Quote Of The Day

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

Friday, January 19, 2018

Titus Andronicus @BarbicanTheatre Yes, my friends, it is a blood bath of murder, rape, mutilation, and revenge. And it is bloody good! ...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest gore-fest production of Titus Andronicus at the Barbican Theatre in London's glitzy Barbican Centre.

Warning (says the sign outside): "This production contains smoke effects, gunshots and sexual content. There are violent scenes throughout that some audience members may find distressing." Yup.

After the chaos and disorder of recent years Blanche McIntyre has directed this epic conclusion of the Rome Season as a chillingly contemporary take on Shakespeare’s gory revenge play. The modern setting is both credible and resonant.

Titus Andronicus contains 14 direct killings (9 of them on stage), 6 severed members (hands, heads and privates), 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and 1 of cannibalism - an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines of the play. Yes, my friends, it’s a blood bath of murder, rape, mutilation, and revenge. And its bloody good!

The sharp, confident and imaginative modern-dress production also sports a terrific cast. Nia Gwynne’s fearsome Goth queen Tamora is excellent, Stefan Adegbola as Tamora’s treacherous lover Aaron is beyond malevolent, and Martin Hutson as the emperor, Saturninus, shows how unchecked power quickly descends into paranoia.

The night goes to David Troughton's Titus though who is in turns savage, proud, cruel, crazy, and profound. His Titus plays as a leader exhausted by war and loss, but whose outrage at the murder, rape, and severed body parts he sees drives him to unspeakable acts of revenge.

Go see.

Synopsis (i.e. **Spoilers**)
Titus Andronicus, Roman general, returns from ten years of war with only four out of twenty-five sons left. He has captured Tamora, Queen of the Goths, her three sons, and Aaron the Moor. In obedience to Roman rituals, he sacrifices her eldest son to his own dead sons, which earns him Tamora's unending hatred and her promise of revenge. Titus and his brother Marcus are oblivious to this and feel justice has been served.

Tamora is made Empress by the new emperor Saturninus. To get back at Titus, she schemes with her lover Aaron to have Titus's two sons framed for the murder of Bassianus, the emperor's brother. She also urges her sons Chiron and Demetrius to rape Titus's daughter Lavinia, after which they cut off her hands and tongue so she cannot give their crimes away. Titus is tricked into cutting off his own hand as a bargaining chip to free his two sons they are beheaded anyway. Finally, even Titus's last surviving son Lucius is banished from Rome; he subsequently seeks alliance with the enemy Goths in order to attack Rome. Each new misfortune hits the aged, tired Titus with heavier impact. Eventually, he begins to act oddly and everyone assumes that he is crazy.

Tamora tries to capitalize on his seeming madness by pretending to be the figure of Revenge, come to offer him justice if Titus will only convince Lucius to cease attacking Rome. Titus, having feigned his madness all along, tricks her, captures her sons, kills them, and makes a pie out of them. He feeds this pie to their mother in the final scene, after which he kills both Tamora and Lavinia, his own daughter. A rash of killings ensue - pretty much everyone either shoots or staps everybody else; the only people left alive are Marcus, Lucius, Young Lucius, and Aaron. Lucius has the unrepentant Aaron buried alive, and Tamora's corpse thrown to the beasts. He becomes the new emperor of Rome.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Rita, Sue and Bob Too @RoyalCourt Thatcher-era, moving, funny, rude, sex-filled, f-bomb and c-bomb festooned classic...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see iconic 1980s play Rita, Sue and Bob Too at the Royal Court in London's glitzy Sloane Square.

This Thatcher-era 1982-set, moving, funny, rude, sex-filled, f-bomb and c-bomb festooned classic is invigorated here afresh having survived its off again/on again status after charges of inappropriate behaviour that were brought against its original director. All praise then to current Royal Court supremo, Vicky Featherstone, for reversing her initial cancellation and allowing Kate Wasserberg's terrific production to get the London run it deserves. The late Andrea Dunbar, the play's commendably fearless and funny author, deserves nothing less.

The first of the play's many short, often stinging scenes is a marvel of construction. With an economy that you don't learn in writing class, Dunbar introduces the complicated tripartite web of desire, playfulness and desperation that exists between the 27-year-old and married serial liar Bob (James Atherton) and the two 15-year-old teenagers to whom he is giving a lift home from a babysitting gig. After initial banter involving such unknown (to the young Rita and Sue, anyway) words as Durex, Bob drops his trousers first for Sue (Gemma Dobson) and then Rita (Taj Atwal).

It's both funny and shocking as we watch the girls as they watch each other as Bob goes at it in the front seat, pumping away, trousers around his knees and squabbling about who has the first turn. Here the girls are not victims – well, not simply victims - but quick-witted avid women who are up for "a jump". Bob is their escape. Their entry into the adult world.

"His legs weren't half hairy," is Rita's succinct after-the-fact appraisal of the event, her admission that it hurt a bit along the way swept up in both women's self-evident excitement and expectation that these vehicular liaisons with Bob will happen again. As indeed they do. Bob's cockiness is set to continue.

The affair plays out to slowed down versions of 1980s classic tunes such as Soft Cell's Tainted Love as Rita and Sue clash first with their parents (tart-tongued mum Sally Bankes and oafish, beer-swilling dad David Walker), then Bob's wife Michelle (Samantha Robinson), and finally each other.

It's a great production, well-acted and well directed.

The 1987 screen version of Rita, Sue and Bob Too was a scream with its cast including Doctor Who's Lesley Sharp and Happy Valley's Siobhan Finneran. The 80 uninterrupted minutes here are equally funny (and equally rude!)

Monday, January 15, 2018

ABBA Super Troupers The Exhibition @SouthBankCentre...

Yesterday Stuart, Darren and I went to see (experience?) the fabulous ABBA Super Troupers exhibition at the Southbank Centre on London's glitzy South Bank.

We were promised never-before-seen items from the band's archive, personal notes, memorabilia, and iconic costumes.

**Spoilers*** The exhibition itself lasts an hour and consists of nine immersive rooms taking you on a guided ABBA-themed journey starting from a dark passageway where you play 'beat the intro' (Super Trouper), through a 1970s living room (Ring Ring), into a Brighton hotel room (Waterloo), through a wood, into a recording studio where you can sing (Dancing Queen), into a rainy night in Sydney (Mamma Mia), most bizarrely a night club toilet (Voulez-Vous), a lonely room (The Winner Takes It All), and finally lets you take your seat on a jet plane (Thank You For The Music).

The exhibition was perhaps a little light in some places on actual ABBA memorabilia but generally it more than made up for this in the sheer joy of the whole thing. Personally I loved reading the fan letters, the newspaper clippings and the copies of Jackie and Look-In.

Jarvis Cocker was the narrator throughout and pleasingly he more than once acknowledged ABBA's enthusiastic LGBT fan base.

If you are an ABBA fan it's definitely worth a visit. At worst it simply contextualises the years of their initial of success. At best it is fun, funny and left us beaming ear to ear.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Antony & Cleopatra @BarbicanTheatre...

Last night Stuart and I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest production of Antony & Cleopatra at the Barbican Theatre in London's glitzy Barbican Centre.

Directed by Iqbal Khan this Roman tragedy-romance sees Josette Simon's Cleopatra be kittenish, put on silly voices to mock the powerful war-mongers around her, and ride around her palace on her lover Antony’s shoulders. And it’s dignified, too. Khan’s production is in some ways an exercise in high camp: there’s an onstage sauna, some Eros on Antony action, vast cat sculptures and endless Egyptian outfits that are as sexed-up as any Hollywood seamstress could desire. But it also explores the ways that Cleopatra controls her own image, and painstakingly created an aura about her that was capable of leading Rome’s most powerful man astray.

The Egyptian scenes spill over with movie-star luxury, turning Antony Byrne’s compellingly gruff, bold Antony into a man bewitched. Back in Rome, all is sterile, presided over by a young Caesar who’s played by Ben Allen with boyish, intelligent rigour.

It's a production that emphasizes clarity over invention. Still, artful touches bring out the story’s mix of decadence and fraught political maneuvering. Laura Mvula’s live musical score couldn’t be better, repurposing the military pomp of a brass band into something ethereal and entrancing. A naval battle becomes a delicate dance of model ships, so many toys to delight a queen. By comparison, the drawn-out deaths of the play’s final scenes are astonishingly, shudder-inducingly real.

Good stuff.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Chelsea 0-0 Arsenal: Trophy-buyers vs Trophy-hunters: Carabao Cup Semi-final, First leg, #CHEARS @gaygooners

Me and bunch of other Gay Gooners piled along to Stamford Bridge last night to watch the trophy-hunters Arsenal take on the trophy-buyers Chelsea in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final.

It was a rather frustrating watch to be honest: loads of missed chances, poor man-to-man link-up, very little contact, and half of them should have been pulled off at the break -  but that's enough talk about Steve's love life - the football match wasn't much better either!

A goalless stalemate on a wet windy Wednesday night in January isn't anyone's idea of a top night out but we made the best of it: cheered on the team, talked tactics, sang songs, teased the blues, and drank copious amounts of ale.

Here's to the return leg in two weeks’ time when we'll be back on home soil and hopefully we can pull something big out of the bag. As Steve might say.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Taken by the British and now in the @BritishMuseum : Exhibit A : The Stolen Moai @EasterIsland...

On our travels recently we've been lucky enough to go to some ancient locations (Chile, Mexico, Egypt, etc.) Often the local guide will take us to the national museum, show us around but mourn that the best stuff is missing: taken by the British and now in the British Museum.

Exhibit A : The Stolen Moai. (Stolen from Easter Island.)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Daisy Pulls It Off @ParkTheatre...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Paulette Randall's revival of jolly hockey sticks spoof Daisy Pulls It Off at the Park Theatre in London's distinctly unglitzy Finsbury Park.

Denise Deegan’s parody of period schoolgirl fiction became a surprise hit in 1983 and has been performed pretty regularly by schools, youth clubs, and local theatres ever since.

To be honest the show is not as good or as funny as I remember it when I saw it all those years ago. It was always a fairly light piece mind you, even if it does occasionally strike the right note of gaiety. The problem with this production though is that it plays that single note repeatedly... for the best part of two-and-a-half-hours.

Despite the double entendre in the title, sadly the play is as clean as a schoolmistress's whistle. No naughty puns. No rude jokes. No seasonal panto humour. Just parody. And you need to find a posh Girls Private School deeply hilarious to keep laughing at such gentle ribbing for an entire evening. And therein lies the issue. It simply tickles the ribs rather than roasts them. It's no St Trinian’s, no French and Saunders spoof.

That said, Deegan does inject some social comment into the show by making the Daisy a poor scholarship girl from the wrong side of town. Falsely accused of being a liar, a cheat and a sneak and obdurately confronting a wall of snobbery, Daisy eventually wins out. She sticks with her one true chum, proves brilliant academically, sings like an angel and caps it all by being a star on the hockey pitch and discovering lost treasure.

Randall's production uses just six chairs, a stepladder, a dolly and a good deal of imagination as in a wind-strewn cliff-top rescue evoked through billowing skirts. In an enthusiastic, seven-strong cast, Anna Shaffer sensibly plays it straight as the aspirational Daisy, giving everyone else licence to go over the top. Pauline McLynn is the funniest as Daisy’s staunch, brow-beating ally, but there is lively support from Clare Perkins as a deep-throated bully, Shobna Gulati as the even more sinister Sybil and Freddie Hutchins doubling as the gymslipped Belinda and a dubious Russian music teacher.

It's a dated piece that might in another 35 years’ time find a new audience which, judging by the empty seats around us, it has rather failed to do on this occasion.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Another amazing performance @Hair50London @thevaultsuk. On Saturday night we were Hubert1 (and Hubert2!) again! #bestshowintown @JonathanOBoyle @andycoxonuk @ellejay91 @AdamJDawson @kjwright21 @Rob_Metson @nat_green @AriaEnts #JoinTheTribe @WhatsOnStage

On Saturday night Stuart and I went (yet again) to see the 1967 hippy musical Hair at the Vaults under London's glitzy Waterloo station.

It is officially now Stuart and my favourite musical (4th time this prodcution, 12th time in total) which, for all the show’s structural failings – including an almost complete lack of narrative impetus and coherence – is sweetly enticing, whatever your age.

The first proper date Stu and I went on was to see a revival of Hair at the Gate Theatre back in 2005. Twelve years earlier than that coincidentally we'd both seen the same 1993 production at The Old Vic starring Sinitta and John Barrowman. We are obviously both big fans.

Back in 2010 when the musical was revived again with a Broadway American cast at The Gielgud sure enough we were there on the first night - and many other times during that run too.

This time last year we'd even gone up to the decidedly unglitzy Manchester Piccadilly's Hope Mill Theatre to see this current production before it transferred down to London. And this is the second time we've been since it's moved to London too. They must be getting fed up with us by now!

Hair is undoubtedly a great musical. A rock musical no less. The first of its kind. It explores dramatic themes throughout, most of which are displayed right there on stage; swearing, drug use, overt sexuality, anti-war, anti-racism and nudity. What's not to like?

The songs are great too; Aquarius, Donna, Sodomy, Ain't Got No, Hair, Be-In (Hare Krishna), Good Morning Starshine and of course the seminal Let the Sun Shine In.

Jonathan O’Boyle’s current production does all this material justice despite being staged with far more dash than cash, and benefits enormously from a fine onstage band and a thrillingly talented, sweet-voiced cast.

The production is active, energetic and enthusiastic. The simple staging allowed the great singing to come to the fore. The audience were involved from start to finish being encouraged to join in as the action on the stage bled into the auditorium. Climbing into the seating the cast sang, danced, and handed out Be-In posters. By the finale the audience were so involved they flooded onto the stage to join in the fun.

Great show.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Nice Paris flat. Happy American couple. What could possibly go wrong? Hint: A lot. Fantastic #Belleville @DonmarWarehouse @jginorton @ImogenPoots_

Last night Stuart and I went to see Michael Longhurst's riveting production of New York playwright Amy Herzog's remarkable play Belleville at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

Americans Zack (James Norton) and Abby (Imogen Poots) are bright, young and recently married. He’s a doctor combating infant disease. She’s an actress, also teaching yoga. It’s just before Christmas and they’re living the expat highlife in bohemian Belleville, Paris. And it’s all just a little too perfect.

Not only is the story remarkable in the way it unfolds but a twisting, urgent, powerful and an unsettling watch. Things start out nicely enough between the two but as the plot is revealed and their characters start to display their true natures the tension racks up. It’s a tension that will snap and blow their idyllic lives apart in a spectacular fashion.

James Norton and Imogen Poots have fizzy chemistry as the 'happy' couple, Faith Alabi and Malachi Kirby are perfect as the neighbours, and the action all takes place in Tom Scutt's note-perfect Parisian set.

Coming in at 1 hour 40 mins straight-through it could be seen as an interesting companion piece to Dave Eldridge's wonderful play Beginning. Not that the couples in either play are in any way related per se but whereas Dave E tells us a beautiful story of two people's initial attraction, hopes, and desires in a small flat in Crouch End Amy H's play tells us how in similarly small flat in Paris 5 years on a couple’s attraction can turn to jealousy, their hope to despair, and their desire to murderous hatred. I see it less of a sequel and more as a theatrical warning of marriage!

Perhaps the notice in the foyer last night should have told us all be needed to know, "Belleville contains adult themes and scenes that some may find upsetting. It is not suitable for those under the age of 15."

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Short review: I loved it)...

Short review: I loved it.

It is funny when you go and see a film that you really think you are going to love and then you just do not. Or you go and see a film that you think will be dreadful and you simply love it and wonder why everyone else doesn’t. Even when those two films can be very similar. So why the disparity?

I can’t help but think that a large part of the whole experience of ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ a film is not only whether it is objectively ‘any good’ or not (although that is pretty damned important!) but also what your expectation is when you enter the auditorium.

Some films are described as critic-proof i.e. no one cares what the critics say - people will go and see them anyway. And indeed Star Wars films are generally in that category. People will go and see them regardless of the reviews.

So, it was interesting that pretty much all the paper reviews for The Last Jedi across the board were 5 star ones. Were we being set up for a big disappointment?

And then the initial fans got to watch it. Those people who booked ahead. Long before any reviews had come out. And I think it’s fair to say it divided opinion. Some said they hated it. Well, many did in fact. Either hated it or found it boring. It currently has one of the lowest fan ratings of any Star Wars film including (yes, including) The Phantom Menace! So is that the disappointment talking? Were their expectations too high?

I went to go and see it today. And my expectations were pretty low. I’d seen what the fans were saying. I was ‘expecting’ a dog of a film.

And surprise, surprise… I loved it.

First the bad points: We spent a bit too much time in Casino City, and a bit too much time and angst on the Island. And there were quite a few plot holes (just how did Rey get on the MF at the end?)

But these bad points were completely overwhelmed by the good points.

I loved almost everything else about the film. It was funny, had great new characters, and there was lots of strong character development of existing favourites. Actually, the whole narrative direction of the film was driven by said character development (a good thing).

There was lots and lots of action, some cool special effects, and I especially loved the scene on the salt flats (filmed in the Bolivian Desert near where we were last week) and all that red dust.

I loved the episodic nature of the piece, there were some great twists, Laura Dern was amazing, and there was genuine tension as to whether characters would die or not. We have Rogue to thank for that I guess.

I loved the new comedy creatures (Porgs?), Daisy and Adam were simply brilliant, and I simply wanted it to go on and on.

So have you seen it? If not, have I modified your expectation? Will you now hate it? Or just find it boring? Let me know.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

New Year's Eve 2017...

Stuart and I had a great time out with the boys on New Year's Eve at the Bethnal Green Working Men's Club. Drinking, dancing, loving...

The acts were great too. An East End crooner, a feminist stripper, a hula-hoop lady, and a Freddie Mercury impersonator cum acrobat.

Kebabs on the way home too.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Advent Calendars...

Retail figures just in, there's was a big downturn in the sale of advent calendars this year. 

I always said their days were numbered.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Doctor Who Christmas Specials 2005 to 2017 rated in order best to worst. Coincidentally almost chronologically too...

Doctor Who Christmas Specials 2005 to 2017 rated in order best to worst. Coincidentally almost chronologically too.

The Runaway Bride 
Voyage of the Damned  
The Christmas Invasion 
The Next Doctor 
The End of Time parts 1 & 2 
A Christmas Carol 
The Doctor, the Widow, and The Wardrobe 
The Snowmen 
The Time of The Doctor 
Last Christmas 
The Husbands of River Song 
Twice Upon A Time 
The Return of Doctor Mysterio

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Friday, December 22, 2017

Day 19 : Homeward Bound...

26 hours later we are finally back in the UK. Over the Andes and connecting via Brazil. 

We were on the bumpiest flight Stuart and I have ever been on. It was like being a squash ball in a squash court. 

Good to be back home. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Day 18 : Valparaíso : Funiculars, Colourful Houses, Urban Art (lots and lots of Urban Art)...

On our last full day in Chile Stuart and I decided to pop over to the nearby port city of Valparaíso. We'd heard good things.

Valparaíso is known for its steep funiculars (my favourite form of transport), its bohemian residents, its colourful clifftop homes and buildings, and its urban art. 

So we spent the day riding up and down all the funiculars we could find, acting as bohemian as we dared, and photographing just a tiny proportion of the millions upon millions of painted buildings we discovered. Almost every square inch of vertical structure in the city has either been covered in graffiti or had impressive urban art painted on it. It is indeed a very colourful city. 

To top the day off we visited La Sebastiana, the quirky former residence of world famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which is now a museum with impressive Pacific views.

A nice way to end our Chilean adventure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Day 17 : Casablanca Valley : Lush, Pinot, and Basil ...

The countryside here in the Casablanca Valley is beautiful and lush. We have been sampling the local wines and eating well. A little too well probably. Diets when we get back!

Of the wines we have sampled the Corralillo Pinot Noir is our particular favourite. 

Matetic is the local vintner here who also happens to be our hotel owner so the vino sure flows easily at meal times. There is the touch of the Fawlty Towers about the service though but it's all very good natured which excuses the amateurishness (trying saying that after a couple of bottles of Pinot!). Their very own local Basil Fawlty tries so hard too get it right, bless him.

Nice to unwind after our whirlwind adventures of the past few weeks.