstairs, wine in hand - I'm great at spilling it - gave my name at the door, got my hand stamped, and was in.

This was the first chance I'd had to look around, and the upstairs room was - scruffy. In an intimate sort of way. The window shutters were closed, and the wall beside the windows was lined with booths - they were full now, and I took a stool nearby, until one of the group suggested I join him nearer the back of the room, on an actual chair, with a back. So I did that. Lines of stools populated the whole floor area, and duly filled, pretty much completely. It's a real shame I don't yet have possession of my new phone, and the old one is pretty useless now, so I couldn't take a photo of the pair of portraits, either side of an old-looking, ornate mirror behind the stage. A man and woman, in Victorian dress, stared sombrely down upon us from black backgrounds - most cheery.

Well, the staff were certainly cheery! The mc entertained us for a while before our first of two acts came on. Sam Fletcher is an unassuming-looking fellow, who does a neat line in eccentricity. Kind of a Jack of all trades, he tried some jokes, he tried some gameshow-type stuff, he tried some magic. And he does have the most marvellous rapport with the audience - hecklers, hell, he loves the contact! He quite simply brought a shopping-bag's worth of props with him, and nobody knew what to expect next. Definitely the first time I've seen a comedian wrap themselves in tinfoil..

Unusually, the upstairs bar was staffed, and I got my second drink of the night there, at the interval. Meantime, Lucy Porter wandered by.. our second performer of the night, when she took the stage, she told us all about herself. A greater contrast to the first act you could not find - she spent most of her time sedately chatting to us: about her family, about growing older. Lower on the laugh counter, but she was witty, and got a good reception.

We returned downstairs after the show, finding a table to crowd around, and stayed for a while longer - but it was a bit noisy, and few of us felt like making a night of it. I did have time to have a good look around the room though - and this was where I really felt the lack of a camera. A terrifically ornate wooden ceiling was only the start of it - there were antler chandeliers, human heads mounted along with the stag's head on the wall, jars behind the bar containing a skull and a baby. The table I kept bumping my knees off also seemed to be ornately carved, as was the bar. Some care has gone into the décor here, and I'd love a better look.

The return journey was to be the cheap trip.. the 341 to Somerset House, then the 87 home. Well, it was a chilly wait for the 341 - but it came roughly when it was supposed to, and sped me to Somerset House. Where I saw I was now too late for the 87, but it's a 24 hour service, and the N87 (the night bus) was due at 12:25. So I waited.. and at 12:20 it occurred to me that, of the 10 buses scheduled to arrive within the next 15 minutes, none were mine. Which wasn't the way it was supposed to be.. instead, I caught the next bus to Waterloo (should've stayed on the 341, it was going there) and the next train from there - which was to depart in about 15 minutes, and stopped at Clapham Junction. And at least I'd reached maximum fare for the day, so that last train journey was free..

Back to Ireland tomorrow for the weekend, and back to the Man with the Hat again on Monday, when we're off to an award-winning play called Fury, in Soho Theatre. I've got to go to Guildford again that day, but have agreed to leave for Guildford at 7:30am, to get to the office early, so we can leave early; the play starts at 7pm, and that theatre isn't the quickest to get to. Hey-ho, wouldn't miss it..

Performance: The Girl with the Almond Eyes

I was originally supposed to go to a talk about Japan, last night. But it proved so popular that the organiser had to book a bigger venue.. which wasn't available last night.. which left me free last night. (The talk was rescheduled, but I can't make the second date - never mind, it was free anyway.) Well, I had a look at what else was on, and it turned out that the World Music Meetup was hosting an event in Sands Films. Love the venue - and when I checked out the event page, I discovered it wasn't simply a concert. No indeed, there was music, poetry, and storytelling! Wow, had I looked closer I'd definitely have booked this in the first place - how lucky the other thing was cancelled!

I don't like the idea of driving to Rotherhithe, so that was out. Can't get a direct bus there either, from Clapham Junction - so the Overground works out cheaper, with a single fare. Also the quickest and handiest. I was in plenty of time - got there in just over half an hour, and made my way inside. Met a couple of people from the group, and when the doors opened we made our way in and found seats.

I adore this venue - as I always say, it's like a treasure trove, rails of period costumes peeping out from behind doors. Yesterday evening, a few more were opened, and we got just a little peek.. The library through which you enter contains shelf after shelf of reference material that they use to make the costumes.. the way to the "cinema" (where films are shown and concerts are held) is a maze, threading through piles of books and an assortment of curios. The seating in the cinema is an eclectic mix of sofas and armchairs, benches at the sides, all with different coverings - I think they've updated it a bit since I was here last; the coverings look fresher, at least.

There was a slight delay before the performers came on - first were Milos Milivojevic, from Serbia, on the accordion, and Nilufar Habibian, from Iran, on the quanun, a stringed instrument that lay on her lap as she played. A murmur of appreciation greeted the Egyptian/German singer, Merit Ariane, who came on a bit later, in a full-length gown, gold shoes peeping out from underneath the hem. The final one to take the stage was Anna Conomos, a Greek/Australian storyteller, appropriately dressed for an Arab-influenced evening, in ornate gold jewellery and harem pants.

The first part - lasting about half an hour - was a mixture of music, song, and storytelling. The music was Balkan - Serbian, Romanian. The singing was absolutely heavenly, a mixture of love songs and lullabies from the Middle East and Andalusia. The Arabic storytelling included questions to the audience - "What is the bitterest/sweetest thing?" "What is the sweetest melody?" Pomegranates were distributed to the respondents. Mind you, I believe they'd had some audio issues, and the storyteller's headset wasn't ideal - it looked a bit heavy for her, and seemed to be emitting a lot of noise; she considered not wearing it for the second part, but persevered.

At the interval, we wandered and mingled - there was free tea, coffee, and cordial, and of course you could explore. Untypically, most of our Meetup group congregated, and a rather interesting discussion was had about Middle Eastern politics. Gee, I do love that about London - so many opportunities to expose yourself to different cultures. I also heard a few people say how great it was to hear storytelling, that there was so little of it in London. And I did my best to alert them to Meetup's storytelling group, the Crick Crack Club. Unfortunately. they don't seem to have anything scheduled for the summer - people should, however, keep an eye on their non-Meetup site, which lists events from September. I see a couple are repeats of shows I've seen before; Telling the Blues and Myths Retold - Kali are terrific shows, both of which I've blogged about - highly, highly recommended. Check them out, on this blog and in person..

The second part was the tale of the "girl with the almond eyes" as in the title, mixed with music and song. A wonderful evening sadly came to an early-ish end, as we had to be up this morning. But I hope there'll be many more of this kind, in this venue, and with these people. The Overground drifted slowly back to Clapham Junction, and I did wish it'd hurry up a bit - it was past my bedtime, I was tired, I was hungry. A prolonged stop at the second-last stop, Wandsworth Road, was accompanied by an announcement - there'd been a trackside fire near Clapham Junction, and we weren't stopping there. Well hey, at least we got so far! So I hopped off, and although I had no idea which direction I was pointed in, handily enough the bus stop I made for, to the right of the station entrance, was for buses to Clapham Junction - specifically, the 77 (from Waterloo) or 87 (which I've taken from town on occasion). After a brief but chilly wait, a 77 it was. That's one advantage of living in London - there's generally a Plan B.

Tonight, 'tis back with the Man with the Hat and London for Less than a Tenner. He's headed to an reputedly charming pub (well, it has booths), for yet more comedy.. A new venue for me, and (shockingly) he's wearing a.. GREEN hat! Oh I know, it must be a nod to the strong Irish community in Islington..

Back to Ireland for the weekend, and back to the Man with the Hat again on Monday, when we're off to an award-winning play called Fury, in Soho Theatre.