Quote Of The Day

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Big Gay Picnic...

Last Sunday at noon a bunch of us attended Tim and Andy's annual Big Gay Picnic in St. John's Lodge Gardens, part of Regent's Park Inner Circle in glitzy London Town.

The weather held and there was a good turn out. There was some munching, some mooching and much mincing. Afterwards some of us headed off to first The Edinboro Castle, then The Constitution, and finally The Hen and Chickens to finish the night (and us) off.

Great fun.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Appetite For Risk...

Seeing my financial advisor again today. He doesn't mess about with his financial questions:
  1. What are your current assets / liabilities?
  2. How long do you think you'll live?
  3. Are your parents still alive?
  4. Do you smoke?
  5. What is your appetite for risk?
  6. Have you thought about getting married?
(I'm assuming these last two are the same trick question though!)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Clapham South Deep Level Tunnels...

Last Saturday Stuart and I went deep underground to the Clapham South Deep Level Tunnels.

Planned and dug by hand in just eighteen months in early 1940s the tunnels were originally meant as a refuge from the Blitz. It was envisaged that there would be ten sets of tunnels all along the Northern Line and some of the Central Line but only eight were completed. Each set of tunnels could house 8,000 people with extensive sleeping, canteen, recreational, toilet and medical facilities. Rationing was temporarily suspended for visitors to the tunnels so the place was quite attractive for war-torn Londoners. The only complaint was that a cup of tea cost 2d rather than 1d as it did at ground level - but no-one wanted to head back up top for the tea-run.

In fact the tunnels actually didn't get used for the Blitz as that had ended just before they were completed in 1942 but by 1943 the new threat of V1 and V2 bombs meant that the tunnels became fresh sanctuaries for thousands. And whereas the Blitz happened at night meaning locals came down just at night time the fresh threat of flying bombs was constant - they landed day and night - which put fresh strain on running the underground city.

By mid-1945 they had lost their use as the war was over and people wanted to rebuild their ground-level city rather than live under a rubbled one.

The plan even early on was that post-war the tunnels were all going to be joined up to be used a high-speed underground service much like the imminent Elizabeth Line. As London Underground usage in the late 1940s fell away though plans for this were scrapped.

The tunnels found a fresh lease of life though and were used as cheap accommodation for years afterwards.

In 1948 almost 500 West Indian immigrants arrived in London on MV Empire Windrush docking at Tilbury. About 200 were taken to the Clapham South Deep Level Tunnels for processing and temporary housing. They were charged 6d a night for the privilege. Less than a mile away was the Coldharbour Lane Employment Exchange in Brixton, where some of the arrivals sought work. Many only intended to stay for a few years, and although a number returned to Kingston Jamaica the majority remained to settle permanently forming what was to become the core of the British African-Caribbean community in that area.

In 1951 punters could get a room in the tunnels during the Festival of Britain when it was rebranded the Festival Hotel and in the following year soldiers were billeted there for King George's funeral. The tunnels even got used as cheap hotels for conferences in London but after the Goodge Street fire the tunnels were closed to the public.

Now get leased out for storage, the odd hydroponics farm and for visitors to have a bit of a nose.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Plough and the Stars...

Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see Sean O'Casey masterful pacifist drama The Plough and the Stars at the Lyttelton Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Set at the times of the 1916 Easter Uprising the story tells of the residents of a Dublin tenement block; their lives, their loves and their brush with history.

The play is very funny while keeping a firm eye on the events going on just off stage. As the tension builds throughout the four acts of the piece we get transported from the domestic and social upheaval taking place one hundred years ago to the political unrest against British. Indoors the rebellion against the old rules is kicking in, outside on the street the rebellion against the old rulers is kicking off.

The play's staging was very efficient and effective giving as it did a fixed lens approach. We simply watched everyone go about their daily lives.

The acting was top notch and as the drama unfolded and tragedy struck this wizen old cynic was wiping away a few tears.

Recommended.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Cake Making...

The other Sunday Stuart, Bryn and I attended a cake making course at Jenius Social in London's 'glitzy' Holloway.

We learned how to make and bake a lemon drizzle cake, a chocolate fudge cake and a carrot and walnut cake.

It was lots of fun and the tattooed chef, Andrew, was full of tips and tricks to get a better bake.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Pet Shop Boys...

Last night Stuart and I (and the world and his husband) went to the Royal Opera House in London's glitzy Covent Garden to see The Pet Shop Boys tear the old place a new one.

Wow! What a show! People were on their feet from the opening note and stayed dancing for the next two hours.

Expectations were pretty high, but boy did the Boys deliver. It was if a giant herd of rainbow flag-draped disco dancing musical unicorns pranced onto the stage of the Royal Opera House and rubbing their silver sparkling horns together spunked out torrents of shiny disco balls of pure pop loveliness that then exploded into the ears of the delighted crowd.

The background visuals were so stunning and the laser light show so joyously bright that when it splattered its love-light across the smiling faces of each and everyone in the auditorium it was like some multi-coloured glowing rainbow luminous bukaki.

As you might have guessed. I liked the show.

The Boys were simply in magnificent form - interacting with the crowd between the songs (well, Neil anyway) - in fine voice (well, Neil anyway) - dancing around the stage (well, Neil anyway) - and wearing stupid hats (OK, they BOTH did that!) It was everything you expected from a Pet Shop Boys show and more.

It was like their Imperial phase was back all over again. They owned the place!

And after all this time they know how to put a show together - they work with the best. The set design, the background visuals, the sound design were all amazeballs and hung together magnificently. The show had a real feel of being integrated. Something you don't always see in a gig. But here it all had a single vision and it all came together perfectly. And this vision was DISCO.

The Boys managed to pull off that difficult trick of getting the set list right too. With such a large back catalogue to choose from and with new work to promote you're never going to please everyone. But they seemed to give the occasional fan plenty of hits, promote their two most recent two albums quite well and keep the hard-core Pethead on-board too.

And you don't always know what is going to work live. Even on paper you think something might work better than it did on the night. For example one of my personal favourite songs from the new Super album is The Dictator Decides. But this didn't really work live - the vocal got rather lost - whereas The Sodom and Gomorrah Show (an album track from ten years ago) went down as an epic sing-a-long storm.

Let's hope that when the third of the triplet of Stuart Price produced albums appears in the next couple of years the Boys promote it in a similar way with a really big arena show. Because this was a super Super show and we deserve an encore on an even bigger stage.

We love the Pet Shop Boys.

(Oh wait, I forgot mention the stage flooding with dancers wearing brightly coloured inflatable fat suits... Next time!)

High point: Vocal
Higher point: Burn
Highest point: New version of Left to My Own Devices

Set List:-
Inner Sanctum (Live debut)
West End Girls
The Pop Kids
In the Night (Live debut)
Burn (Live debut)
Love Is a Bourgeois Construct
New York City Boy
Se A Vida É (That's The Way Life Is)
Twenty-something (Live debut)
Love Comes Quickly (First time since 2010)
Love Etc.
The Dictator Decides (Live debut)
Inside a Dream (Live debut)
Winner (First time since 2012)
Home and Dry (First time since 2007)
Vocal
The Sodom and Gomorrah Show (First time since 2007)
It's a Sin
Left to My Own Devices (New version)
Go West (Village People cover)

Encore:
Domino Dancing
Always on My Mind (Brenda Lee cover)
The Pop Kids (Reprise)






Thursday, July 21, 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Open Air Theatre in London's glitzy Regents Park.

It was a great production.

Celebrating 45 years since the rock opera, concept album and stage show were first created Tim Rice's and Andrew Lloyd Webber's (who was in the crowd) story is loosely based on the Gospels' accounts of the last week of Jesus's life.

It starts with the preparation for the arrival of Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and ends with the crucifixion. It strays somewhat from conventional telling however in that it highlights political and interpersonal struggles between Judas Iscariot and Jesus. In fact Judas looms large in the show, who is depicted as a tragic figure dissatisfied with the direction in which Jesus steers his disciples.

Singer-songwriter Declan Bennett, once a member of Brit Award nominated band Point Break, and more recently the lead in the musical Once, takes the role of Jesus. He plays him as a hipster rock star slightly caught up in events as they snowball out of his control.

Timothy Sheader's production is a very powerful one using dance, smoke, flashing lights, ropes, Kensington gore and gold glitter - lots and lots of gold glitter.

Huge steel orange-rusty girders back the stage supporting not only the action but also the excellent band - with musical direction by Tom Deering. The sound was really great.

The choreography by Olivier Award-winner Drew McOnie was a real wow too - helped in no small part by the cast who are all played by very attractive, lean, muscled, talented and (let's not forget) scantily clad singers and dancers!

All the hits were there:- I Don’t Know How to Love Him, Gethsemane and the amazing Bond -thematic Superstar.

Coolest bit: The Last Supper
Silliest bit: The Temple
Campest bit: King Herod's Song (Try It And See)
Best bit: Gethesemane (I Only Want to Say)
Saddest bit: Judas's Death
Most violent bit: Trial Before Pilate, (inc. The Thirty-Nine Lashes)

Recommended.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker...

WTF! I'm no quite sure what Stuart and I went to see at the Barbican the other Saturday night. We had 25 Japanese people dancing and screaming songs at us, they threw 50 buckets of water in our faces, chucked seaweed and tofu at us and then dumped all manner of tinsel and streamers on us for 45 minutes non-stop. Ladies and gentlemen I give you... Miss Revolutionary Idol Berserker! Probably the most fun we've had in the theatre. Ever. My ears are still ringing.

video

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Richard III...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Richard III at the Almeida Theatre just off London's glitzy Upper Street.

A country divided, political chaos, opportunist politicians... the play seems almost too relevant to the current machinations in Westminster.

Ralph Fiennes is simply brilliant as Shakespeare’s notorious villain as is Vanessa Redgrave as batty old Queen Margaret.

Almeida Artistic Director Rupert Goold starts by showing us modern day Leicester as Richard III hunchback skeleton is exhumed. Next we see Ralph Fiennes's very much alive Richard III talking directly to the audience inviting us into his world. The unreliable narrator starts by telling us that even though on the face of it things are all 'glorious summer' now that his family have taken over the throne things aren't so good for him personally. He's not a very popular guy (sad face)... he has few friends (sad face)... he's not very good with the ladies (wry grin)... so he might as well be bad (big grin and wink at the audience).

This wonderful complicity is delightfully maintained throughout as our roguish anti-hero plots his way to the top. One by one those that stand between him and throne are bumped off and the skulls on the back wall increase like delightfully gruesome shining trophies. We are almost willing him on - to succeed in his dastardly plan in a manner reminiscent of the film Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Only then we, the audience, are cruelly betrayed. Richard has been wickedly deceiving us as well as them. With a vicious twist of the knife Richard finally shows us his true vile colours. First he turns brutal rapist and then brings about a double child murder. And it is a genuinely shocking moment. It is a moment both masterful and devastating. Turns out he was a wrong 'un after all and more fool us for believing otherwise.

Full marks to both Goold and Fiennes for pulling this coup de grâce off. The three hours running time simply flew by.

Highly recommended.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Broadstreet Market and Netil House Netil360...

The other Saturday Stuart, Bryn and I went to Broadstreet Market for a nose around, some lunch and then on a search for a roof-top bar for an afternoon Pimms.

Proof, our initial destination, was closed but we did happen upon Netil House next to Netil Market with it's roof-top Netil360 bar, hipster vibe and comfy floor cushions. Lovely.



Friday, July 15, 2016

Faith Healer...

Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see Brian Friel’s marvelous play Faith Healer at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

The Frank Hardy is a faith healer but with unreliable gifts. His wife Grace and manager Teddy are supportive but concerned. All Frank seems to seek is certainty - but at what cost?

Lyndsey Turner faces a production challenge here as it's a stark play for just three voices - each on stage by themselves one after the other. And not much happens; other than a lot of talking. But therein lies the point. It is only after each voice has told us a different version, a different linear dimension of the same story that we then get to see all three dimensions at once. The true story appears like a pop-up book.

Stephen Dillane as Frank, Gina McKee as Grace and Ron Cook as Teddy are all excellent; holding our attention with the confidence that comes with knowing the material is exceptional.

And how does Ms Turner meet the challenge to combat the starkness? Why a curtain of falling water encircling the stage.

Recommended.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Boycott Britain...

"I've got this fantastic idea. It's a post-Brexit money spinner of an idea. It will solve our trade deficit with the rest of the world at one single stroke and make Great Britain truly Great once again.

Let's make "Boycott Britain" t-shirts, sweatshirts and badges and sell them to foreigners. The overseas market must be huge at the moment and can only grow over the next two years.

We could make Boycott British Goods posters, Boycott British Tourism tea towels, and Boycott Brexit Britain bumper-stickers! The possibilities are endless.

I personally can't see any downsides or any negative consequences of 'Boycott British' idea.

#BoycottBritain Today!

-- Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (age 52)"

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Needles and Opium...

Last night I went to see Robert LePage's seminal work Needles and Opium at the Barbican Theatre in London's glitzy brutalist concrete Barbican Centre.

Wow! What a show! The spelling-binding technical wizardry on stage was simply brilliant and worth the price of the ticket alone. A huge rotating cube in the centre of the stage throws the actors about containing hidden doors, trapezes, and awesome video projections. I've never seen anything quite like it. And the story itself is no less thrilling - and disorientating.

Like the set, the tale is a 3-dimensional, tumbling and multi-layered one. In 1949 French writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau returns from New York full of wonder but chronic disenchanted. In that same year American jazz musician Miles Davis visits Paris bringing bebop to the old continent and making new fans. He starts a passionate relationship with Julliet Greco but it soon turns sour. Both Cocteau and Davis are dependent upon drugs to try and cope with their tortured lives. In 1989 Robert LePage is a lonely actor suffering heartbreak trying to forget his former lover but his torment echoes that of both artists from 40 years before. The three are all in a bad way.

Set against these three tales of addictions, we see hypnotic vignettes as the three characters float and slide through time and space, from a Parisian hotel room to New York streets. Filmic projections, a jazz soundtrack and poetic performances each in turn enchant, confuse and delight.

It is a truly masterful representation of disorientation, confusion and the creative drive.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Marc Almond...

On Sunday night Stuart, Paul, Bryn, I and a crowd of Gutterhearts all descended upon The Royal Festival Hall on London's glitzy South Bank to see Marc Almond perform his birthday concert.

Billed as 'A Celebration of 20th Century Torch Songs and his Greatest Hits' it was perhaps rather heavy on the former and a tad light on the latter - but that's no bad thing in my book.

In the first half Mr Almond sang torch songs he grew up listening to and has been inspired by. Backed by The Leeds College of Music Orchestra and Choir he took us on a journey through these nostalgic and atmospheric songs of lost and unrequited loves. Stand out number for me in this section was Gloomy Sunday with its warm arrangement and chilling vocals.

In the second half Marc performed a selection of his own songs, specially arranged for this event, and some of his storied career’s greatest hits. The stand out songs in the second half for me were the full-tilt version of Jacky and the let-it-rip rendition of Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart which both raised the roof.

Marc was in fine voice throughout with only the odd wobble on his less familiar material. The choir and full orchestra added a lot to the atmosphere of the night and covered up any vocal aberrations such as they were.

Surprise hit: A new (and better) translation of Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away" song "Ne me quitte pas" as 'Please Don't Leave Me'.
Guilty pleasure: The House is Haunted in a jazz style.
Slight misstep: Baby Love as a finale.

As Marc put on Twitter... "Thank you @LeedsMusic @Damien_Harron @CraigLeesLCoM @senbla and of course a wonderful audience , one of my favourite shows ever."

Set List:
Hurt (Timi Yuro cover)
In My Room
I'm Lost Without You (Billy Fury cover)
Shadows On My Heart
Blue on Blue (Burt Bacharach cover)
The Big Hurt (Miss Toni Fisher cover)
Lotus Blossom
Willow Weep for Me (Frank Sinatra cover)
The Shadow of Your Smile (Ella Fitzgerald cover)
Gloomy Sunday
The House Is Haunted
Haunted Heart
The Sun Will Rise
The Torch

Scar (Performed By Leeds College Of Music)
Trials of Eyeliner
I'm A Fool To Want You
Tenderness
Please Don't Go (alternative version of If You Go Away)
Why Was I Born? (Ella Fitzgerald cover)
Torch (Soft Cell song)
Life In My Own Way
Jacky (Jacques Brel cover)
Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Gene Pitney cover)
Tainted Love (Gloria Jones cover)
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye (Soft Cell song)
Baby Love (The Supremes cover)




Monday, July 11, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Part Two...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two at the Palace Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Picking up where Part One left off we were transported back and forth through the Harry Potter canon; revisting some of the funniest times and most traumatic moments (yes, there were lots of tears).

One of the central themes in both parts of the play, if not the the crux, is a father's relationship with their child. To this end the plot kicked up a notch in Part Two as the conflict between Harry and Albus became even more acute and so the drama heightened.

There was a big twist (which I didn't see coming) and a couple of flourishes which made this the second night as unforgettable as the first.

Great acting, great story and brilliant top-notch production.

A must for any Harry Potter fan.




Friday, July 08, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Part One...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part One at the Palace Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

The new play is in two parts - we are seeing the second part tonight.

I'll not give the plot away (#keepthesecrets and all that) other than to say that the action takes place 19 years after the final book ends picking up on the Kings Cross train platform as an adult and married Harry Potter and Ginny are waving goodbye to two of their children - Lily still has a year to go but James and Albus are off to Hogwarts. Only Albus isn't a happy bunny. He has his father's reputation to live up to...

There then follows 2 hours and 50 minutes of pure magic. The set, the action, the special effects, the theatrics, the wit, the flair are all there in spades. J K Rowling and Jack Horne have pulled it off.

It is a story of fatherhood, family, fear, redemption and broomsticks. It is compelling and gripping revisiting many of the characters made famous by the Harry Potter books and films.

I laughed (a lot), I cried (a bit), I was left open-mouthed (often) and at one point I shrieked (the shocks come thick and fast and many from left-field).

Part One ends of a cliff-hanger. Can't wait until tonight!

Pure theatrical magic.



Thursday, July 07, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's...

Last Friday night D, A, M and I went to see Pixie Lott in Breakfast at Tiffany's at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London's glitzy West End.

Pixie Lott? Pixie not-a-Lott. Pixie is pleasant enough but doesn't have the charisma the part needs. The first half was rather boring but we stayed anyway. The second half picked up dramatically somewhat but not enough to save it. During the production - which was generally fairly light-footed - there were really jarring moments of gay sexual predators (WTF?) that franking left us open-mouthed. Really odd and not in keeping with the apple-pie tone of the rest of the production to be honest.

The songs were OK I suppose (esp. Moon River) but we were just left feeling a bit meh about the whole thing.

Not really recommended unless you are a really big Pixie Lott fan.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Romeo and Juliet...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Kenneth Branagh's production of Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Allegedly starring Richard Madden and Lily James both stars were no-shows. So that was £190 for two premium tickets for a decided non-premium experience.

Yes, Derek Jacobi as Mercutio was fun as was Meera Syal as The Nurse but it was the two A-list stars Mr Madden and Ms James we had paid to see not them.

And we checked - there was no prior warning by email about the understudies, if the foyer had a notice up about the change we didn't see it, nor did the Box Office staff mention it when I collect my tickets and inquired about the show and I challenge you to find mention of it on their web site http://www.branaghtheatre.com/romeo-and-juliet/

Disappointing, to say the least.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

March for Europe...

We were marching last Saturday through central London. Why? Well, not because I think I can change the outcome of a vote. I can't. Britain is leaving the EU that much is clear. No, I was marching because I could. Because I was allowed to. Because I felt strongly enough about something to protest about it. Sure I'm anti-Brexit but I'm also pro-European and anti-hate.

I love Europe, I really do. And I wanted to help send out a message that Europeans are welcome in this great country of ours. We want them, we need them.

And because the EU has helped maintain the peace in Europe over the past 50 years it means that anyone else can march, can protest in their own EU country. A freedom worth celebrating. And peace is something worth celebrating too, right?

So there we were, surrounded by 50,000 other like minded people indulging in that odd mix of protest and celebration that the British do so well. Passive aggressive protesting!






Monday, July 04, 2016

Stuart's 43rd Birthday...

Out with boys for a bite to eat yesterday to celebrate Stuart's 43rd birthday. Le Petite Auberge and The Hen and Chickens.



Friday, July 01, 2016

Wild...

Last week Stuart and I went to see Neil Bartlett's new play Wild at the Hampstead Theatre in London's urbane, not yet post-Brexit, not too glitzy Swiss Cottage.

After blockbusters King Charles III and Doctor Foster we had high hopes. Sadly these were not quite met.

Andrew (Jack Farthing) is an 'Edward Snowden' who has leaked Government secrets and is currently hiding out in a Russian hotel room. Two contacts appear one at a time each toying with Andrew - twisting and turning the truth and trying to get him to pledge loyalty. Andrew is at first suspicious, then confused and then things go batshit crazy. Nothing is what it seems - even the very ground that he walks on can be trusted. If the punch line was The Prisoner's "I am not a number, I am a free man!" I'd not have been surprised one bit.

A triumph of staging then but not one of ideas. Fun to watch but it didn't really tell us much.