Quote Of The Day

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Beaux' Stratagem...

Last night Stuart and I went to see George Farquhar's wonderful play The Beaux' Stratagem at the Olivier Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

This was our third Restoration comedy in as many weeks - and the funniest by far. The humour was rich, clever and bawdy. The actors played and sang not only to each other but also to the crowd. And the production rollicked along and getting the tempo just right.

Part-farce, part-comedy of manners the story tells of Archer and Aimwell, two young gentlemen, who have fallen on hard times, who plan to travel through small towns, entrap young heiresses, stealing their money and moving on. In the first town, Lichfield, they set their sights on Dorinda. Aimwell falls truly in love, and comedy ensues. And for extra comedic value Foigard, a priest and chaplain to the French officer, is actually an Irish priest called MacShane.

The two beaux are played superbly by Samual Barnett (yes, him off of History Boys and Beautiful People) and Geoffrey Streatfeild (yes, him off of The Other Boleyn Girl and The Thick Of It).

Their respective female foils are Mrs Sullen played magnificently by Susannah Fielding (yes, her off of Almeida Theatre's American Psycho and Doctor Who's Victory of the Daleks) and Dorinda played coquettishly by Pippa Bennett-Warner (yes, her off of Doctor Who's Time Heist).

The National doing what it does best.. Entertaining - top-notchly.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Angel, Islington...

Angel, Islington, Lyons Cafe and Restaurant 1936. The creators of Monopoly shopped for tea there which is why Angel Islington is on the UK version of the board.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Flannelettes...

The other week Stuart and I went to see The Flannelettes at the Kings Head Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Richard Cameron’s new play attempts to combine the earnest treatment of serious social issues with some light-hearted musical pastiche. The various strands are each moderately successful on their own, but never really seem parts of the same play.

The director of a battered women’s shelter deals with the real issues and emotional confusions of her residents while looking after her mentally-limited niece, who is in danger of being sexually exploited by some of the same villains who beat their wives. Meanwhile, even the most sympathetic men in the community are limited by prejudices and practicalities that stand in the way of justice.

The girl’s one simple pleasure is fronting the titular amateur tribute girl group, so that rehearsals and performances of Motown classics punctuate the action. That’s really more than one play can handle, with the songs and the Flannelettes subplot particularly awkwardly shoehorned into the action.

The abused women’s stories, the girl’s vulnerability and the dark ironies limiting the good men each come across strongly, largely through the inherent power of the material, but even they have to compete, sometimes uneasily, for centre stage.

Director Mike Bradwell can’t fully disguise the script’s fragmented quality or the fact that squeezing so much in results in barely sketched-in characterisations.

Emma Hook captures the mix of innocence and petulance in the childlike young woman, but Suzan Sylvester as the shelter manager has little to play but harried exhaustion.

Despite the weighty material it's fun though.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Alexander McQueen...

Last week Stuart, Darren, Mark and I went to see the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London's glitzy South Kensington.

The show follows McQueen's career from early apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, before joining Gieves & Hawkes and, later, the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. All good grounding for his impeccably tailored look and his love of dressing up.

Part fashion designer and part fancy dresser McQueen took things to another level. His creations were amazing. Bonkers even.

As were his catwalk shows. Whilst appointed as head designer at Givenchy, he had a show where a single model, Shalom Harlow graced the runway in a strapless white dress, before being rotated slowly on a revolving section of the catwalk whilst being sprayed with paint by two robotic guns. Fab.

Or the one where the show room was dominated by an enormous glass box. But because the room outside the box was lit and the inside of the box was unlit, the glass walls appeared as large mirrors, so that the seated audience saw only their own reflection. Finally, after an hour, and when the show began, lights came on in inside the enormous glass case and revealed the interior to be filled with moths and, at the centre, a naked model on a chaise longue with her face obscured by a gas mask. The glass walls then fell away and smashed on the ground.

The clothes are nice too.

If you like frocks - or just showmanship - you'll love this.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Grapes...

This is how The Grapes in Limehouse looked way back when. This historic riverside pub dating from 1585 is still in business today run by famed actor Sereena McKellen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Carrie: The Musical...

Last night David, Dean, Stuart and I went to see Carrie: The Musical at the Southwark Playhouse in London's rather er... unglitzy Elephant and Castle.

Based on the Stephen King schlock-horror story and with a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, lyrics by Dean Pitchford, and music by Michael Gore (sic) this musical was royally panned when it was first staged in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1988. When it transferred to New York later that year the audience was heard to boo and it closed just 5 performances after previews losing nearly all of it's $8m investment. Some critics described it as the worse show they had even seen.

So here we are 27 years later with a brand new slimmed down production. And you know what?  It is actually really rather good.

In a nutshell Carrie tells the story of a teenage girl, bullied by her classmates and fanatically religious mother, who develops telekinetic powers.

Evelyn Hoskins as Carrie impressively charts the path from vulnerability to insane rage. She transforms first from cowering teenager to delicate young woman, as she blossoms briefly for the school prom, then to deranged killer when her more vicious classmates humiliate her. There is lovely support from Sarah McNicholas as her classmate Sue, smitten with conscience, and from Greg Miller-Burns as Sue’s nice-guy boyfriend, Tommy.
Meanwhile Kim Criswell is simply sensational as Carrie’s mad mother Margaret, her hair-raising solos conveying the personal pain behind her crazed religious mind set. In numbers such as Remember How Those Boys Could Dance, Criswell’s voice is powerful but perfectly controlled, conveying all the warped tenderness and menace which Margaret needs. If you’re going to watch a deranged religious mother drag her daughter round the stage while singing at top volume, this is definitely the show for you!

The young ensemble do a cracking job, going full-throttle on the melodrama while keeping the focus tight. This is High School Musical meets Last House On The Left. This is Glee meets Saw. Sure the cast send to sing AT each other rather than WITH each other at times and the songs aren't particularly memorable but it's a great ride. Funny too.

If you get the chance, go see.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Closer To Heaven...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Closer To Heaven at the Union Theatre in London's not so glitzy Union Street in Southwark.

Written by Jonathan Harvey and with music by the Pet Shop Boys the show had a limited run at the Arts Theatre back in 2001.

This was a spirited revival of what is frankly not a particularly good musical. I like the Pet Shop Boys music they wrote for it a lot and listen to the show's original cast recording regularly but its story of clubs, drugs and coming out is sub-par, sub-Taboo and very dated (it was even back in 2001). The whole thing just needs a rewrite.

Having said that the show we saw last night was fun enough. The boys and girls wore very little, danced very well (in the very limited space the Union Theatre allowed them) and seemed to be enjoying themselves very much. The singing was another story though. It was pretty grim at times. With no microphones on the actors you couldn't hear the words and there were so many bum notes we almost offered them some Andrex. Shame really was the lyrics are quite good.

No, what the show needs is a rewrite and a production in a bigger venue which could transform it into a much better show. You up for it Boys?

This was the review I wrote back in May 2001 and I pretty much stand by what I said back then:
"So was it any good? To be honest no. I so wanted to like this. Bits were OK but I just never felt engaged. I never connected or felt any sympathy towards any of the characters - I just didn't care whether they fell in or out of love. Whether they lived or died. It had all the right ingredients - Pet Shop Boys' music, Jonathan Harvey as author, a cast and crew with a good reputation. But even my low expectations were sadly misplaced. Billie Trix (Frances Barber) plays an aging pop star with a past. In many ways she holds the whole show together as the confidante of the other leading characters. But despite punchy lines like, "Love? That was like Vietman. After a lot of protesting it ended in the Seventies" her Eartha Kitt growl and Gabriel looks began to grate before long. Her Billie's Babes were little more that Hot Gossip in day-glo. Things looked up a bit half way through the first half with the appearance of Bob Saunders (Paul Boughton) a thinly veiled Tom Watts character as a fat, gay, hideous record producer. But he was barely used beyond his first half success. The music was generally OK. The previously written PSB songs such as Shameless and Closer to Heaven sounded adequate live but just like Mamma Mia some songs were shoe-horned with amazing crassness into the plot. In Denial was a good example. Its reprise in the second half was only slightly better. The only moving part in the whole show was a dramatic rendition of Vampires by the father character Vic Christian (David Burt). This consisted of him singing stage right while the two main gay characters had sex in a bed naked stage centre. Sadly the rest of the second half was trite to the point of boredom. On the whole the show was too 'gay'. Not camp enough but too 'gay'. Homosexuality was not only a given of ever male character but their only characteristic. They had no other qualities. I can't see it running as a musical. A straight audience will find nothing to identify with. It'll close at the end of the summer at the latest. Closer to Heaven - your fifteen weeks of fame starts now.
Star Alert: Neil Tennant sat in front of us. I chatted to him a bit on the way out - he's going every night. Why torture yourself, love?"


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Black Ops...

I styled it out earlier. I pretended I was in Black Ops when I ran and missed my tube train by saying into my sleeve "I've lost him."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Everyman...

Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see Everyman at the Olivier Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Everyman is the first play to be directed at the National Theatre by Rufus Norris since he took charge. The play stars Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as a coke-snorting hedonist who faces death on his 40th birthday.

Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy's reworking of the 15th-century morality play is a seductive spectacle featuring as it does an impressive arsenal of stage effects including a giant video screen, suspended silver statues and a wind machine - along with energetic choreography by Javier de Frutos.

Throughout the 100-minute drama, Ejiofor's character Ev meets an array of allegorical characters as he assesses his past life. The drama is foul-mouthed, moralistic, atheistic and theatrical.

Kate Duchene plays God as a cleaning lady who opens the play sweeping the floor. The character of Death is played by Dermot Crowley as a dry-humoured Irishman.

There are modern references too to footballers, pop stars, and even to a colostomy bag worn by 'Sir Cliff'.

Offbeat but traditional, theatrical but heartfelt, it's a triumphant night.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Mad World My Masters...

Last week Stuart and I went to see A Mad World My Masters at the Barbican Theatre in London's glitzy Barbican Centre.

In the same vane as the National’s triumphant One Man, Two Guvnors this Jacobean comedy plays it was laughs - and crude laughs at that.

Transported to the seedy surroundings of 1950s Soho, Thomas Middleton’s wickedly funny comedy sees our hero Richard Follywit variously become a lord, a high-class call girl and – God forbid – a poor actor. But beautiful Soho tart, Miss Truly Kidman, is also on the scam: a whore to some, a religious instructor to others, and a debutante in need of an eligible bachelor to yet more.

In this mad, boisterous world, glamour rubs up against filth, and likes it; the posh mix with musicians, prostitutes and racketeers; and a dashing bachelor in need of quick cash is forced to live on his wits. Things are very bawdy here and the uproarious tale of deceits and disguises is played for the broadest of laughs. Joe Orton would have approved.

At times the persistent use of innuendo makes you feel you’re watching a Carry-On film. The conniving Dick Follywit tells us he is a man of “considerable endowment”. “Here’s the cock coming to bone the chicken,” declares the easily duped landowner Sir Bounteous Deersucker. The gags just keep on coming. Missus.

Great fun though.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Hail Dave...


So it's bye bye Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

A Tory majority will herald in the constituency boundary changes they have been after for so long. That should deliver them a further 25 Tory seats at the next election in 2020.

Funnily enough Ed Balls could find himself in No.10 rather than No.11. If his wife Yvette Cooper leads and then wins for Labour at the 2020 election...



A Politician...

I was in a graveyard earlier and I saw a tombstone which read, "Here lies a politician and an honest man."

I thought to myself, "Wonder how they got them both in the same grave?"

Thursday, May 07, 2015

9 Years Ago Today...

9 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.)

Well, it makes a change from my usual, "In 2005 Stuart and I went on eight dates before we finally went to the cinema together to see Batman Begins. It was dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner, Batman."

Vote Early! Vote Often!...

They say, "A man who doesn't vote Labour when he's in his 20s has no heart. And a man who doesn't vote Tory when he's in his 40s has no brain." Well, I am neither in my 20s nor my 40s so will not be relying on either of those two particular organs to sway my vote. I shall not be voting with my wallet either... but with my conscience.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Marc Almond...

Last Friday night Paul, Simon and I went to see Marc Almond at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in London's not so glitzy Shepherd's Bush.

The show was the final night of his The Velvet Trail promotional tour and it was a real wow. Showcasing much of his recent top album (his best in 10 years?) Marc also treated us to a gambol through his weighty back catalogue.

The guy is a amazing, has got the hits and has still got the power to command the stage. The show was haunting, tuneful and joyous. That man is a star, boys, that man is a star.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Canalway Cavalcade...

On Bank Holdiay Monday Stuart, Bobby and I went for a walk. A long walk along the canals of London.. all the way from Highbury via Campden Lock on to Little Venice and on to Kensal Rise.

En route we stopped off to see the Canalway Cavalcade canal festival with lots of gaily festooned barges and entertainment for kids. Nice.




Monday, May 04, 2015

Only Connect Marathon...

Yesterday Darren, Vince, Stuart and I completed the final stretch of our Only Connect viewing marathon for series 10. We started at about 1pm and finished about 11:30pm. Phew! Roll of series 11.

May The Fourth Be With You!...

Ha ha ha. That is genius. Ha ha ha. So funny. I see what you did there. Ha ha ha. May the FOURTH be with you. Wonder how I had not heard that before? Ha ha ha. Ha!

Friday, May 01, 2015

Hay Fever...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Hay Fever at The Duke Of York's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Starring national treasure Felicity Kendal and directed by Lindsay Posner this was the Theatre Royal Bath production of Noel Coward's classic comedy.

It was all very amusing. And at times quite funny. Coward can be very drôle, m'dears. Pompous but drôle.

Felicity Kendal was great playing the mother Judith Bliss – a once glittering star of the London stage - alongside her dysfunctional scene-stealing family. Her author husband David Bliss (played by the lovely Simon Shepherd) and the dreadful Bliss children unbeknownst to each other have each invited someone down to stay for the weekend in their Berkshire rural retreat. And they are a competitive bunch.

All is not Bliss in this particular respectable English family as they soon show their true colours and try to outshine and out-misbehave and out-seduce one another.

The unassuming visitors are subjected to unconventional, risqué and often downright rudeness. Outrage, mock outrage, drama and melodrama proliferate. Can they stand it? You'll have to come along and find out.

It's all funny enough - if you find posh people squabbling and ignoring houseguests funny - which luckily I do!

Ms Kendal is in fine form and her performance is reason enough for our trip.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Philip Glass - Études for Piano...

Last night Stuart, Dilwyn and I went to see a performance of Philip Glass's now complete twenty Études for Piano to the Barbican Concert Hall in London's concrete Barbican.

The American composer was there himself performing alongside pianists Maki Namekawa (amazing), Timo Andres (gifted), Clare Hammond (orgasmic) and Vikingur Ólafsson (virtuoso).

An introspective portrait of the composer over two decades, The Études is an immersive journey into one composer’s personal soundscape as expressed in the depth and breadth of a single instrument.

Philip Glass started writing this series of twenty piano pieces in the mid-90s and the final four études were commissioned in celebration of Glass’s 75th birthday in 2012. It is a body of work that has a broad range of dynamics, tempo and emotion.

Glass often gets described as a minimalist but this is a rather misleading label. His works are rich with vibrant structures that repeat and syncopate in an almost hypnotic pattern. Joyous.

I think Dilwyn enjoyed himself. I'm sure Stuart did. I know I did.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron...

Last night I went to see Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron with Dean Rudd at Odeon Shaftesbury Avenue.

Not brilliant but good. Better than good. Very good. Not perfect but very good. If you like robots and laserbeams...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Silverpoint...

So, how was your evening last night? Mine was.. different.

I went for a drink at a pub in Essex Road but was told I was too early so to wait on a bench in Islington Green Park. Just as I'm just starting to feel abandoned a woman came up behind me and gave me a slip of paper with a telephone number on it. I called it and another woman, Chloe, told me she was trapped underground. I had to rescue her. She had been kidnapped and gave me vague directions. I kept her talking as I crossed the park and along Essex Road trying to find her. I found a deserted building and a half open gated door. I followed Chloe's instructions and ran through the door, across an empty room to the far side and then down a long staircase into the dark. At the bottom Chlore's recorded voice was repeating instructions from a recorder into a phone. It was a trap. A man from the murkiness grabbed me and steered me against a wall. We were joined by others. Then more hooded people came into the room. They paraded around and then stood in front of each of us. They turned us round and then dressed us in hooded robes. We were then lead through a door and stood before a thick curtain. An oppressive noise filled the small room and our heads. The curtain then was pulled back and we faced a massive blackness. As our eyes became accustomed to the dark we discovered we were in a huge underground room with dim lights above our heads. Hands then shoved us straight into the blackness. Onwards we were pushed into the dark. Eventually we were lead to a railing which we hung on to. We were all standing around a huge pit with a railing round the edge and three floors or so way down below us a single woman was illuminated in the darkness. The noise was deafening. The woman moaned and chanted above the noise and pointing up choosing one of our number. A gate in the railing opened and the chosen one was shoved forward falling down into the darkness below.

Then we were steered to an exit where we got free vodka cocktails. Wow!

All this started from playing the iPhone app Absolut Silverpoint. Good old Punchdrunk!

The game started simply enough - a bit like Candy Crush you had to get three items in a row. But before long you get invited out for free cocktails (you can take a +1), get given a number to make a very strange and creepy telephone call, get to go to a salon where they 'do' your hair but surreptitiously take your DNA, receive a weird frantic phone call and then the amazing finale (which is what I described above).

The game is finished now as everything was real-time based and ran over the past two weeks so you had to get to various levels by certain dates. Hopefully they will run it (or something similar) again.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Three Tales...

The Science Museum in London opens up some Friday nights to entertain (we were there for a Minimalist opera in the IMAX), sell booze and sell ideas. Paul, Stuart and I ran around like school kids marvelling at how the exhibits hadn't changed since we'd first been there in the 1970s.

The opera we were there to see was Three Tales, a video-opera in three acts titled Hindenburg, Bikini and Dolly, with music by American composer Steve Reich and visuals by Beryl Korot, his wife.

The musical narrative of Three Tales follows "speech melodies" of pre-recorded interviews and was quite alluring. The live performance of the music and singing was great. The videos aspect seemed rather naff though.

The three tales (acts) divide into various sub-sections:

Act I – Hindenburg
It could not have been a technical matter – Nibelung Zeppelin – A very impressive thing to see – I couldn't understand It

Act II – Bikini
In the air I – The atoll I – On the ships I – In the air II – The atoll II – On the ships II – In the air III – The atoll III - On the ships III - Coda

Act III – Dolly
Cloning - Dolly - Human body machine - Darwin - Interlude - Robots/Cyborgs/Immortality




Friday, April 24, 2015

Shock Treatment...

Last night Stuart and I went to see new musical Shock Treatment at the Kings Head Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Written by the same team (and as a sequel) to The Rocky Horror Show the action takes place in Denton, USA - a small American town where the local television station is putting on increasingly bizarre shows. Rocky hero and heroine Brad and Janet are first exposed to husband and wife co-presenters Ralph and Betty Hapschatt as audience members on their game show Marriage Maze. Brad is soon dragged off by brother and sister doctors Cosmo and Nation McKinley and Janet is given a taste of show-biz as station owner Farley Flavors moulds her into a singing diva superstar.

Dances are danced, songs are sung, clothes are shed. All very Richard O'Brien.

The humour is dark and subversive. Four or five of the songs are good. The rest a bit meh. The whole show simply reeks of Rocky though. Which is a good thing!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tesco...

Tesco has reported a record loss of £6.4 billion.

Well, that's what you get for gambling on horses.

Monday, April 20, 2015

FA Cup Semi Final - Arsenal 2 - 1 Reading...

On Saturday later afternoon Paul and I headed to Wembley Stadium to watch the might Arsenal FC take on Reading FC in the first of the two FA Cup Semi Finals. It was a scrappy game which we barely deserved to win. But win we did thanks to an Alexis Sanchez late winner and Wojciech Szczesny's goalkeeping. So now we are taking on Aston Villa FC in the final of Sat 30th May. Fingers crossed we are both successful in the ballot for tickets.




Friday, April 17, 2015

Oppenheimer...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Oppenheimer at the Vaudeville Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Oppenheimer the play tells the story of Robert Oppenheimer the man who led the team that created the atomic bombs released on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and had to live with the moral consequences of his discoveries: “I feel,” he says, “like I’ve dropped a loaded gun in a playground.”

We watch his transition from card carrying communist to flag-waving US military bomb maker as the play treats us to scenes of 1940s academia, a few basic nuclear physics lectures, a student anti-Fascist fundraising party, many war-time arguments and the gradual erosion of idealistic notions to the hard realities of war.

Truly Oppenheimer has 'become Death, the destroyer of worlds.'

My only criticism of the play is the three hours running time. It could have been half the length and told the same story with a bit more urgency.