Quote Of The Day

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

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Bring Up The Bodies...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Bring Up The Bodies at the Aldwych Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

This is the second of the two plays (the first being Wolf Hall that we saw the previous night) adapted by Mike Poulton from Hilary Mantel's two Man Booker Prize winning novels.

Henry VIII is still desperate for a male heir. And due to a miscarriage Anne Boleyn can't give him the prince he so desperately craves. By 1536, Henry has started courting Jane Seymour and he wants Anne out of the way. He enlists Thomas Cromwell's help and what follows is then a miscarriage of justice as Anne Boleyn is falsely accused of multiple infidelities and heads to The Tower.

Slightly darker in tone than Wolf Hall this is another great production with strong performances all round.

Roll on part III - The Mirror and the Light.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wolf Hall...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Wolf Hall at the Aldwych Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Directed by Royal Court Associate Director Jeremy Herrin, the play has been adapted by Mike Poulton from the first of Hilary Mantel's two Man Booker Prize winning novels.

England in 1527. Henry VIII has been King for almost 20 years and is desperate for a male heir. Intent on divorce he demands that Cardinal Wolsey persuade the Pope to grant him an annulment. With every month that passes without progress the King's anger grows. Into this volatile court enters the commoner Thomas Cromwell.

A one-time mercenary, master-politician, lawyer and doting father, he sets out to grant the King his desire whilst methodically and ruthlessly pursuing his own reforming agenda.

We loved the production - it was both enlightening and funny.

Tonight we are going to see the second half - Bring Up The Bodies. Can't wait!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Forbidden Broadway...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to the Menier Chocolate Factory in London's not so glitzy London Bridge Quarter (sic.) to see musical satire Forbidden Broadway.

It's a show that has been running off-Broadway for well over 30 years putting new lyrics to songs from living musicals. This long-running hit is relentlessly, cleverly, breathtakingly funny. This is precision-engineered ridicule. I had tears rolling down my cheeks.

Despite never seeing the Irish musical Once, I loved Forbidden Broadway's vicious skit about it - and I'll be sure not to catch it.

There are numerous highlights - Les Mis comes in for a particularly vicious (and funny) attack as does Miss Saigon.

My fear that all in-jokes are thin jokes was utterly unfounded. The sparkling quartet of Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Damian Humbley and Ben Lewis make this a most consistently funny show.

Go see before it closes.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Holy Warriors...

The cliché goes that those who do not learn from the past are destined to repeat it. And this is the central message of David Eldridge’s play Holy Warriors at Shakespeare's Globe.

The play relates 800 years of the struggle for Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Middle Ages to the present day. The scope is ambitious and given the current troubles the subject matter perfectly timed.

In the left corner we have Saladin, mighty leader of the Muslims. In the right corner we have Richard the Lionheart, saviour of all Christendom.

The action starts in the late 12th century, and Richard is trying to win back Jerusalem, the holy city for both Christians and Muslims. This particular Crusade fails and we are left wondering why.

When Richard finally dies and goes to purgatory where his now dead mother treats him to a fast-forward through history as we see failure after failure to reach any sort of settlement in the Holy lands. It's a sort of Christmas Carol setup with Eleanor of Aquitane as the ghost of Christmas Future. We meet Napoleon, Lawrence of Arabia, King Fiesal, some Zionists, some Palestinians and some Egyptians. Oh and Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W Bush. And last but no means least Tony Blair.

Richard is then asked the big question: if you had the chance to do it all again, would you change a thing?

The story then re-runs with all the medieval characters in modern combat fatigues. Sadly, despite their fresh look and wise-cracking, we are lead in the end to the same sorry conclusion. We are failed by our leaders.

Eldridge writing is enjoyable, ambitious, and compelling. A very nice touch is using many places names from the historic Middle East that are still in use today as this naturally resonates with a modern audience.

James Dacre’s production is colourful and lively, has songs, dances and many impressive visual elements.

Alexander Siddig is excellent as Saladin. John Hopkins cuts a powerful (and rather sexy dash) as Richard; Geraldine Alexander is super as Eleanor of Aquitane and Sirine Saba impressive as Berengaria of Navarre.

The power of Holy Warriors is in telling us that Jerusalem is not only a symbol of Middle Eastern politics but that the battle for it's possession perpetuates a cycle of hatred and violence. A cycle that will continue for as long as our leaders are unable to compromise and reach peace.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Richard III...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios in London's glitzy Westminster.

As part of the Trafalgar Transformed season it stars our own, our very own Martin Freeman as Shakespeare's most terrifying of psychopaths. Only this Richard we see in the manner of a persistent insurance salesman trying to sell you a policy you don’t want or need.

In fact Freeman's Richard all but blends into the background in many scenes - save for the grunts while strangling a victim with a telephone cord. We have to take it as read that this man is feared throughout the realm as Freeman gives no fearful performance here. Rather he plays it as a bureaucrat - and in a comparison he would surely hate - a slightly more demonic version of Tim from The Office.

Faring better was Jamie Lloyd’s production referencing as it does the UK's 1979 own so-called 'winter of discontent'. That was a time when the country seemed to be falling apart and rumours of an aristocratic plot to overthrow the Labour Party by military coup were rife. Lloyd imagines how Britain might have looked had such a coup taken place, and it is a dreary, desperate world that he sees.

We visit it here in this dilapidated, linoleum-floored office, suggesting a Whitehall run to seed. Clever use is made of lifts (and lift music), old fashioned rotary telephones, cassette players, the sound of flushing toilets and an illuminated aquarium for the drowning of Richard’s brother Clarence (Mark Meadows). There are also rows of microphones, for official pronouncements and debates.

With his humpback scarcely visible beneath bespoke suits and uniforms, Freeman’s Richard speaks in the measured manner of an accountant toting up numbers and looking for discrepancies in expense reports. He’s a precise, fussy little man, who when decreeing that the princes in the Tower should be despatched seems to be just tying up loose ends rather than committing such a gross act of infanticide and regicide.

Freeman does find some adroitly timed and funny line readings within this repressive persona. However he lacks that hypnotic force of will that allows Richard to seduce a country, not to mention women like the doomed Lady Anne (Lauren O’Neil). It seems fitting that a later potential conquest, Elizabeth (Gina McKee), will listen to Richard’s suit only after she’s been trussed up in a chair by his henchman.

That Richard requires such coercion to get an audience with a lady makes you feel rather sorry for him. His rival, Richmond (Philip Cumbus), displays more oomph. By the time he’s slain Richard and ascended to the throne, Richmond registers as twice the demented nutter that his predecessor was.

So I'd say is is a good production, but not a great one.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Last night Stuart and I went to see the National Theatre's new production of Medea at the Olivier Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Starring the wonderful Helen McCrory it's a new version of the child-murdering story by Ben Power. Carrie Cracknell's direction is top notch featuring as it does powerful performances from all the cast, hypnotic dancing by the Muses/Goddesses and haunting music composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfapp.

We just couldn't take our eyes off Helen McCrory for the entire 90 minutes. She was simply mesmerising as Medea, the woman scorned. If ultimately this dish of revenge is served not just cold but positively icy then it's journey from kitchen sink drama to high table is by no means a steady one. McCrory doesn't portray Medea as an out and out monster - rather a woman who is simply out of control. She is trying to take back her life. She is full of doubt and hates herself for what she means to do. But it is her only way of getting back at her husband Jason who has rejected her. And it is McCory's triumph that we sympathise with her at all.

Powerful stuff and well worth seeing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Proud Uncle...

Many congratulations to my niece Charlotte and my nephew William. Both struggled with many obstacles that life threw their way in life (dyslexia, language barriers, money) but with wonderful support from many teachers, assistance grants etc. went on to both get 2.1 degrees in fine art and marine biology respectively. Now they will (hopefully) get jobs, pay tax and repay that support. Proof our education system works and works well IMHO. (Proud Uncle)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Great Britain...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Great Britain at the National's Lyttelton Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank. It's a zeitgeist comedy written by Richard Bean about tabloid phone-hacking. Not convinced? Well, it's very funny.

Starring Billie Piper, amongst many other luminaries, it is rude, crude and right on the money. Like a especially good episode of Drop The Dead Donkey it tears into the tabloid newspaper industry, the police and the political establishment. No one comes off well. Not least us as newspaper's readers.

Directed by Nicholas Hytner and designed by Tim Hatley it is a delight of a show - only held back from a launch earlier in the year by a certain court case. Ahem.

If you want to laugh for 2h 45 mins pretty much non-stop this is the play for you! Almost every gag is a winner.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Shakespeare in Love...

Last night Roger, Stuart and I went to see Shakespeare In Love at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Q: What’s Shakespeare in Love about then?
A: Well, it’s about 3 hours. (ha ha.)

Being the transfer of the multi Oscar-winning film to the stage we begin our story as promising young playwright Will Shakespeare is tormented by writer’s block. Soon he finds his muse in the form of passionate noblewoman, Viola De Lesseps. Their forbidden love draws many others, including Queen Elizabeth, into the drama and inspires Will to write the greatest love story of all time, Romeo and Juliet. Oh, and there's a bit with a dog.

Shakespeare in Love is still in previews so perhaps we should give it some benefit of the doubt but I found it dragged somewhat. Yes, there were some funny moments (the boat taxi for instance) but largely the laughs were to be had at the expense of jolting us out our suspended disbelief. Using modern-day expressions and sayings to give us a laugh are all well and good but Shakespearean X-Factor just reeks of pantomime.

Shortening the running time, rewriting with a few more gags and reducing the thirty odd players down to a more manageable twenty or so would do much to tighten up this production.

Overall I'd say it's an overlong but enjoyable romp.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Mr Burns...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Mr Burns - a new post-electric play by Anne Washburn - at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

We had high hopes having recently seen American Psycho, 1984 and Charles III there. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. What a load of crap.

The play was in three acts.
Act I - boring
Act II - underwritten
Act II - waste of talent

Act I
Set in a post-apocalyptic world a group of survivors sit around a camp fire trying to remember the details of The Simpsons episode Cape Feare. A rather good episode that we were personally very familiar with having recently watched it and being big Simpsons fans ourselves. Occasionally they are joined by another survivor who they welcome by reading aloud names of ten missing people who they are looking for. They then return to trying to remember The Simpsons episode. Forty minutes later they are still doing the same thing. And? We get it!

A few people left at the first interval shaking their heads.

Act II
Seven years later the same survivors are performing various Simpsons episodes for money as a travelling troup. They buy lines from episodes to use in their show. They also perform the adverts between the shows. Good idea. Woefully underwritten though. It should have been funny, clever and insightful. It was none of these. It was frustrating, over-long and repetitive. Audience members near us were sighing, tutting and yawning. Which is a mean trick if you can do all three at once.

Most people on our row left at the second interval. We were tempted.

Seventy-five years later The Simpsons has become a cult / an opera / a performance. It has taken over the lives of the performers. And it is crushingly embarrassing. The squandering of the obvious talents of the actors, technicians, wardrobe, make-up and other professional people involved at the theatre was shameful. I was embarrassed for everyone involved. How this show ever got made is astonishing. I have seen some awful productions on the stage - very few of which I've wanted to walk out of - but this was the worst. By far. We couldn't even bring ourselves to laugh at it - as many people around us were. We were just sad.

Putting on such awful rubbish hurts the Almeida Theatre brand (we'll think twice about booking there again), The Simpsons brand (how did they every agree to it?) and the night's out at the theatre in general. Stay in and watch TV folks - when it's good TV is better written and presents ideas in a more cohesive way than this tosh.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Central London...

Disturbing fact: they say that in Central London you’re never more that 10 feet from a Pret.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Brazil vs Germany....

Bra-nil Ger-many. Well, it was funny up until the final few minutes. 7-1! What a match. World Cup semi-finals are rarely this exciting/one way. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014


Last night Stuart and I went to see my mate Stephen Daldry revival of David Hare's fantastic play Skylight at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan in her West End debut the play tells the story of two ex-lovers, an underheated flat and a spaghetti bolognese.

The chemistry between the leads is spot on, the acting superb and the juxtaposition between the private pain and public rage of the characters hits you right in the heart.

Everything about this production is perfectly judged and perfectly placed, even down to the way the passage of time is denoted through the lights going on and off in the windows of Bob Crowley's magnificent tower-block set.

If you want to see an excellent play and excellent acting you'd be hard pushed to find anything better on the London stage at the moment.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Digital Revolution

On Friday Stuart and I went to the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican Curve. It's a really cool show in 14 locations in and around the Barbican Centre - and in one case at a venue half a mile down the road.
The main exhibition covers the birth of digital video from early video games and computers such as Manic Miner, Commodore PET, Apple II, Tetris and Pong through to the latest electronics, video processing and sci-fi special effects. There are motion sensitive lasers that dance around you in a blacked out room, robot birds you can telephpne to chirp, lamps that react to your presence (I shadow boxed with one), cool video effects that modify your image in real-time - smoldering eyes, Maleficent wings etc. Loved it.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Rolf Harris...

My brother and I were two little boys when 'Two Little Boys' came out. Coincidence? I think not. #letsalljumpontherolfharrisbandwagon

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Happy Birthday, Twiggs...

We know we're getting old when the only thing we want for our birthday is not to be reminded of it. HAPPY 41ST BIRTHDAY, TWIGGS! xxx

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Upmister Beerfest...

Last Saturday afternoon/night after the Pride March Stu and I spent a quiet night in at Dave Marshall's first Upminster BeerFest sipping ales and eating pie with 24 Essex lads. No high jinx. No silliness. No mucking about. (Ha, ha)