Quote Of The Day

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Laos: Those First Impressions...

It was a long flight to Laos; 11 hours Heathrow to Bangkok, a 4 hour stop over and then another 2 hours in a tiny plane up into the Laos mountains. Needless to say when I saw the size of the final plane I took a valium and had a couple of beers to steady the nerves. So by the time we arrived in Luang Prabang we were pretty exhausted. 

Our guide, Saeng Touly, and driver picked us up from the airport and drove us the short distance to our hotel, Maison Souvannaphou (Champa room - breakfast is included). 

Luang Prabang is a beautiful little town sitting beside the mucky brown Mekong river. It used to be the capital city of Laos and is now an UNESCO site. 

The weather is hot, humid and when it rains it simply drizzles for a short while and then stops. 

We spent the first afternoon sleeping but then got up for cocktails by the pool before going for a walk along the peninsula and settling on a restaurant for a steak. 

We took a sleeping pill to help readjust to local time.

On the Tuesday morning we had breakfast by the pool and then meet up with our guide again to Explore the town further. We took in a few magical temples and the ancient crafts museum. The tour included visits to the Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong and the `Water Melon` Stupa and the 319 step walk up the Pousi hill to see the commanding views from the top. Phew!

First impressions? Laos is a beautiful lush country, mainly forests but has a repressive one party government and we heard some chilling stories of fathers and sons from Hmong families (one of the many ethnic minorities here) just 'disappearing'.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Last night Stuart and I went to see the London transfer of Disney's musical version of their 1992 animated film Aladdin at the Prince Edward Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

With music written by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin this show was quite, quite brilliant; the score, direction, choreography, staging, lighting, design were all magnificent.

From the opening song Arabian Nights I was hooked. We were treated to a feast of colourful, whirling, dancing and singing characters that just took my breath away. By half time my face was aching from smiling so much.

Dean-John Wilson as a muscular Aladdin was fantastic, Jade Ewen as Jasmine a delight but the stand-out performance for me was Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie.

This Genie was big, black and camped it up something rotten. He sang up a storm and basically upstaged anyone else who had the misfortune of being on stage with him. Marvellous.

Particular noteworthy production numbers were One Jump Ahead, Prince Ali and, of course, A Whole New World (complete with wobbly magic-carpet).

And although new song Proud of Your Boy brought a tear this old cynic's eye the stand-out number of the night (that had the audience on its feet and stopped the show) was Friend Like Me. Taking place in the glittering, golden Cave of Wonders it was simply wonderful. A real wow moment in a wow of a show.

Go see!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tim Minchin...

Last Sunday night I went to see Tim Minchin at the Old Vic Theatre in London's increasingly glitzy Waterloo.

Performing for no other reason than he enjoys it we were treated to some of his best stand-up comedy and some of his funniest songs as well as a couple of new songs from his upcoming musical Groundhog Day.

I've always been a fan of Mr Minchin - combining as he does a healthy mix of cynicism, scepticism and atheism that I find very appealing.

I laughed pretty much from start to finish.

The setlist included:-
Rock 'n' Roll Nerd
Woody Allen Jesus
You Grew On Me
I Love Jesus
F Sharp
The Good Book
Seeing You
When I Grow Up

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Billie Ray Martin...

Last Friday night Darren and I went to see Billie Ray Martin at the newly reopened Jazz Cafe in London's glitzy Camden.

We started the night at The Hen and Chickens meeting with Tim and Andy for a beer or three where we also bumped into Mark and Jane and Sarah which was nice. We then headed over to Camden Town for some nosh, knowing as we did that Billie wouldn't be on stage on time. And we were right - 45 minutes late. But it was worth it. Ostensibly promoting her new album The Soul Tapes we were treated to Billie's hits old and new.

Billie Ray Martin describes herself as “a kid from Hamburg’s red-light district, who wanted to be a soul singer, but ended up playing repetitive machine music, while still trying to be a soul singer".

Billie has never been easy to categorise. Clearly a soul singer, her career however has seen her mostly as a pioneer of house and electronic music, most notably her ground-breaking work with Electribe 101 and her seminal hit Your Loving Arms. Her explorations have led her further into the worlds of ambient music and drum & bass among other areas of electronica.

Her 2001 album 18 Carat Garbage had found her in Memphis, recording with Al Green’s and Aretha Franklin’s musicians, then adding cutting edge electronic sounds and textures to the production once back in Hamburg. The album was released in Germany, and on UK import sold several thousand copies in the first week of release alone. This current work continues that journey.

The Soul Tapes is the natural conclusion and a ‘first’ for Billie: no electronic music this time. Billie realised her long-held dream of recording an album that is equally influenced by Hi-Records (Al Green, Ann Peebles, Willie Mitchell) as it is by ’60s garage records. It is also not devoid of a certain country twang, and even Bo Diddley peeks through the door on one song.

So there we were at the Jazz Cafe appreciating Billie's soulful voice and her journey through all things soul and rhythm & blues. But nothing quite compared to the reception that greeted Your Loving Arms or Talking With Myself.

Afterwards Darren and I danced the night away at the Bloc Bar crawling in at some un-Godly hour.

Top night.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Crystal Maze...

On Saturday night Oliver, Marcin, Steve, Jorge, Stuart, Luca, Stuart and I went to do The Crystal Maze game in London's glitzy Angel.

Lovingly recreated Aztec, Industrial, Future and Medieval worlds lay before us. And it was bloody brilliant!

The production values were very high with a great deal of attention paid to detail, the games were fiendish yet fun and the Maze Masters got the tone just right - telling jokes, giving clues and keeping the excitement levels at 100%

As we ran from world to world we each got to play two games - choosing from physical, mental, skill or mystery. If we solved the clues or climbed the wall or whatever we then unlocked one crystal. If one of us ran out of time and were locked in the room we needed to spend one crystal to release our team mate. Each crystal rewarded us with 5 seconds in the Crystal Dome grapping gold tickets at the end.

So we played 16 games, won 13 crystals, lost 3, won some bonus ones along the way so ended up with 15. Which bought us 75 seconds.

We beat all the other teams to get the most golden tokens but because we did so well they thought we must have been cheating so disqualified us just in case (!)

So technically, which is my favourite kind of truth, we won!

Well done boys! Start the fans!

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Taming of the Shrew...

Last night Stuart and I went to see The Taming of the Shrew at the Globe Theatre on London's glitzy Bankside.

And I left the place in a raging fury.

This production of one of my favourite plays cleverly had a comedic Irish twist which worked rather well. All the characters had Irish accents and there was Irish dancing. The show also subverted many of the norms of acting in Shakespeare's day by having some of the servants played by women. But, as is the Shakespearean comedic way, these 'servants' were generally all pretending to be the 'masters' so this was quite a clever device to get women into the leading roles.

That said, the production had one major flaw. So abject and serious was this flaw that it completely ruined the evening for me. So glaring, so objectionable was this mistake that I left the theatre very angry. I was completely incensed that they had turned a comedy that at its best is a battle of the sexes played out through a battle of wills into The Utter Humiliating Abuse of the Shrew. Yes, the story contains a sexist 'hero'. But to not explore this sexism and simply present it as entertainment is as complicit in the abuse as it is deeply offensive.

In the play said hero Petruchio attempts to "tame" his feisty shrew of a wife Kate in a variety of ways. He yells at the servants and prevents her from eating by insisting that the dishes are not good enough for her. He loves her 'too much' for her to eat substandard food. He then offers Kate presents of dresses and jewellery, only to return them saying that they too weren't good enough for her. He kills her with kindness. And this is very funny. Or it should be because Kate fights back against these absurdities. She doesn't just take it lying down. Only here it isn't funny at all, because she doesn't fight back. In this production they present Petruchio as simply being a cruel abusive bully and Kate a passive victim. It's a complete misstep and very uncomfortable to watch. It's a battle of the sexes where only one side is fighting and the other gets starved, stripped and molested as the audience watched in stony silence. To neuter Kate like this is to misrepresent one of Shakespeare's strongest women. Even though in this particular battle of sexes the man 'wins' to give Kate no fight back, to strip her of all her pride this production turns one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies into an utter tragedy. And it was awful to watch.

Don't go. The funny bits are completely over-shadowed by the complicit sexism.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Laurie Anderson Slideshow...

Last night Paul and I braved the Southern Trains strike to go down to Brighton to see the world premiere of Laurie Anderson's Slideshow as part of the Brighton Festival... at the Brighton Dome... in glitzy Brighton. Did I mention it was in Brighton?

As it turned out the trip there and back couldn't have been easier. Strike? What strike? The show itself however was less smooth.

We are both big fans of Laurie Anderson and would both travel a very long way to see her perform but this show was woefully under-rehearsed. Laurie kept referring to her written notes while umming and ahhing (erring?) Which was ironic as the theme of the show was Plan B - what to do when things go wrong.

All that said, the pieces that did work were great; the live video projection of the prisoners into the museum and the pillow speaker in her mouth turning her voice into a violin were of particular note.

Good show but (with some rehearsal) could be a great show.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Caretaker...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Matthew Warchus's production of The Caretaker at the Old Vic Theatre in London's getting-a-bit-more glitzy Waterloo.

Now Harold Pinter plays are not to every one's taste. Not least because the... long... pauses... can... drive... some... people... nuts. Aaand... eeeven... seeeend... theeem... tooo... sleeeep. And what with this production clocking in at 3 hours 10 minutes coupled with the notoriously warm Old Vic auditorium this was an evening that might challenge even the most ardent of Pinter fans to stay alert throughout. That is if the performances hadn't been quite so electrifying.

Timothy Spall, whether as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films or as JMW Turner in the Mike Leigh biopic, specialises in characters outside the social norms. Here he plays the titular tramp cum caretaker Davies superbly as a shaggy-haired wreck, who looks as if he might have been dragged through a hedge backwards.

In the course of the action, Davies meets and is befriended by the kindly Aston (Daniel Mays) but brutally exposed as an artful dodger by Aston’s leather-jacketed brother, Mick (George MacKay).

The three performances were all excellent, full of menace, very funny and at times heart-breaking. Daniel Mays speech about with violent electro-therapy is especially moving.

So (with a strong cup of coffee at interval number two) highly recommend.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Frank's Canteen Supper Club...

Last night Jane, Sarah, Stuart and I double-dated at the marvelous Frank's Canteen Supper Club. The theme was USA! USA! USA! with fantastic spicy wings, pulled beef, slaw, corn, bean salsa with all the trimmings and popcorn ice cream. To top it all it was BYO with no corkage. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Classic Gingerline...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to weird immersive gastronomic event called Classic Gingerline at a secret location somewhere along the old East London line (now the Overground).

We had to dress in black and gold with a hint of glamour, take a gift for our hostess and wait for a text message at 6pm on the night for directions to our venue.

I won't give too much away other than to say that the excellent five course meal was heavily themed, the entertainment a good mix of high- and low-brow and after word got out about it being our 10th anniversary we were made to feel very special.

I probably enjoyed last year's Gingerline Chamber of Flavours more as it was a bit more like You Me Bum Bum Train with food. But this was good too - just a little more static.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Doctor Faustus...

Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see the gorgeous Kit Harington in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

The story tells of Doctor F selling his soul to the devil, writing the contract in blood and then living for the next 24 years as a Las Vegas magician. No really. They rewrote the middle bit.

To call this thing a mess would be to down play the word 'mess'. It is vulgar, chaotic, visceral, offensive, stupid, popularist, funny, rude, sacrilegious, ridiculous, and at times plain crap. People walked out at the interval. Which was a shame as they missed the on-stage karaoke.

We were treated to two and half hours of impenetrable dialogue, full frontal male and female nudity, rape, a dancing chorus line of devils, and blood. Lots and lots of blood.

It really was a mess.

On the up side we got to see lots and lots of Kit Harington. And nice to hear Kylie Minogue's Better the Devil You Know and Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell sung at the interval.

Hard to recommend. Unless you like things really, really messy.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


Last Friday night I went to see Tindersticks at the Barbican Hall in London's glitzy Brutalist Barbican.

Stuart Staples and the Nottingham songsters were there to promote their new album The Waiting Room. The first half of the gig was a sort of 45 minute greatest hits package with each dream-state song receiving more rapturous applause than the last.

Then in the second half the guys performed their new album in its entirety - each track being accompanied by its own short film. The music was excellent, the short films were brilliant.

Highlights for me were the pounding driving film to Were We Once Lovers? and the marvelously melodic We Are Dreamers!

As an encore we were treated to another 20 minutes of the bands hits.

Great stuff.

The set list was as follows...

First half:
Johnny Guitar (the Peggy Lee cover)
Keep You Beautiful
She's Gone
Boobar Come Back to Me
The Other Side of the World
Sleepy Song
My Oblivion

Second Half (each track performed in front of its own film):
Follow Me (video projection)
Second Chance Man
Were We Once Lovers?
Help Yourself
Hey Lucinda
This Fear of Emptiness
How He Entered
The Waiting Room
Planting Holes
We Are Dreamers!
Like Only Lovers Can
Closing Titles aka Follow Me

Show Me Everything
Slippin' Shoes
A Night So Still

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Toxic Avenger...

Last night Stuart, David and I went to see campy rock 'n' roll musical comedy The Toxic Avenger at the Southwark Playhouse in London's anything but glitzy Elephant and Castle.

Drawing very heavily on both The Rocky Horror Show and The Little Shop of Horrors for inspiration this bit of madcap nonsense is set in New Jersey and tells the story of a down at heel guy who gets pushed into a vat of toxic waste and returns a green mutant super hero. His blind girlfriend is none the wiser as he battles the evil Mayor to save the city and the planet from the toxic waste all around.

It's all great fun. The songs are good, the jokes suitably un-PC and the performances universally excellent. Much is made of the quick changes that the cast have to make as they play dozens of roles. It's literally a running gag that is a joy to behold.

Top marks and highly recommended if you want to laugh at silliness for two hours. Which we did.