Quote Of The Day

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

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Winter's Tale...

Last night Stuart and I went to see The Winter's Tale at the Garrick Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Starring Judi Dench as Paulina, Kenneth Branaugh as Leontes, Hadley Fraser as Polixenes, Jessie Buckley as Perdita and Miranda Raison as Hermione is was certainly an all-star cast.

But did they live up to our expectations? Did they manage to crack one of Shakespeare's 'difficult' plays? You betcha!

In the first half we meet Leontes and Polixenes who are both kings and best friends. Leontes gets it into his head that his wife Hermione is having an affair with Polixenes. So rather like Othello, here it is male sexual jealousy that leads to the psychological drama. All havoc breaks loose with threats, banishment and terrible tragedy culminating with the famous stage direction "Exit pursued by a bear."

Happiness ahoy though as in the second half set sixteen years later we are treated to some light-hearten comic revelry with shepherds and tinkers. The players from the first half have mellowed and are seeking reconciliation. Their offspring have grown up and fallen in love.

Some assume a disguise, those that were assumed lost are found and everyone assumes their happy match in the end.

Kenneth Branaugh is a master in charge of his material from the staging to the acting to the soundscape to the lighting to the costumes. It all came together perfectly.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Last night I went to see SPECTRE at the Vue Cinema in London's glitzy Islington.

I've been ex-SPECTRE-ing you, Mr Bond.

So was it any good? No, it was all a bit M.E.H.

Actually it was a bit rubbish. A sort of James Bond Greatest Hits - visiting lots of countries (getting there as if my magic), having lots of changes of clothes (without any luggage), having a couple of 'we've seen them all before' gadgets, the 'sex on a train' bit, one helicopter chase, one car chase, one sweeping camera shot of a mountain-top road chase and one groan-worthy easy escape while rescuing a damsel in distress.

The baddies were pretty poor too - from the below par Jaws semi-villain to the pathetic main villain. He didn't even say, "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die" which might at least have got a laugh. And his villainous secret hideout was frankly an embarrassment.

And for long periods it was frankly boring. Even the sub-Roger Moore era jokes began to grate after a while, the scripts was piss-poor and there were way too many plot holes to mention.

And it was waay too long. People started getting their phones out in the final third and for a moment I was tempted to join them. And the groaning at the plot 'twist' when it came was audible. And where was the music? There were long scenes of utter silence. <Insert Bond theme here please>

On the plus side the opening titles were nice but it went pretty much downhill from there. New director next time please. These guys have run out of ideas.

Not so much James Bond as a substandard Spooks episode meets Romancing the Stone. 3/10.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

P. P. Arnold...

Last Saturday night Stuart, Darren and I went to see the amazing, the wonderful P. P. Arnold at the Jazz Cafe in London's glitzy Camden.

It was everything and more that I'd hoped it would be as the ex-Ikette and first lady of soul belted out such classics as Letter to Bill, Eleanor Rigby, To Love Somebody, God Only Knows, Uptight (Everything's Alright), Angel Of The Morning and of course the sublime The First Cut Is The Deepest.

As well as the brilliant P. P. thanks needs to go to the band and band of helpers; Ray Russel, the G Spots Geoff Dunn, Geoff Castle, George Baldwin, Don Gould, Graham D H Preskett, Debra Lewis-Brown and Chantal Brown for making the night the musical success it was.

What a singer!

Afterwards we went to the Bloc Bar and danced the night away.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Last Friday night Stuart, David, Tim and Andy and I went to see camp classic musical Xanadu at the Southwark Playhouse in London's unglitzy Elephant and Castle.

First staged in New York 8 years ago it was a labour of love by Douglas Carter Beane to get the frankly awful and critically panned synonymous 1980 film rewritten, re-energised and reimagined for the New York stage.

And what a smash he produced! At the time Tony nominated and Drama Desk Award winner the show finally roller-skates into London town.

Self-aware, self-parodying, self-referential, self-mocking, it has singing, it has dancing, and it has roller-skating. It has more cheese than a cheese factory and it is one of the funniest things I have seen on the London stage in a very long time.

After the first 20 minutes my jaw was aching from laughing so hard I didn't think I'd make it through to the interval. My sides literally ached from laughing.

The plot - such that it is - mixes Heaven Can Wait with Clash of the Titans. Clio (aka Kira), one of the ancient Muses, visits earth, falls in love with an aspiring artist (I use the term 'artist' loosely as his aspirations seems to stretch only as far as opening a Roller Disco) and so falls foul of one of the Greek Gods' cardinal rules.

Cue, singing, dancing, melodrama, and roller-skating to an Electric Light Orchestra disco soundtrack. Oh and let's not forget Kira spot-on Olivia Newton-John piss-taking Aussie accent

Sounds from the film were all there; I'm Alive, Magic, All Over the World, Don't Walk Away, Suddenly, as well as interpolations of two other classic ELO songs, Strange Magic and Evil Woman as well as ONJ's Physical. And let's not forget the final Xanadu song itself. One of the best disco smashes ever to grace the airwaves and dancefloors. And they did it proud.

Go see.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Husbands and Sons...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Husbands and Sons at the Dorfman Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Husbands and Sons interweaves three of D H Lawrence’s greatest dramas - The Daughter-in-Law (1912), The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd (1914) and Touch and Go (1920) - and plays them all simultaneously. Three plays in one.

The acting was superb (especially Anne-Marie Duff) but the stories were utterly depressing though. All the husbands were brutes, the son's wimps and the mothers overbearing. The women struggled to make ends meet while their drunken husbands blew what little they earned down the pub.

The set was a giant lift on top of a dusty, dirty coal pit with the three dramas playing out in three households precariously floating on top. The props were sparse so the actors ended up not only mining but miming too.

Describing the world he came from with fierce tenderness, Lawrence evokes a now-vanished world of manual labour and working class pride. The language is full on Yorkshire.

Despite the masculine title, the plays look to understand the experience of wives and daughters as much as they do the husbands and sons. It is the women of the village, wives and mothers, who struggle to hold their families and their own souls together in the shadow of the great Brinsley pit.

An interesting quirk of the production was that we all swapped seats at the interval. It gave us all a different physical perspective on the play. But our view of the material was unchanged. It's grim up North.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Heart of a Dog...

Last week I went to see the new Laurie Anderson film Heart of a Dog at the BFI as part of the London Film Festival on London's glitzy South Bank.

Ostensibly about her late beloved piano-playing and finger-painting dog Lolabelle the film expands to be a meditation on loss - contemplation on death, loss of memory and how stories evolve, and the loss of freedoms following the events in downtown New York on 9/11.

Many of the stories have been presented in Anderson's other current productions such as Lolabelle being attacked by hawks and the parallels with the look on the faces of New Yorkers when they too realised that the threat could come from above.

A moving and very personal film. Love her. Loved the film.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Arsenal 2 - 0 Bayern Munich...

Aww. Pretty plastic bags before kick off! That'll be 5p please! 

Great result beating the mighty Bayern Munich 2-0. I shouted myself hoarse!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D

Woo hoo! Tickets booked for Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D at the Islington Vue.

Friday 18/12/2015 10:45 - 18/12/2015 13:25

Adult VIP Seat £18.99 <<<< Blimey! I could build my own Death Star for that!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thursday, October 15, 2015

You Me Bum Bum Train...

Last night Stuart and I got to ride on You Me Bum Bum Train in the old deserted Foyles building in London's glitzy West End.

It was amazing, wonderful, funny, scary, exciting, thought-provoking, thrilling, and brilliant. We climbed, we slid, we swore, we screamed, we danced, we ran, we crawled, we lay, we lied, and we laughed. A lot.

We had to sign loads of waivers before we were allowed to start the ride; forms saying we weren't scared of this, we weren't scared of that - it was enough to make you scared of everything. My new FitBit told me my heart rate was up to 123 beats per minute by this point.

We were repeatedly given clear instructions on how to stop the ride should we want it to stop and get off in case we found ourselves in any situation where we felt uncomfortable. Apparently they have had more people do this for this run of the show than on previous rides. And later on we could see why.

This is a show that takes you out of your comfort zone at almost every turn.

This is a show that makes you think on your feet whilst keeping you on your toes.

This is one incredible show.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Teddy Ferrara...

Last Saturday night Stuart​ and I went to see Dominic Cooke’s ferociously cerebral production of Teddy Ferrara at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Set in an Amercian university the play is about gay life and gay politics and frankly packed with deeply unsympathetic gay characters.

The two main charters Gabe (Luke Newberry) and Drew are nasty self-obsessed careerists who seem so keen to use Teddy Ferrara's (Ryan McParland) suicide as a leg up to better things they don't really have time for anyone but themselves. They both use Political Correctness had a blooded, blunt instrument.

Oh-so-basic Jenny (Anjli Mohindra) and the clearly gay Tim (Nathan Wiley) are not breaking up purely because “they’ve been together since freshman year”.

The University President portrayed by Matthew Marsh as a smugly cisgender, unapologetic non-carer LGBTQ at concerns at one point exits with a Frazier Crane flourish, "I’ve just been elected to the Senate. Fuck this place.”

Wheelchair-bound Jay (Christopher Imbrosciano) navigates the dancefloor to an instrumental remix of We Found Love in a Hopeless Place without a hint of irony or self-awareness.

Author Christopher Shinn’s play is based on the real-life suicide of Tyler Clementi, who killed himself shortly after discovering his homophobic roommate filming his romantic liaisons with a webcam. But based-on-real-events Teddy here is unlikable and his penchant for webcam exhibitionism is at odds with the apparent root cause of his suicide.

Even post-suicide Gabe’s very aliveness as he turns up at a meeting — “Sorry I’m late” — kindles a laugh from the audience, because this is a queer community after all where apparently being suicidal is the status quo.

So basically Teddy Ferrara is downright unenjoyable for the same reason that it is great: its meticulousness as social commentary on really horrible people.

There is no let-up from the constant cringes of bad behaviour. Shinn doesn’t leave us room to sympathise with his characters: it’s as though they’re his vehicles for bombarding us with acute observations on the nuanced cruelties in human nature. Everyone’s desperate for change but the vibe’s too glib for anyone to offer sincere, viable solutions. It’s an honest reconnoitre into a world of pain and an abyss of deafening silence.

Hard to recommend but glad we went.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Measure for Measure...

Last Friday night Stuart​ and I went to see Joe Hill-Gibbons's overtly sexual modern dress version of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at the Young Vic Theatre in London's glitzy Waterloo.

Inflatable sex toys, characters singing pop songs like Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know and the cast using in your face video cameras - this was a grimy, aggressive and unashamedly contemporary production. I can imagine the final production meeting: "Not too gimmicky, is it? The neon lights and the plastic sex dolls?"

The plot itself is somewhat sexist - a brother's release from death row is dependent upon whether her virginal sister will offer her body up to the deputy in charge of the prison. Sure there is some humour to be had in the Duke disguising himself as a friar and being the ultimate undoing of the deputy's misdeed - but it's a problematic play at best and the (un)necessary gimmicks can only hide so much.

Brave effort. But it's not really Shakespeare (they cut out over an hour of the text). But fun to watch.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see Rupert Goold's modern dress production of Medea at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Euripides’ seminal play tells of Medea’s marriage break up and cuts to the heart of gender politics asking what it means to be a woman and a wife.

One of world drama's most infamous characters is brought to new life by Kate Fleetwood and fresh words by award-winning feminist writer Rachel Cusk.

On the stage the action tests the limits of revenge and liberty. But for us, sadly it didn't test those limits quite far enough. The play is about the lengths that someone will go to seek revenge. Even as far as infanticide. But here we felt we were cheated of that ulitmate deed. We are left feeling deeply sorry for, but not really appauled by the depth of Medea's feelings. Sure she had been wronged but I think the point of the play is that Medea feels so powerless that she has to commit murder to take back some control of her life. Here though Medea was just left abandoned and floating in sadness. She had no control.

The National Theatre production starring the wonderful Helen McCrory last year did it much better. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Sloe, sloe, quick quick, sloe...

This year's foraging for sloes to make sloe gin was quite successful. We sneaked into the Highbury Playground on Highbury Fields before any kids showed up last Saturday morning and gathered our pregnant crop.This year we scored just under 1 kg (last year it was just over 1 kg).

We then took them home, washed off the yeast with warm water then cold water, dried them with a tea towel and popped them in the freezer. That way when they defrost they burst a bit to let the juices out. This weekend we'll be putting them into air tight bottles, topping up with gin and leaving in the dark for three months for the sloes to infuse into the gin. Then we add sugar to taste. Yum, yum.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Tipping the Velvet...

Last Friday night Stuart​ and I went to Tipping the Velvet at the Lyric Theatre in not particularly glitzy Hammersmith.

Based on the wonderful Sarah Waters novel the story tells of Nancy (Sally Messham) and her journey from Whitstable oyster girl to celebrated West End drag king to Hampstead lesbian-sub to half of a Bethnal Green socialist power-couple.

It's a great story that has in fact been retold on TV quite recently but what elevates Lyndsey Turner's new production up to the stratosphere is the simply genius idea to set it all up as an Old Time Musical show. Each scene is told as a act coming on stage to perform a turn. The MC chats to the audience and the band are at the front of the seating area and regularly get up on stage to be part of the action. The actors regularly break the fourth wall and sing old fashion styled versions of modern (and post-modern) pop songs. It all works beautifully. In fact the genius of the idea works so well at times it threatens to (but never quite does) overwhelm the story.

I shall remember the abattoir pigs singing Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy for quite some time. And the lesbian sex scenes all take place up in the air which managed to be both laugh out loud funny and sexy - a tough act to pull off. But they do it brilliantly.

Apart from Sally Messham the other stand-out performance is Laura Rogers as Kitty.

Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Legends Live...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Legends Live at the Wembley Arena in the distinctly unglitzy Wembley Park.

Mary Wilson (off of The Supremes) was up first. Her all too brief half-hour set definitely had the hits plus a touch of Rolling Stones thrown in. She was in great voice, sported a blue sparkly dress and had a good stage patter which got us all in the mood.

The Drifters were on next. The latest four members (there have been 38 so far) were a bit of a karaoke band to be honest. Sure they played their hits but covering U2 Vertigo was perhaps a bit of a misstep. The crowd seemed to enjoy it though.

After the interval Roberta Flack was wheeled on. Looking a bit weird and acting bat-shit crazy seemed to be part of her act as far as we could tell. Her two backing singers outshone her own vocals though. Not that she was terrible you understand but she did that sing-along-to-my-own-songs that way that Chaka Khan does. She rather murdered Killing Me Softly too - and not in a good way.

Last up was Dionne Warwick who after a very long technical wait finally wafted onto the stage. Her voice was very frail and although it was good to see and hear her I can't help but think she won't be touring for much longer. She sang (wailed?) all the hits but the woman behind us kept tutting at each croaked note. Towards the end of her set everything went quiet and Dionne sang out, "What's it all about... (pause)…" But before she could sing the word "Alfie" the woman behind us muttered right on cue "Oh, Christ!" Very funny.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Humans Of The Arsenal...

I got interviewed a few months ago by the wonderful Humans of the Arsenal. And in my incoherent drunken babbling about my love of Arsenal he took a snap and wrote down some of my rant. Nice guy.

“I always wanted to go to Highbury more than I did. I loved Highbury. Highbury was the church, the temple, the cathedral to go to - but just going into the Emirates Stadium and realising what we can do as a club; just the huge expanse in front of us, and realising the wealth of possibilities ahead of us - which are sure to be realised very soon.

"…we can make a spaceship land from on high, land inside Islington… and that was our future  - that for me was an emotional moment.

"It was the idea. A statement of intent. A statement of ambition."

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Brutal Utopias by Routemaster...

Last Saturday Stuart and I took an architectural tour of some of London's most well-known and celebrated Brutalist buildings, towers and estates. The tour was run by The National Trust and The South Bank Centre and our lead host for the day was the gorgeous and well-informed Tom Cordell, film-maker and expert on social architecture and modernism, and director of Utopia London. He was joined by Joe Watson, London Creative Director, National Trust, and author of the guidebook accompanying the Brutal Utopias project.

Starting at the South Bank with the majestic Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery we journeyed by Green Line Routemaster bus to the Barbican Estate by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon and then on to the 'other' Festival of Britain site (the Lansbury Estate in Poplar) which included the Bralfron Tower, the Brownfield Estate, and Chrisp Street Market. We then walked around Neave Brown's Alexandra Road Estate before concluding our trip at Ernö Goldfinger's iconic Trellick Tower.

Brutalism was largely a mixture of idealistic social dreaming and the practical realties of post-War living. And main ingredient used in this mix was concrete. Lots of it.

The tour was fun, illuminating and strangely political. Of course housing is, and always has been, a hot political issue and any society's attempts to solve the housing needs of an ever increasing population requires the close cooperation of government agencies (both national and local) and urban designers working with informed architects. This cooperation was common place post-War but in these neo-liberal times has somewhat fallen by the wayside.

Brutalism's architects were informed by a utopian vision of space, function and the need to produce the right density of good quality housing in what were then largely run-down industrial cityscapes.

Initial Brutalist mistakes have now by and large been rectified. These mistakes included having no concierges on site, the constabulary not wanting to police the estates, long elevated runways through estates allowed ne'er-do-wells to escape unchallenged and by not maintaining the exterior of the concrete it was allowed to absorb water to rust the steel reinforcements.

Ultimately whether the Brutalist vision failed or not may depend somewhat upon your opinion of the main material they used to achieve their aims i.e. concrete. It's a marmite material for some. We asked a few residents of what they thought of their concrete homes. Most loved them.

Great tour. Well done, National Trust. A long overdue recognition of what Brutalism did for Britain.