Quote Of The Day

"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Starry Messenger...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Kenneth Lonergan's The Starry Messenger at the Wyndhams Theatre in London glitzy West End.

This melancholy mid-life crisis drama creeps up on you. Albeit very slowly. Matthew Broderick is the starry attraction though (pun intended).

"Nobody knows anything," says a character who has spent time staring into the abyss in The Starry Messenger. "We’re all just guessing." That may be true, but playwright Kenneth Lonergan sure knows how to enrich the process of fumbling reflection, lacing questions large and small, about ourselves and the cosmos, with characteristic sensitivity, compassion and humour. While it’s frustrating at times and too unhurried, this melancholy, resolutely non-judgmental mid-life crisis drama creeps up on you. It smartly refuses forced epiphanies in favour of quiet contemplation, with an intimacy that reverberates across the night sky blanketing the walls.

The play had a difficult road to the stage via New York some six years ago. A Broadway try-out was cancelled due to Lonergan’s ongoing work on his troubled film, "Margaret." Actors dropped out, reports emerged from previews that the play, running three hours-plus, was rambling and unfocused; that Matthew Broderick, who has remained attached since the beginning, was unsure of his lines and was relying on a prompter; and that Lonergan, in his first time directing for the stage, was still busy cutting and rewriting, his attention sapped by legal headaches over "Margaret."

And despite it's subsequent moderate success on Broadway this belated West End transfer, now directed by Sam Yates, still has some room for fine-tuning as it preview here. Given the quality of the play though and Lonergan’s rewarding writing - any criticism of preview performances probably just  speaks volumes about the ambulance-chasing nature of theatre reporters and chatrooms, eager to form premature verdicts about evolving works.

Broderick plays Mark Williams, a dullish, grey kind of guy who regards himself as second-rate; he has downgraded his life-long ambition to be an astronomer to a dead-end teaching job at the Hayden Planetarium. His marriage to Anne (Elizabeth McGovern) is not exactly unhappy, but it’s flat, underscored by the tension of her verbosity clashing against his uncommunicativeness.

Mark strikes up a friendship that develops into romance with young single mother and trainee nurse Angela (Rosalind Eleazar). In a secondary storyline, Angela offers a sympathetic ear to the struggle with mortality of seemingly terminal cancer patient Norman (Jim Norton). This creates friction with his tightly wound daughter (Sinead Matthews), who feels no closeness with the old man. But a tragedy in Angela’s life abruptly shifts her perspective, also derailing her relationship with Mark.

Lonergan segments the drama over four playing spaces in McLane’s cobalt blue Planetarium set, representing the classroom, hospital, Mark’s home and Angela’s. While the connective thread, particularly with the hospital scenes, could be stronger, the play and its insinuating questions about life and relationships acquire cumulative weight and poignancy.

Mark’s uncomfortable introspection gets further unmasked by two students, one a smart, opinionated kid (Sid Sagar) determined to share his detailed teacher evaluation, the other a dim housewife (Jenny Galloway) who’s borderline hostile in her obtuseness. There’s also warmer input from his friendly teaching colleague (Joplin Sibtain), who views Mark’s conquest of Angela as a breakthrough victory for science nerds everywhere.

Broderick requires some getting used to. At first glimpse, his performance seems a repeat of the standard monotone nebbish he’s sleepwalked through in his last handful of stage appearances and film roles. But Lonergan wrote this part for the actor, and like all the characters here, Mark has far deeper shadings than are apparent in the way he’s initially presented.

Broderick explores those shadings with subtlety and humility in a performance full of piercing understatement. The thoughts that play across his face as he listens alone to an aria from "La Traviata" tell a heart-breaking story. His scenes with McGovern are especially elevated by emotional truth, as Anne, rattling off concerns about an impending holiday family visit, lurches nervously between brittle and soft, controlling and accommodating.

McGovern is very touching as a woman torn between exasperation and anxiety about her marriage. Delicate insights also emerge through small, telling exchanges between Mark and their unseen teenage son (voiced offstage).

Eleazar rises to the challenges of playing the inconsistently changeable Angela beautifully. She grows in the role, showing lovely nuance in some scenes with Norman, who is played with a humorous and very real balance of empathy, self-pity and no-bullshit curmudgeonliness by Norton.

Mark’s long monologue to his students near the end is a little over long and overwritten. That said, he reflects on the vast mysteries of universes scientific, personal and spiritual, and the endless different ways those worlds can be viewed. And yes, Lonergan stuffs too much into the speech, but as a means of connecting the central character to his history and his uncertain future, conveying how this closed-off man has begun to look within himself, it has glimmers of real soul. Which is a quality that distinguishes The Starry Messenger as a whole.

Friday, May 17, 2019


Last night Stuart and I went to see Hair at The Orchard Theatre in glitzy Dartford. 

The places we travel to to see crap productions of our favourite musical, eh? ­čśü

Slightly better performance than earlier in the run at Wimbledon and the cast seemed to enjoying it more. 

Which is something I suppose. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019


"You're so lucky, London is such a tolerant city."

Wait, wait, I'm only tolerated!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Islington -> Regent's Canal -> Limehouse -> The Grapes...

Stuart and I had a lovely little mosey yesterday along Regent's Canal yesterday down to Limehouse. We even got to quaff and have a roast at The Grapes. Cooked by Ian McKellen apparently!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Philip Glass: The Bowie Symphonies...

Last night Stuart, Dilwyn, and I went to listen (watch?) The Bowie Symphonies by Philip Glass be performed at the Royal Festival Hall on London's glitzy South Bank.

The three symphonies are based upon David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy of albums. Retreating from the glitz and debauchery of the rock world in the 1970s, Bowie moved to West Berlin and collaborated with singer/keyboardist/experimentalist Brian Eno on the albums Low, Heroes, and Lodger. The first two incorporated moody, introspective, mesmerizing electronic pieces influenced by the German synth band Kraftwerk. Open-minded classical folk were drawn in. Glass, whose brooding, evolving language wasn’t far removed from what Bowie and Eno were doing, was especially intrigued.

With his usual diligence and work ethic, Glass produced first a Low Symphony (Symphony No. 1) in 1992 and then a Heroes Symphony (Symphony No. 4) in 1996, taking themes from the Bowie albums – Low more so than Heroes – and developing them into Glass rhapsodies. The Heroes Symphony is the more successful of the two (Bowie reportedly thought so himself), sporting a lighter balletic texture and fewer Glass clich├ęs, while the Low Symphony works best, ironically, when it hews close to the Bowie/Eno recordings.

Lodger stubbornly resisted transformation for years, and that’s not a surprise. It was the only out-and-out rock album of the three, lacking instrumental tracks, with Eno present in just six of the 10 selections. Glass couldn’t get a grip on it, for he claimed it lacked melodic themes that could serve as launching pads (it does have themes, but they don’t grab the ear as readily as those of Low and Heroes). So he ultimately decided merely to set the lyrics to his own music.

The result, a radically different piece than either of the Bowie symphonies preceding it, was a symphony in the form of a song cycle, and, sadly, less successful. The new music does little to help the lyrics. The lyrics are elliptical touching on such subjects as travel to places like Africa, Cyprus, or Kyoto; masculinity; and violence against women.

Clad in a colourful traditional West African outfit, Ang├ęlique Kidjo, the acclaimed singer from Benin, provided the vocal for the Lodger symphony. But she was caught in a straitjacket of a huge symphony orchestra playing in strictly fixed pitches. Her amplified voice sounded declamatory and rigid in this context as she strained for the lower notes. You could tell five seconds after Kidjo’s first entry that something was amiss. The dignity of her bearing was intact, but I could detect only fleeting identification with the texts, most noticeably in "Boys Keep Swinging" with its sarcasm about male privilege. It was disappointing that the Lodger Symphony turned out to be a mismatch of style and delivery.

Philip Glass: Symphony No.1 (Low)
I. Subterraneans
II. Some Are
III. Warszawa

Philip Glass: Symphony No.4 (Heroes)
I "Heroes"
II Abdulmajid
III Sense of Doubt
IV Sons of the Silent Age
V Neuk├Âln
VI V2 Schneider

Philip Glass: Symphony No.12 (Lodger)*
I Fantastic Voyage
II Move On
III African Nightflight
IV Boys Keep Swinging
V Yassassin
VI Repetition
VII Red Sails
(Only seven of the Lodger album’s 10 songs were used, the others being saved for a future Glass work.)

London Contemporary Orchestra
Hugh Brunt conductor
*Robert Ames conductor
*James McVinnie organ
*Angelique Kidjo vocals

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Three Sisters...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Anton Chekhov's play Three Sisters at the Almeida Theatre in London glitzy Islington.

This year's Olivier Awards saw Rebecca Frecknall's version of Tennessee Williams' play Summer and Smoke scoop the prize for Best Revival and its leading lady, Patsy Ferran, take home the award for best actress. Now, Fracknall and Ferran collaborate again. This time, Frecknall is directing up-and-coming playwright Cordelia Lynn's adaptation of Chekhov's 1900 masterpiece Three Sisters. Although the production deftly captures the sense of longing for a new life, it perhaps misses a trick in failing to make the play feel relevant in 2019.

What Frecknall and Lynn's production captures so brilliantly is the sense of boredom and discontent felt by the three sisters and others who orbit their home. Despite the family's financial privilege, a restless unhappiness hangs in the air. At first, the sisters' woes seem tied up in a deep longing for the family's missing patriarch, who died a year before the narrative begins. Soon, however, this nostalgia reveals itself to be a wistful yearning for the fanciful lives the sisters have mentally conjured for themselves back in Moscow – a city they left 11 years ago and have no experience of as adults.

The sisters are bored and exhausted by life's day-to-day chores. When they're not reminiscing about the past, they're fantasising about the future, while never living fully in the present. There's a belief among almost all characters present that happiness belongs to the future. All, that is, except the family's 82-year-old nanny Anfisa (Annie Firbank), who openly declares how happy she is with her lot in life.

The emptiness of the sisters' lives is also captured in the barrenness of Hildegard Bechtler's set. The bare stage, with its scattering of unoccupied chairs and a piano that sits dormant throughout the play (a poignant betrayal of Chekhov's own gun theory*), appears more like a waiting room than a family home. Meanwhile, regardless of who is needed on stage to deliver the scene, additional characters hover or lounge in the background, procrastinating by sleeping, reading or playing cards. It's claustrophobic to watch and leaves you itching for things to move forward.

Despite its sense that nothing really changes for the family, the time frame of Three Sisters spans several years. Shifts forward are captured each time a photo is taken on stage and projected on the back wall for the audience to see. It's a shame, though, that a parallel is not drawn between these photos, in which longing and unhappiness is masked with smiles, and today's preoccupation with presenting an edited, filtered and untruthful version of lives on social media.

Interludes in time are also captured through outbursts of Angus MacRae's stunning score, which harkens to the Russian music of Chekhov's day while punctuating the play with all the drama missing from its protagonists' lives.

Ferran, Chanda and Zmitrowicz bring crucially different temperaments to the stage. Their affection for one another is always evident but their acutely different outlooks on life – despite their similar upbringings and fond dreams of Moscow – cleverly convey a nurture over nature argument. Zmitrowicz manages to riddle Irina with something close to millennial angst, despite the production's vague time period.

In the wider cast, all of whom are strong performers, Elliot Levey furnishes the play with most of its humour through his portrayal of Masha's buffoon of a husband Fyodor. While Peter McDonald delivers the narrative's key sentiments – "happiness belongs to the future" and "if you could live your life again but in full consciousness, would you do it differently?" – setting his own longing for change apart from that of the sisters by infusing it with a clear, underlying zest for life.

As the play draws to a close, Masha observes the "lovely, happy birds" making their annual migration south, while on the ground, the sisters are still rooted in their misery, dreaming of a happiness they believe awaits them elsewhere. Lynn's adaptation captures the wistful waiting and delusion of the sisters profoundly, but Chekhov's exploration of limited lives, thwarted dreams and the decline of the liberal elites offers fertile ground for interpretation, all of which feels under-adapted for the context of 2019.

A fine production but not a great one.

*Chekhov's Gun is a concept that describes how every element of a story should contribute to the whole. It comes from Anton Chekhov's famous book writing advice: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there."

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Cloudbusting "It's in the trees. It's coming" The band sounded great, Mandy was in fine voice, and the visuals and dancing were the icing on the cake (worth the ticket price alone!) @ULULive ...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see ace Kate Bush tribute act Cloudbusting at the University of London Union (ULU) in London's glitzy West End.

Cloudbusting are uber-fans and perform note for note recreations that would make Ms Bush proud. In fact having seen the old girl herself four times a few years back I might even say that the vocals on display by Cloudbusting's lead singer Mandy Watson were at least on a par. At least. If you closed your eyes it was her. Actually you didn't even need to really close them at all as Mandy Watson's Kate is a bit of a lookie-likie too.

The band sounded great, Mandy was in fine voice, and the visuals and dancing were the icing on the cake (worth the ticket price alone!)

We sang, we danced about a bit, we sang some more.

Great set-list too.

Set 1
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) (Kate Bush cover)
Be Kind to My Mistakes (Kate Bush cover)
Wow (Kate Bush cover)
Army Dreamers (Kate Bush cover)
Symphony in Blue (Kate Bush cover)
The Wedding List (Kate Bush cover)
Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake (Kate Bush cover)
Lily (Kate Bush cover)
The Red Shoes (Kate Bush cover)
The Big Sky (Kate Bush cover)
Aerial (Kate Bush cover)

Set 2
King of the Mountain (Kate Bush cover)
And So Is Love (Kate Bush cover)
The Saxophone Song (Kate Bush cover)
The Man With the Child in His Eyes (Kate Bush cover)
Don't Give Up (Peter Gabriel cover)
Babooshka (Kate Bush cover)
Sat in Your Lap (Kate Bush cover)
Hounds of Love (Kate Bush cover)
Wuthering Heights (Kate Bush cover)

This Woman's Work (Kate Bush cover)
Cloudbusting (Kate Bush cover)

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Boy of My Dreams...

13 years ago today I asked the boy of my dreams out on a date, today I asked him to marry me. 

He said no both times. 

So I'm stuck with Stuart instead.

Only joking... Happy anniversary Twigs.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Arsenal 3 - 1 Valencia "60,000 red and white plastic bags... seemed an odd choice for a club that claims to be environmentally friendly" @Arsenal

Last night Jamie and I had a great night at the glitzy Emirates Stadium watching Arsenal take on Valencia for the first leg of the semi-final of the UEFA Europe League.

It was a well-deserved and important 3-1 win for the Gunners. Lacazette scored a brace (18' and 25') and Aubameyang the crucial third (90').

After the initial light show (weirdly held in the sunshine) there were 60,000 red and white plastic bags on our seats for holding up when the players came on the pitch.

Which seemed an odd choice for a club that claims to be environmentally friendly.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Small Island "the fact that the play is opening at the time this country becomes a slightly smaller island than it was before is sadly, timely" #SmallIsland @NationalTheatre

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Small Island at the Olivier Theatre in London's glitzy South Bank.

Small Island is based upon the the epic 2004 multi-prize winning novel of the same name by British author Andrea Levy. It tells the tangled history of Jamaica and UK through the eyes of characters who in 1948 arrive at Tilbury, London, on the boat Empire Windrush.

Levy herself said in 2004: "When I started Small Island I didn't intend to write about the war. I wanted to start in 1948 with two women, one white, one black, in a house in Earls Court, but when I asked myself, 'Who are these people and how did they get here?' I realised that 1948 was so very close to the war that nothing made sense without it. If every writer in Britain were to write about the war years there would still be stories to be told, and none of us would have come close to what really happened. It was such an amazing schism in the middle of a century. And Caribbean people got left out of the telling of that story, so I am attempting to put them back into it. But I am not telling it from only a Jamaican point of view. I want to tell stories from the black and white experience. It is a shared history."

And this sums up the play perfectly. It is a story of a shared history, of the war, of racism, of the Windrush Generation, and of love. And, to put it simply, we loved it too.

The leads are all excellent - played by Leah Harvey (Hortense), Gershwyn Eustache Jnr (Gilbert), Aisling Loftus (Queenie), and Andrew Rothney (Bernard). And Michael is played by CJ Beckford.

The plot is complex, peppered with backstory, but suffice to say it is about suffering. Suffering and making do. And wanting a better life.

And although the book is great, the play really brings the whole story to vivid life. Helen Edmundson's stage adaptation is super, and Rufus Norris's production is not only spot on, but of course doubly prescient because of the current Windrush scandal and Brexit.

And the fact that the play is opening at the time this country becomes a slightly smaller island than it was before is sadly, timely.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Altered Images ft. Clare Grogan...

Last Saturday night Darren treated Stuart and I to a trip down memory lane. He took us to see early 1980s Scottish new wave/post-punk band Altered Images ft. Clare Grogan at the University of London Union in the glitzy West End.

As we entered, the ULU bar half-forgotten memories of misspent nights came flooding back; drunken nights jumping up and down in beer-soaked student bars with unknown bands blaring away, perched on small corner stages, with tinny sound systems. Not that tonight was one of those nights of course. The crowd swayed respectfully, the stage was a respectable size, and the sound system was as clear as a bell.

And of course the band in the corner was anything but 'unknown'. Altered Images had a great rush of success in the charts in the early 1980s. Many of their hits still are played today thanks to the band's strong writing talents and excellent production by the likes of Martin Rushent, Mike Chapman, and Tony Visconti.

After success came some fallow years though and the inevitable split. In 2012, Ms Grogan put together a new all-female version of Altered Images and that was whom we were seeing tonight.

Clare was in wonderful form; looked great, jumped about, sang all the hits, and chatted to the audience. She seemed to be as happy to be there as we were to see her.

We sang along and revelled in the nostalgia. There was nothing but strong and loyal affection shown for this Glasgow girl.

I Could Be Happy
Don't Talk To Me About Love
See Those Eyes
Don't Give Up Girl
The Colour of My Dreams (first time live)
That's Not My Name (The Ting Tings cover)
Change of Heart
Dead Pop Stars
Shake It Off (Taylor Swift cover)
Bring Me Closer
Happy Birthday

Love to Stay

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019

Friday, April 26, 2019

All My Sons...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Jeremy Herrin's rich revival of Arthur Miller's All My Sons at the Old Vic Theatre in London's glitzy Waterloo.

It's not hard to see why Arthur Miller – he of a Shakespeare-rivalling five London revivals this year – remains such an enticing prospect, even beyond the obvious ticket-shifting name recognition. His plays have both an A Level-friendly degree of studiable symbolism that can be teased out by directors, and a narrative and character richness that speaks for itself. More importantly, Miller is a writer for morally, financially and existentially uncertain times, and though that is arguably applicable to any period, those traits make him especially appealing in 2019.

Set a few years after World War Two, All My Sons sees the Kellers – father Joe (Bill Pullman), mother Kate (Sally Field) and son Chris (Colin Morgan) – awaiting the arrival of their old neighbour Ann Deever (Jenna Coleman), the childhood sweetheart of their AWOL pilot son Larry.

It's set to be a potentially awkward reunion. Ann's father, the former business partner of the exonerated Joe, is in prison for fatally supplying cracked cylinder heads to the US Air Force, while Chris is preparing to propose despite the protests of his mother, who still believes Larry will one day return from the war. As afternoon turns into evening, the sickly swirl of conflict, capitalism and community is poked and prodded; pragmatism and idealism butt heads; and the delusions preserved by the family are gradually stripped away one by one.

Though director Jeremy Herrin and set designer Max Jones do a lot to create an incredibly intimate atmosphere in the not insignificant surroundings, this production exists to showcase its performers. Homegrown TV talent Coleman and Morgan hold their own against their Hollywood co-stars; the former has the mixture of anxiety and awe that strikes when returning to a place long left behind, while the latter perfectly captures the shaky-voiced, painful pose of a boy confronting a father he loves, body and soul.

As Joe, Independence Day president Pullman oozes classic dad vibes, a solid, slightly goofy, seemingly good-hearted guy with a genuine rapport with his son. Yet there's also a shiftiness to his eyes and posture, a try-hard righteousness to his boasts; he can be hammy, at times, but when a man of his size shrinks late in the second half, Pullman is remarkable.

And Sally Field. My god. She barely seems to be acting, so wholeheartedly does she embody Kate Keller. Just watch her when she isn't the focus. Initially she comes across as na├»ve and desperately frail, placed in a bubble by her unrealised grief over Larry's disappearance. But she is also frank and shrewd, urging Joe to be smart when things start to go south, clearly not without her part in the sole imprisonment of Ann's father. It's emblematic of a pick-and-choose approach to living in the world – what we do and don't allow ourselves to ignore – of which we are all guilty.

Miller at his best.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Market Boy - "1980s: racism, sexism, ladism, marketism, Thatcherism... It was riot of colour and noise and humour and banter. Everything is up for sale, cash talks, and the deal rules."

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see a revival of David Eldridge's fantastic play Market Boy at the Union Theatre in London's glitzy Southwark.

Full disclosure: Dave is a mate of ours. But please don't think I'm biased - I piss off mates all the time with truthful reviews (just watch out for faint praise like "lovely lighting!") 

But fear not, dear reader, this play was a corker.

The action follows our hero "Boy" as he joins Romford Market in the 1980s and his slow rise up the ranks. The dialogue is coarse, sharp, and very funny. Most of the street marketers’ attitude is, as it was at the time, grossly politically incorrect. So politically incorrect in fact that everyone seems to worship Thatcher (who even makes an appearance or two). Like Maggie's Farm, the market is king.

Con artists, piss artists, animated characters, well-drawn caricatures, dodgy stereos, equally dodgy stereotypes, proper 'units', duckers and divers, fast talkers, and slow burners. 1980s: racism, sexism, ladism, marketism, Thatcherism... it was riot of colour and noise and humour and banter. Everything is up for sale, cash talks, and the deal rules.

The Union Theatre is a small venue and what with 20 actors on stage the chaotic atmosphere of a packed Romford Market was well realised. There is excellent use of 1980s music and tremendous energy from the ensemble cast simply propels the show forward. We left beaming ear to ear.

Oh, and lovely lighting! Ha, ha. Joke! (Sorry Dave!)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A well-bred person...

A well-bred person appears in print on only three occasions: birth, marriage, and death.
"Yes, darling, but I'm not that well-bred."

Monday, April 22, 2019

Highbury Corner Roundabout RIP...

Today really is finally the last day of the Highbury Corner roundabout. Do your last ever full circuits now. Happy Easter everyone.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Web browsing preference"...

Poor Tory MP Gavin Barwell. He thought he’d struck gold when he asked why a Labour Party’s press release online had an advert saying "Date Arab Girls", but his jibe soon backfired, when the party press office pointed him in the direction of Google Adsense Help. The ad depends on your own web browsing preferences. Opps.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A German Life "…it is a life Smith brought so beautifully alive. Go see." Bridge Theatre @_bridgetheatre

Last night Stuart and I went to see Dame Maggie Smith star in Christopher Hampton’s one-person play A German Life at the Bridge Theatre in London's glitzy London Bridge Quarter.

This new solo show marks Smith’s first stage role in 12 years. Moreover, it is a corker.

A German Life started its own life as a filmed documentary. In 2016 directors Olaf S. M├╝ller, Roland Schrotthofer, Florian Weigensamer, and Christian Kr├Ânes took it upon themselves to film controversial figure Brunhilde Pomsel, then aged 105, a year before her death.

Brunhilde described her occupation in that film as, "stenographer and typist, secretary, and broadcaster." But, she was more than that. Very much more.

"I was just a side-line figure and not at all interested in politics."

Maybe true, but she nevertheless got closer to one of the worst criminals in world history than anyone else then alive. For Pomsel used to work as a secretary, stenographer, and typist for the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Maggie Smith's performance, Christopher Hampton’s play, and Jonathan Kent's production are all sublime. For each draws you in. Quite literally in the case of the production. As Dame Maggie sits at her table, a pair of glasses in hand, both she and they creep imperceptibly towards the front of the stage. It’s a clever trick.

Smith gives a masterclass throughout on how memory alludes us.  Her performance seems forced at first; it is as if she is struggling to remember her lines. But no, it is her character that is struggling. Struggling to remember the big things. The major, terrible acts carried out in the 1930s, and 40s. The little things seem to come back more clearly though; her clothes, her shoes, her Jewish friend Ava…

Born in Berlin in 1911, we hear of a difficult childhood, an abuse father, and a clutch of younger brothers. Pomsel was bright though and initially worked as a stenographer for a Jewish lawyer and as a typist for a rightist nationalist. She gleefully admitted, "I worked for a Jew in the mornings and a Nazi in the afternoons!"

In 1933, she gained a job as a secretary in the news department of the Third Reich's broadcasting station after joining the Nazi Party. On the recommendation of a friend, she was transferred to the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1942, where she worked under Joseph Goebbels as a shorthand writer until the end of the war.

Pomsel's tasks included "massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army". She seemed almost proud of the fact.

After the fall of Berlin in 1945, Pomsel was imprisoned by the Soviet NKVD until 1950 in three different concentration camps, Buchenwald, Hohensch├Ânhausen and Sachsenhausen. She then returned to work for the state broadcaster.

"I know no one ever believes us nowadays – everyone thinks we knew everything," she said of the Nazis’ regime. "We knew nothing, it was all kept well secret." And we so want to believe her. But we don't.

Smith is on top form. We learn to admire Pomsel if not actually like her. But as we learn of her defiance at refusing to feel any guilt over the Holocaust we find her both appalling and galling.

"Why should I feel guilty?” she states matter-of-factly, “Germany was such a happy place. We didn't know what was going on. Would you have behaved any differently in my place?"

And that of course is the nub of the play. The thing that brings us right up to date. Are we ignoring terrible things being done in our name today? Do we listen to the rhetoric, hear the hot air, and believe at least some part of the lies we are all being fed? Does some part of us fear the ‘different’, the 'other', the 'vermin', and the 'sub-human'.

It is a sobering thought to think that we could all so easily be "Pomsel."

Shortly before her death, Pomsel revealed that she had been in love with a man named Gottfried Kirchbach, who had a Jewish mother. They planned to leave Germany together. In 1936 Kirchbach escaped to Amsterdam to arrange a new life. Pomsel visited him regularly until he told her she was endangering her life by doing so. She aborted their child after a doctor advised her the pregnancy might kill her because she had a serious lung complaint. It is a bitter coda to a fascinating life.

And it is a life Smith brought so beautifully alive. Go see.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame - Hellfire - My favourite Disney song has taken on a new meaning as I watched Notre Dame burn last night...

My favourite Disney song has taken on a new meaning as I watched Notre Dame burn last night.

I hope the cathedral survives (and the musical gets a London production too!)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Safe Spaces...


"Your attention, please. The building is currently in lock-down. Please go immediately to your safe spaces. Do not attempt to leave the building at this time"

We have safe spaces?! #ExtinctionRebellion

Friday, April 12, 2019

Highbury Corner Roundabout RIP...

From next Friday Highbury Corner is no more. Well, it will be back to being a corner again. Highbury Corner *roundabout* is no more.

In one of Islington’s most important ever road revamps, much of the area outside Highbury and Islington station is being pedestrianised and turned into a public space.

The intimidating 1960s roundabout will been removed and replaced with two-way roads, with the installation of segregated cycle lanes on all three remaining sides of the roundabout. Cyclists make up a quarter of the Corner’s traffic during rush hour. The bottom of Corsica Street has also been closed to traffic and pedestrianised.

With more segregated cycle lanes across the junction and wider pedestrian crossings the changes will make cycling and travelling on foot easier and safer for everyone using this busy area every day. With more green space also open to the public, the changes will truly improve quality of life for everyone living and working around Highbury Corner.