Friday, 31 May 2019

Restaurant: Shoryu

Last night, back for our monthly social with ex-colleagues from my last company - this month, gee, you'll never guess.. someone suggested Japanese! :-) So we went to Shoryu - upon seeing the menu, my boss remarked that it seemed very good value - particularly for Covent Garden!

It's actually close enough to walk from the office - and I did. First time I've walked that route - you see so much more!




I was the second to arrive - which meant I didn't have to locate the table! because the first to arrive messaged us where he was. We had a long, L-shaped table in the corner - which was mainly dismantled later when it turned out that most weren't coming. Interesting decor:




As usual for me these days, I had the chicken katsu curry - mind you, I wasn't alone in that! And it was truly excellent. Asked for a knife and fork, and she came back with a load of them - for everyone having that dish, I think.. We were well fed (and supplied with sundry drinks), but two of the group fancied going around the corner for dessert, which they cheekily brought back. ;-)

Afterwards, the general mood was for a pub - and when I checked, I discovered we were just down the road from the White Hart! So we went there - and my group were duly impressed with my choice. Thanks, Man with the Hat for introducing me to this.. I've had many a good night there. As usual, I took us to the seating area at the back, where we took a nice, big table for those of us that were left. And we really appreciated a pub that was quiet enough to hear ourselves talk..

Finally, it was just me and Ivan for the Hippodrome, where we had some excellent nibbles as well as drink. Kudos to him for dropping me home in his taxi afterwards! And boy, am I glad they have a half day today.. oh, my head..





This evening, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Interestingly, my new company has an extra "bank holiday"; they brought in an extra day off some years ago as a reward for people who'd worked hard on a release - and they kept it! So we have two bank holidays in a row. Which means I coincide with Ireland, which has a bank holiday the first Monday in June instead of the last one in May..! So I fly back on Monday evening.

Tuesday is looking like film, and the film is looking like Mari, in which - it seems - a family deal with their grandmother's failing health through dance. Looks interesting - closest showing to me is in the Curzon Bloomsbury.

Wednesday is my next Meetup - and just like the last Meetup, I'm with London Literary Walks This is A Dickens Walk - but as usual, I'm sure that's not all we'll cover.

On Thursday, I'm back for a pub night with Spooky London - we're at The Anchor Tap.

And next Friday, back with Up in the Cheap Seats for Education, Education, Education at Trafalgar Studios. Set in a school in the 90s, it looks like great fun..

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Hammersmith Walk

Tonight, back with London Literary Walks for a Hammersmith Walk. Ooh, and I finally got a locker! so I didn't have to make a run home first with my laptop. Left in good time - but this far out, it was never going to be a bus - had to be Tube. Google maps suggested that, instead of heading to the nearest station to work and taking the Central and Piccadilly Lines, I could walk a little to Mansion House and take the District Line direct. It'd be just as quick, and I wouldn't have to change. So that's what I did.. and what a good idea! Airier, less crowded, and I got a seat straight away. You forget how nice this line is, when you hardly take it..

A short walk from Hammersmith Broadway brought me to The Draft House, where we were meeting. And for once, I spotted them right away, just inside the window - and with a good view of a large screen that, by the time we left, was showing the match.


A nice, spacious pub with a good house white and, as I was to discover, rather good fries, ordered by one of the group, who shared.

This was a most pleasant walk, in the green and leafy glades of Hammersmith. We passed many imposing buildings:


..as well as places where famous people dwelt, or worked:


It wasn't all sweetness and light, with us stopping outside the house where the Golden Dawn used to meet, which sparked off quite the discussion about Aleister Crowley, and demonology in general. But it was a light-hearted one, most of us repairing afterwards to the most attractive pub, The Queen's Head, to continue the chat. It turned out to be another comfy place: plenty of space, a decent house white, and a recommended pub quiz!



And so back - Central and Piccadilly for me this time, headed home as I was. Looking forward to the next meeting of this group!

Tomorrow, back for our monthly social with ex-colleagues from my last company - this month, gee, you'll never guess.. someone suggested Japanese! :-) So we're off to Shoryu - upon seeing the menu, my boss remarked that it seemed very good value - particularly for Covent Garden! And then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Interestingly, my new company has an extra "bank holiday" - they brought in an extra day off some years ago as a reward for people who'd worked hard on a release - and they kept it! So we have two bank holidays in a row. Which means I coincide with Ireland, which has a bank holiday the first Monday in June instead of the last one in May..!

Film: After Life (1998)

Last night - film again! (Little enough on Meetup.) Of the films currently at the top of the list, I fancied After Life - a Japanese film (seems to be a Japanese week for me!) in which people who die are given a choice of selecting one memory to take with them into the afterlife. It's an old film, but has been getting showings in London for the last while - yesterday, only showing in the Rio.

It was an early showing, and I left a little later than intended. Happily, a bus came just as I arrived at the stop! Unhappily, it was lashing rain when I got off.. really a feature of this week. And I had a little way to walk to the cinema.

Got my ticket at the desk - it hadn't sold out, but mostly. The guy said, "You know where Screen 2 is, right?" Eh, no actually. Just as well he gave me directions - he pointed me in the right direction, and said to take the stairs down. If he hadn't, I don't think I'd have figured it out - signposting is very confusing. You end up in an unfinished basement, and find the screen by process of elimination.. inside, mind, it's got lovely, plush, wide leather seats, and I arrived just as the ads were ending. Perfect!

This is a very sweet and touching film. People - old and young - who have just died arrive at a kind of "halfway house", where they're each given a number and assigned to one of a number of counsellors. Each then has explained to them that they'll be there for a week, but only have three days to select one memory from their past life to take with them into eternity. The scenes are then recreated in a film studio, and screened on the seventh day - once each person has seen their memory recreated, they pass on.

Some folks find it harder than others to choose. Some refuse to do so, for one reason or another. It's fascinating to see how the (also dead) folks in the halfway house respond to the challenges of, firstly, helping folks to choose memories, and secondly, recreating them. But the loveliest part of the film, of course, is seeing which memories they choose. Highly recommended - the same director as the more recent Shoplifters, which was nominated in the foreign language category in this year's Oscars. Which probably has something to do with this revival of his works.

And yes, I did get another flat run in.

Tonight, back with London Literary Walks for a Hammersmith Walk. Ooh, and I finally got a locker! so I don't have to make a run home first with my laptop.

Tomorrow, back for our monthly social with ex-colleagues from my last company - this month, gee, you'll never guess.. someone suggested Japanese! :-) So we're off to Shoryu - upon seeing the menu, my boss remarked that it seemed very good value - particularly for Covent Garden! And then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Interestingly, my new company has an extra "bank holiday" - they brought in an extra day off some years ago as a reward for people who'd worked hard on a release - and they kept it! So we have two bank holidays in a row. Which means I coincide with Ireland, which has a bank holiday the first Monday in June instead of the last one in May..!

Monday, 27 May 2019

Play: Rutherford and Son

Tonight, my only meeting with Up in the Cheap Seats this week - we were off to the National for Rutherford and Son. I got the last £32 seat, when I booked! although there were plenty later. It being a bank holiday, I took the opportunity to shift a couple of loads of stuff from the old flat to the new - pretty much exhausted myself in the process. I did, however, remember to leave myself enough time to eat.

Now, my new office is based in an area with quite a choice of eateries, and I've become a big fan of Wasabi's chicken katsu curry. In fact, there's a branch just down from where I now live - but wouldn't you know it, they were closed today. However, I discovered - from a search on Google Maps - that there's a branch in Waterloo, which they said was open. Which is just down from the National. Cool - I set off to get the bus there: and the journey was made even more enjoyable when I discovered that I didn't have to walk all the way down to where Google Maps was telling me to catch the bus, I actually passed another stop for it on the way! Honestly, what Google Maps is thinking sometimes, I do not know.

Sure enough, Wasabi was open, and I'd soon ordered. No seats left downstairs, but plenty upstairs - their chairs are high, transparent green plastic stools, but plenty comfortable, for all that. And boy, did I scoff that meal.. uniformly delicious throughout their branches, I see. As for the waste, they tell you to leave it on the table for collection - and I must say, I've never had trouble finding a clean table in a Wasabi. Highly recommended Japanese fast food!

I made it early to the theatre - picked up my ticket, once I'd shown them id. No bag check required of me, I noted, with my small bag. And they're trying their best to make it easier to navigate the building!


I had a glass of wine while I was waiting - the group met near the box office before we went in. Actually, most were in the Stalls tonight, having been smarter than I was in getting deals.. I was in the Circle:


That's a curtain of rain you can see, obscuring the stage - and a trio of singers on each side of the Circle entertained us at the beginning and end of each of the two acts. So, an interesting opening. You can also see, behind the rain, a living room - the entire play is set here, in what is obviously the main room of the Rutherford household, acting as sitting room, dining room, and office.

At the interval, I discovered that the play dates from, and is set in, 1912, and was apparently "astonishing" in its day! Probably because of the prominent female characters, in an age when - as mentioned on a flyer - women were rarely seen on the stage. Less astonishing now - in fact, we found the first act really dragged; several people in my section left, even before the interval, including from the middle of rows! I was borderline myself, but decided to give it a chance.

It reminded me of one of those tv miniseries - there have been several, focusing on some wealthy family, whose family business is often in industry, and based in the north of England. And sure enough, we have the gruff patriarch, whose children just won't act as he wants them to - the son and heir wants more respect and responsibility; he's married a woman from a lower class, of whom his father disapproves. The daughter is a bitter, ageing, under-appreciated spinster, not allowed to follow her heart. The younger son gave the whole thing up as a bad lot and joined the church - we see him very little throughout the play, as he prefers to avoid the "noise" of the main room. There's also a maiden aunt, bossing and annoying everyone.

It's a depressing atmosphere - very little affection to be found, no hope, and the pouring rain outside. And that's pretty much all you get for the first act - the interval comes after about an hour. Which leaves an hour and a half or so for the second act.. which does come as an improvement, with more plot development, and felt a lot shorter than the first, to be honest. On balance, I liked it - if that kind of drama is your thing, do stick around after the interval. Happily, both the people in front of me and beside me (predictably, as the woman beside me had her head in her hands for a long time in the first act) left at the interval, leaving me both with more space, and a better view. Runs till the 3rd of August.

Afterwards, I had a choice of buses home, and not long to wait. Tomorrow - film again! (Little enough on Meetup.) Of the films currently at the top of the list, I fancy After Life - a Japanese film (seems to be a Japanese week for me!) in which people who die are given a choice of selecting one memory to take with them into the afterlife. It's an old film, but has been getting showings in London for the last while - currently only showing in the Rio. It's an early showing, so I should get another flat run in.

On Wednesday, back with London Literary Walks for a Hammersmith Walk.

On Thursday, back for our monthly social with ex-colleagues from my last company - this month, gee, you'll never guess.. someone suggested Japanese! :-) So we're off to Shoryu - upon seeing the menu, my boss remarked that it seemed very good value - particularly for Covent Garden! And then I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Interestingly, my new company has an extra "bank holiday" - they brought in an extra day off some years ago as a reward for people who'd worked hard on a release - and they kept it! So we have two bank holidays in a row. Which means I coincide with Ireland, which has a bank holiday the first Monday in June instead of the last one in May..!

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Film: Rocketman

Today was looking like film, and the film was looking like Rocketman, based on the life of Sir Elton John. I'd seen the trailer, which looks excellent - and having always liked his music, I was looking forward to this. Indeed, it is the film of the moment - I got a rave review from a friend of mine who's seen it, that Up in the Cheap Seats (UITCS) organiser I was with so much during the week was also seeing it today, and indeed, North London Friends is seeing it tonight too! but I wasn't schlepping all the way up to Crouch End to join them. No, I went to the Barbican, which is an easy walk. Three showings - I made for the early one.

I was up late, but not so late that I couldn't follow through with the early showing. It was indeed a short walk - would have been quite pleasant, but for the spitting rain! Indeed, what with that, an overcast sky, and cooler temperatures, this was a good day to head for the cinema. Google Maps, as usual, directed me to the back of the building - I ignored that and headed for the main entrance. Just as well I know it's on Silk Street. Now, this is, apparently, Europe's largest performing arts venue, and suitably confusing. I knew that cinemas 2 & 3 are up the road a bit, on Beech Street, but wasn't sure about cinema 1 - sure enough, a sign just inside the door of the Barbican indicates to head inside for that screen.

Inside, I was assaulted by an AI exhibition, which looks really good, and was attracting a lot of attention, with a large queue. An exhibit outside the main exhibition looked really cool - this might be worth a look. Runs till the 26th August. Anyway, another sign said that Cinema 1 was to be found on Level -2, so down I went. Downstairs to the left, a sign says to exit and cross the access road to the door on the other side, for Cinema 1 - when I went over there, I discovered a small lobby containing just four lifts. Careful - they don't all go to all levels! After a couple of minutes, I got on a lift to take me downstairs again, to the cinema. All very mysterious.

When I got down there, happily, I discovered signs of life. A small bar is located to the side, there are two entrances to the screen, and one to the "pit", which turns out to be a separate theatre. There are toilets, stairs that act as a fire exit, and I think lead to a car park, and a box office, which had a queue, which I joined, getting a ticket on the spot. It wasn't too busy. I went straight in, and found myself going down yet again! Jeez, how deep is this cinema?!


Some trailers to start - always good, to decide what you might like to see - or avoid. And so to the feature. True to its subject, Rocketman is as flamboyant as Elton himself - the first scene has him barging through a door in a devil costume, complete with horns, flares, and great, red, feathery wings. Turns out he's on his way to a rehab meeting, where he confesses to having an addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex.. and whatever else you can think of! The film then takes the form of flashbacks, as he tells us how he got there.

This is like a hit parade, as he bursts into song at appropriate times, and it's possible just to float away on those - some glorious examples are included. But it's also a lot more than the other music biopics I've seen this year so far - it really deals sensitively with his search for meaning in the midst of the madness, and we do get a lot more of his excesses than of Freddie Mercury's in Bohemian Rhapsody. Taron Egerton, in the lead role, does do all his own singing - we also have Jamie Bell as his lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin, and Bryce Dallas Howard as his indifferent mother. Gemma Jones plays his supportive grandmother. Definitely one to see if you like the music - it finishes with I'm Still Standing, which ironically, I think is the first of his songs I ever heard. They redo the video with Taron Egerton! And I defy you not to have the music running through your head for the rest of the day.

Popped into the toilet after - gender-neutral, I approve. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for the door lock, which popped open while I was seated, or the ineffective flush. Taps, as everywhere in the Barbican, are operated by a foot pump.

And now I was hungry - and there's a Cote beside Cinemas 2 & 3, so I headed there, where - despite being busy - they were able to seat me immediately. I changed from my regular steak frites to another of the plats rapides - I had the poulet grillé. Which is gorgeous, in a rich and creamy sauce with mushrooms, and potato gratin. Served in an instant, as usual. It does say on the menu that it's served with frites as well, but they never materialised. Had that lovely chardonnay again - sadly, they don't do my regular dessert any more; I had the chocolate fondant, which I found a bit stodgy. And so on up the road, to drag more stuff from my old flat.

Tomorrow, my only meeting with UITCS this week - we're off to the National for Rutherford and Son. I got the last £32 seat, when I booked! although there are plenty now.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Play: King Hedley II

Tonight, back - for the first time in months - with London Dramatic Arts! We were at King Hedley II, with Lenny Henry, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. As usual, she closed RSVPs too early, but I asked, and she reopened them. It'd be good to see them again. We were to meet beforehand at Sichuan Grand Chinese restaurant - good stuff, I hadn't eaten Chinese for a while!

What a day - I had to pick up a parcel (and the sorting office for my new place turns out to be all the way over in Mount Pleasant, where it was two flats ago). Had to take the bus, it's so far. Traffic in the City was unusually bad for a weekend - but I think they've blocked off City Road, and they've certainly restricted movement on Old Street roundabout, so that might explain it. My journey was further lengthened by Google Maps, who told me that my second bus left from a stop that it turned out not to! Then I was waiting for fully 25 minutes at the stop, for the bus back.

So I was late in dropping the parcel back at my place, then had to schlep up to the old place to get some more things - and by the time I got back with those, it was time to leave for the restaurant. And no, I hadn't eaten yet. Boy, was I looking forward to it.. anyway, tight for time, I took the Tube, which at least is only three stops from Stratford. Just as well, considering how crowded it was.

Well done Stratford for getting me lost again! To be fair, it's ages since I'd been here - but I was confused by where I was supposed to be going, and yes, made it out precisely the wrong end of the station. "Town", I should have headed for. Anyway, I ended up outside Westfield - on precisely the wrong side - where I discovered a footbridge. Once I figured out how to get up to that, things improved, and I eventually made it to the restaurant - 20 minutes late!

At the restaurant, I asked for the table for eight, booked under the organiser's name. I was shown to a table at the end - which was completely empty! Would you believe, everyone else seems to have got lost too.. By the time anyone else arrived, I'd ordered my whole meal, and had been served my (first) glass of wine. In the end, only six of us made it to the restaurant, and the last arrived just as we were due to leave! The waiter arrived with a menu, only to be asked for the bill..

The food, by the way, was excellent - but the portions are huge, so beware. I had an excellent salt and pepper shredded chicken starter - someone else had a chicken and nut dish that was raved about. I dared to brave the sichuan beef, despite dire warnings from the staff that it was very spicy. In the end, it was as spicy as I'd had anywhere, but no more so - perfectly edible, and very tasty. I finished the rice for once, hungry as I was. Others had duck sichuan, which is only spiced on the edges, and thus a much less spicy dish overall. And by the time people #4 and #5 arrived, three of us had been served, so they got to taste ours, which shortened their time reading the menu. Anyway, highly recommended - I'd happily eat there again.

And we were just around the corner from the theatre! which we made a mad dash to, as our organiser had the tickets for everyone, including those who hadn't come to the restaurant. Straight in - just in time - and we were in the second row of the Stalls:


So. Despite all the mentions of Reagan on the opening screen (I was doubtless distracted by that giant photo of Carter right in front of me), I'd missed the message that this is set in the 80s - my first clue was when the young female character came out in shoulderpads. We're in a rundown neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, in the backyard of the title character's mother. Besides him and his mother, we get his wife (with the shoulderpads), his less ambitious business partner, and the nosy next door neighbour, who provides some comic relief. Lenny Henry - in a darker role than I'm used to seeing him in - plays a hustler, a sharp-dressing, sly old flame of King's mother.

It's beautifully acted. In a neighbourhood like this, you just know things aren't going to work out right - King himself is a study in barely contained fury, easily sparked off. The women seem mainly morose, unhappy with their lot, constantly casting their eyes to heaven at the vagaries of the menfolk. They certainly have no chance of telling them what to do - they'd be put in their place quite fast. And the banter is terrific..

..until it goes on and on and on.. this is over three hours long, and feels it. They could easily have cut over half the play - a number of us, after the interval, heard what sounded like the same conversations start up again, and went "Oh, no".. Stick with it for a devastating climax though, it is worth it. Strange scene changes involve flashing lights and peculiar images - oh, and there's plenty of swearing. You have been warned. Recommended, with caveats. Runs till the 15th. And afterwards, a wild party continued in the bar - I stayed for a couple with one of the group, who was kind enough to run me home afterwards. Hope it's not as long till I see them again.

Well now. Tomorrow is looking like film, and the film is looking like Rocketman, based on the life of Sir Elton John. I've seen the trailer, which looks excellent - and having always liked his music, I'm looking forward to this. Indeed, it is the film of the moment - I just got a rave review from a friend of mine who's seen it, that Up in the Cheap Seats (UITCS) organiser I was with so much during the week is also seeing it tomorrow, and indeed, North London Friends is seeing it tomorrow too! but I'm not schlepping all the way up to Crouch End to join them. No, I'll go to the Barbican, which is an easy walk. Three showings - I'l make for the early one.

And on Monday, my only meeting with UITCS this week - we're off to the National for Rutherford and Son. I got the last £32 seat, when I booked! although there are plenty now.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Play: Jude

Tonight, I was off, with Up in the Cheap Seats, to Jude, at Hampstead Theatre. Fifth day in a row I'd be seeing the organiser, who also came along on Wednesday.

Someone in the group suggested food beforehand - we agreed to meet in Ye Olde Swiss Cottage, just across the road from the theatre. I delayed maybe a bit too long - and was on the Tube again, of necessity this time, because it was such a long journey. And so, for the third time this week, I was on the Central Line, changing to the Jubilee - north to Swiss Cottage, tonight. The exits here are really well signposted - and, unusually, not vandalised - so it was easy to find the exit for the pub.

As I was leaving the station, I was messaged by one of the two who were already there, so I knew to look inside for them; they weren't hard to find, despite the labyrinthine nature of the place. They had secured us a nice, big table, with high-backed benches. They'd just ordered, so I chose what I wanted - gammon, it having been a while since I'd had it - and went up to the bar to order. And there I stayed for what felt like a long time, while the blissfully ignorant bar staff glanced over and past me, serving people on either side of me. I had to shout at one of them to get her even to look my way.. At least the food was decent.

In the theatre, we collected our tickets at the box office, then met the group in the bar. And upon examination, we discovered that we'd been upgraded to the Stalls! Seems they didn't open the Circle, tonight. Lovely - quite apart from getting a slightly more expensive seat, it meant I didn't have stairs to climb! and I am so over lugging this work laptop around. (Ironically, I shouldn't have been, this evening - the receptionist messaged me to say a locker was finally available if I wanted it, but by the time I got the message, she'd left for the day.. I hope to get it next week.)



Those are books, lining the back of the stage, in line with the play's theme - it's modelled on Jude the Obscure. So, we have a lower-class young person - here, a female Syrian refugee who works as a cleaner - who has an absolute passion for the Classics, and an amazing capacity to learn them. She's taught herself Ancient Greek and Latin, and stuns a local teacher with her knowledge. And her abiding goal - despite the odds working against her - is to get herself enrolled at Oxford. However, will her relationships - and her illegitimate child - stand against her?

This is streets ahead of what we saw last night. Despite an amateurish first scene - down to the performance of the woman playing the teacher, I think - the passion of the would-be scholar absolutely bowls us along. The scenes in Oxford are riveting, as her future is decided, and the representation of the central character as a Syrian refugee is very topical, her possible exclusion on account of her background and associations most believable. It's not without its flaws - as I say, the first scene is very clumsy, and most of the group felt at a disadvantage, with the play having too many Classical references. Not to mention a confusing ending, which the author says we can interpret as we wish. Still, highly recommended - runs till tomorrow week (Saturday).

Afterwards, back to the pub for one, in the midst of a group of noisy acting students. And with less traffic at this hour, I took the bus back. Tomorrow, back - for the first time in a ridiculously long time - with London Dramatic Arts! We're at King Hedley II, with Lenny Henry, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. As usual, she closed RSVPs too early, but I asked, and she reopened them. Be good to see them again. We're meeting beforehand at Sichuan Grand Chinese restaurant - good stuff, I haven't eaten Chinese for a while!

Play: The Starry Messenger

Last night and tonight, I booked with Up in the Cheap Seats (UITCS). Last night, it was for The Starry Messenger, at Wyndham's, starring Matthew Broderick. I waited the longest time to book this, because I had theatre tokens, earned from posting photos to Seatplan, and every time I thought of booking it, I was either away from where my tokens were, or it was out of office hours - and they have to be booked by phone, or in person. Well, I was to be glad I waited - they finally released really cheap front row seats in the stalls! (Restricted view, it's a tall stage.) And I was within arms' reach of my tokens, mid-afternoon. After being kept forever on hold, I was put through to someone who had to have everything spelled out for her, and emitted a big sigh when I told her I had a theatre token. So she had to log into that site. But it was all worth it, to get a ticket for that price..

Of course, I knew something would go wrong: and then the office social was scheduled for last night. Ah well - curry night it was then, venue TBD. Anyway, I sold my ticket to another of the group. And then I found out that there were leaving drinks on last night that most people were going to (honestly, they couldn't organise an escape from a paper bag) - so I ended up booking another seat to The Starry Messenger! in the same row. Just as well - I could pick them both up myself, and they are supposed to be collected by the person that made the booking. Technically. Some of us are arranged to meet for food in the Bear and Staff, across the road, beforehand.

I headed off in good time, in brilliant sunshine. My bus arrived as I waited to cross the road - never mind. Another arrived as I approached the stop - to be followed by yet another! So I hopped in the back door of that one, and didn't have to run at all. Four of us arrived at the allotted time, one a little later. Which did make a difference.. anyway, it was really lovely, sat in the upstairs dining room, with a view of the theatre:



And the food was lovely, too! Well, when it arrived.. at least you know it's cooked from fresh, and the chicken was indeed done to a turn. They have a range of pies and burgers too, and I think we were all well fed. Caveat - it did take 45 minutes for our food to arrive (we only had mains). Happily, when we headed across to queue for the box office, we spied two of our group near the head of the queue - which saved us a lot of time. Not enough to meet the group beforehand, unfortunately. And when I'd collected the tickets, I soon found the person who'd bought one, and we made our way down to the stalls.



Hard to tell what you're looking at, here. Well, the "starry messenger" of the title is a middle-aged astronomy professor, played by Matthew Broderick. Calling him a "starry messenger" is pushing it a bit, but anyway. What you see here - and periodically through the play - is his classroom, where he teaches an introductory course. Interestingly - I have a background in this - the maths on the blackboard, which is based on real-life material, is an awful lot more advanced than the easy-peasy stuff he's feeding his class.

I liked the classroom scenes - for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they rang very true, with the annoying students - the middle-aged lady who can't understand the simplest concepts, and complains loudly about it, is hilarious. Oh, I'm so glad I'm out of that. Secondly.. for the classroom, they lower a wall, on which the blackboard and screen are hung. This is positioned very close to the front of the stage. It makes it a bit cramped for them, but it does mean that the action is all close to the edge of the stage - which means that the front two rows of the stalls can actually see what's going on! Seriously, for the rest of the performance, we could only see people from the waist up if they were standing - if they sat, we could see the tops of their heads only. I took to hoiking myself up on my elbows at the start of each scene, to see what the set looked like.. Well, we were warned. This is a very high stage, and a very restricted view.

When I was asked, at the interval, what Matthew Broderick had been in, I could honestly only remember him as Ferris Bueller. Someone later reminded me he'd been Inspector Gadget too - true, although I didn't see that. Anyway, not so much - but for what I've seen him in, I wasn't surprised at last night's performance. He's always seemed wooden to me - it's just that, in other things, it suited. Lordy, he's WEIRD in this! Now, I was as close as anyone in the theatre, and I can testify that he's just as wooden up close. Heavens, he raised his eyebrows in one scene near the end of the first half, and gave me an awful shock! It was like he had to remind himself to have human expressions.. His expression doesn't generally change throughout, he seems very stiff in his movements, and his delivery of lines has absolutely no emotion behind it, seeming as though he is working through a logical script of what intonation is appropriate for any given sentence. Seriously, he's like a robot - it was fascinating to watch.

The rest of the cast seemed perfectly human, and played their parts excellently. When we could see them. As someone remarked later, it was weird to have Elizabeth McGovern have second billing (as his wife), when she wasn't on stage as much as Rosalind Eleazar, the (much younger) single mother for whom he develops feelings. Well, assuming he's capable of feelings, which I doubt. She's a trainee nurse, and we get some hospital scenes with her which are the best in the play - the elderly guy she's caring for is played by the terrific Jim Norton; for all that he's supposed to be dying, he has more life than anyone else in this. He must also suffer the ministrations of his fussy, bossy daughter (Sinead Matthews) - terrific, as are the rest of the cast.

Just as well they are, or this would be utterly unwatchable. Not to mention there seems to be no point to the story, in which very little happens and there's no real conclusion - oddly, for an award-winning writer. The best part of the production, we all agreed, is the projected star display at the end, which spills over the whole ceiling of the auditorium - worth staying for, all on its own. Indeed, an interesting, astronomical background lies behind the set throughout, and provided very pleasant gazing, for those of us who could hardly see anything else. Runs till the 10th August - you'd be better off staying home and watching an astronomical documentary though. Ah well, it was good to see everyone - Facebook is alive today with group members slating the production.

Tonight, I'm off, with UITCS, to Jude, at Hampstead Theatre. Fifth day in a row I'll have seen the organiser, who also came along on Wednesday.

And tomorrow, back - for the first time in a ridiculously long time - with London Dramatic Arts! We're at King Hedley II, with Lenny Henry, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. As usual, she closed RSVPs too early, but I asked, and she reopened them. Be good to see them again!

Thursday, 23 May 2019

The Second Westminster Walk

Last night, back at last with London Literary Walks - whom I've been shamefully neglecting - for "The Second Westminster Walk". I had to run home first, drop off my laptop. Well, nearly everyone was leaving a bit earlier - fitting, with the sunshine! I also took the time to grab a bite to eat before I set out - which means I was a bit later than intended. So, instead of buses, I was on the Tube. Again. Ugh.

Google said the Circle Line was quicker - but could I find how to get there from Liverpool Street! No, I was forced to take the stairs to the Central Line - where, with signs urging everyone to keep right, everyone resolutely kept left. At least I got a seat on it - we travelled slowly for a bit, what with a "disgruntled" passenger being dealt with at a station ahead of us. And then I had to change to a packed Jubilee Line - just like yesterday, in fact - which sat there for fully 10 minutes for reasons unspecified. While I stood. No wonder I was exhausted by the time I got to Westminster!

Only a short walk to The Red Lion, at least:



Met Mary on the way in, and together we hunted for the group - the place was packed on the street outside, and she trotted to check the upstairs, but no - exiting the side door, we finally found the two that had beaten us to it, and were sitting on a bench outside. Mary then went on to get a drink, as the others congregated around us - frankly, I was just too knackered, and desperately needed the seat I perched on, at the other end of the bench. The Tube really takes it out of me, not being used to it these days. Still, as I gazed at the blue sky above us, I had to congratulate myself for doing two outdoorsy things in a row! Perfect week for it.

When we started, it was at the corner of Canon Row, with a fascinating tale of how it was the location of the first performance of Richard II. He had a fascinating tale about how relevant it was to the politics of when it was written, what with Elizabeth I on her last legs, with no children - as was true of Richard II, too. And after that - and a brief history of Scotland Yard - we were around the corner, to look at some subsidence:



And so onto Parliament Square - unusually for these days, devoid of protestors; as someone remarked later, they've probably headed home to vote in today's European elections. A lot of scaffolding on the main attractions - I did find one uncovered bit!



..and I have to admit, I never realised the Supreme Court was so gorgeous!




Meandering through the backstreets of Westminster, we passed several salubrious residences. Including a huge one that belongs to a Middle Eastern princess, who has a massive private garden overlooking St. James' Park. Well for some, although I don't think I'd swap for her life. And we passed a statue of Queen Anne - that apparently comes to life at night and wanders around the neighbourhood.



Plenty of stories of espionage, of course, and we passed the former GCHQ. Also passed the workplace of our guide! although he didn't invite us in. All in all, a fascinating peek into areas of Westminster that you wouldn't normally come across. I was glad, though, when we took a seat in The Albert, at the end of the walk - in the upstairs dining room, for the extra space:




And they do food until 10pm - and actually have a working upstairs bar, unusually! We had a couple of drinks up there, and chatted convivially - before I legged it to my old flat, to bring down some more stuff. Honestly, it never stops! I had quite a late night, and am suffering for it today.

Tonight and tomorrow, I booked with Up in the Cheap Seats (UITCS). Tonight, it was for The Starry Messenger, at Wyndham's, starring Matthew Broderick. I waited the longest time to book this, because I have theatre tokens, earned from posting photos to Seatplan, and every time I thought of booking it, I was either away from where my tokens were, or it was out of office hours - and they have to be booked by phone, generally. Well, I was to be glad I waited - they finally released really cheap front row seats in the stalls! (Restricted view, it's a tall stage.) And I was within arms' reach of my tokens, mid-afternoon. After being kept forever on hold, I was put through to someone who had to have everything spelled out for her, and emitted a big sigh when I told her I had a theatre token. So she had to log into that site. But it was all worth it, to get a ticket for that price.. Of course, I knew something would go wrong: and then the office social was scheduled for tonight. Ah well - curry night it was then, venue TBD. Anyway, I sold my ticket to another of the group. And then I found out that there's something else on tonight that most people are going to (honestly, they couldn't organise an escape from a paper bag) - so I ended up booking another seat to The Starry Messenger! in the same row. Just as well - I can pick them both up myself now, and they are supposed to be collected by the person that made the booking. Technically. Some of us are meeting for food in the Bear and Staff, across the road, beforehand.

Tomorrow, I'm off, with UITCS, to Jude, at Hampstead Theatre.

And on Saturday, back - for the first time in a ridiculously long time - with London Dramatic Arts! We're at King Hedley II, with Lenny Henry, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. As usual, she closed RSVPs too early, but I asked, and she reopened them. Be good to see them again!

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Play: Our Town

Last night, it was Our Town at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, with some folks from Up in the Cheap Seats (UITCS) from Monday. You know, when I booked this - and right up to last week - I was very dubious about the weather: but yesterday was so lovely, sunny and warm, that I headed out with high hopes! Chatting to someone in the office delayed me, so instead of buses, I took the Tube.

Despite it being past the worst of rush hour, it was horribly packed - yuck. Particularly annoying was the American-sounding lady with the prominent backpack, who very obviously had no idea of Tube etiquette, making no effort to stand to the side, complaining loudly when anyone pushed against her..! When someone asked his elderly companion whether he was ok, she answered that she was fine. Hmm. At least she got a seat after a while, which got her out of the way.

So, it was with relief that I disembarked at Baker Street. Google Maps directed me to the right, out of the station - I decided to follow the station sign, which pointed left to the Open Air Theatre. Bad idea.. I just ended up coming around the same way! Ah well - even Sherlock Holmes was in a summery mood:


It was a gorgeous walk - I was so glad I'd come. A perfect day for it:


Once you do get to the park, the theatre is quite well-signposted. By the time I got there, I was regretting my coat.. but it gets so cold in the evenings. Our organiser had messaged us that she'd nabbed a table - handily, right beside where I was due to enter. And shortly after I took a seat, I felt like a wine - it being a nice, summery evening. Wouldn't you know it, the card readers in the bar were broken, I didn't have cash (as usual!), so I had to go down to the grill to get wine. Where they only sell by the bottle - happily, a couple of folks were happy to share it with me.

A pretty decent seat, and they're comfortable here:


As it started, it occurred to me that I'd seen the film version of this! A narrator tells the tale of a terribly ordinary New Hampshire town, in the early - and innocent - years of the 20th century, before the Great War came along and spoiled it all. People go about their business, it's very sweet - if very much from an era that has passed. Mind you, the second half, after the interval - which the narrator does warn the audience about - packs much more of a punch.

Overall, I have to say that our group didn't much care for it. They found the narrator annoying, the continuity confusing - the fourth wall doesn't exist here, with the actors stepping in and out of character to tell the story, at the narrator's polite request. Snippets of scene move the story along. The first half is undoubtedly slow - nothing much happens. But then, that's the point..

I did find the second half very moving. But I have to say, I could have skipped the performance as a whole - the best part of the evening was, as I say, the chance to get out in the park, on one of the nicest days of the year so far! Also great to see folks.

Tonight, back at last with London Literary Walks - whom I've been shamefully neglecting - for "The Second Westminster Walk". I'll have to run home first, drop off my laptop.

Tomorrow and on Friday, I booked with UITCS. Tomorrow, it was for The Starry Messenger, at Wyndham's, starring Matthew Broderick. I waited the longest time to book this, because I have theatre tokens, earned from posting photos to Seatplan, and every time I thought of booking it, I was either away from where my tokens were, or it was out of office hours - and they have to be booked by phone, generally. Well, I was to be glad I waited - they finally released really cheap front row seats in the stalls! (Restricted view, it's a tall stage.) And I was within arms' reach of my tokens, mid-afternoon. After being kept forever on hold, I was put through to someone who had to have everything spelled out for her, and emitted a big sigh when I told her I had a theatre token. So she had to log into that site. But it was all worth it, to get a ticket for that price.. Of course, I knew something would go wrong: and then the office social was scheduled for that very day. Ah well - curry night it was then, venue TBD. Anyway, I sold my ticket to another of the group. And then yesterday, I found out that there's something else on that night that most people are going to (honestly, they couldn't organise an escape from a paper bag) - so I ended up booking another seat to The Starry Messenger! in the same row. Just as well - I can pick them both up myself now, and they are supposed to be collected by the person that made the booking. Technically.

On Friday, I'm off, with UITCS, to Jude, at Hampstead Theatre.

And on Saturday, back - for the first time in a ridiculously long time - with London Dramatic Arts! We're at King Hedley II, with Lenny Henry, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. As usual, she closed RSVPs too early, but I asked, and she reopened them. Be good to see them again!