Quote Of The Day

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

Don Juan in Soho...

Last night Stuart and I went to see David Tennant star in Don Juan In Soho at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Patrick Marber's version of Molière's story about a serial seducer of women transports the action to contemporary London. It is rude, it is crude, and it is very, very funny.

Tennant plays the recently renamed DJ as a magnificent, terminally bored, quasi-toff who beds, dumps and cruelly taunts his conquests. He is dangerous, sleazy, a hedonist, and he is not fussy about orifices either, “He'd do it with anything – a hole in the ozone layer.”

His chubby little factotum Stan (excellently played by Adrian Scarborough) struggles to keep up.

The humour ranges from hysterical slapstick to downright offensive. Tennant hits the heights as he tries to control the pleasure wrought under the blanket by expert fellatio from one woman, while his upper half engages in conversation with and oozes fake concern towards the wife of a male rival whom he has considerately put in a coma. The lows are plumbed when he taunts a homeless man by dangling a £1,000 watch if he agrees to blaspheme against Allah.

Is DJ one of J. M. Barrie's Lost Boys? Is he the Devil incarnate? Or just a sex addict?

Fans of Tennant will love this. The critics have been somewhat sniffy. Critics? Cretins!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An American in Paris...

Last night Roger and I went to see new musical An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Well-produced show reimagined from the 1951 Gene Kelly Hollywood film. It has gained 5-star reviews across the board from most critics. To my taste, it was perhaps a little light on the songs at the start and a little too heavy on the ballet in the end. But by the second half the show had really taken flight.

An American in Paris is ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's first stab at directing a musical. And it is largely a success. He shows a love of the source material - Gene Kelly's dancing and Gershwin's tunes are done great justice. The plot has perhaps turned a little darker with more hints of Nazi-collaboration and closeted-homosexuality than I remember from the film. But that all adds more light and shade to the four-way love-triangular plot. (Can a triangle have four sides? In musicals I guess it can.)

We are in Paris just after the war. A GI wants to be an artist, another GI wants to be a composer, and a Frenchman wants to sing jazz in America. Centre stage is a ballet dancer who is looking for her big break. He loves her, he loves her too, oh and so does he. You get the picture. They all love her. So whom will she choose? My money is on the one with the biggest jeté. For all the principle parts are played by ballet stars. And 'ballet' they do. A lot. It is good toes, bad toes all the way in this show.

We did enjoy ourselves alot and the performances were all solid but... my main quibble might be that it took over 15 minutes before we got to hear our first Gershwin song. And this is a musical after all. And while we wait for the singing there are lengthy interludes with just ballet - no talking, no acting, no songs - just ballet. Solid, athletic, ballet. Now don't get me wrong, I like ballet as much as the next West End Wendy but it made for a rather ponderous show when you are waiting for the next line and the lead actor has to do another few circuits around the stage spinning his head like The Exorcist on fast-forward before suggesting they both go for a walk along the Seine.

And while I'm quibbling I'd have to say that the Dominion Theatre is big theatre with a very big stage. It needs to be filled with sound and filled with light to make a great show work and both these qualities were rather lacking in the first half. Turn it up please! Neither the should-be-infectious "I've Got Rhythm" nor heart-felt "The Man I Love" really took flight as they were too quietly performed and you could bearly see the action though the dimly lit auditorium.

However things were very, very different in the second half. The show suddenly took flight. The band played up, the lights shone brightly, the scenery settled down, the back projection ignited like a firework, and the big production numbers simply blazed on the stage. It was funnier, slicker and the plot simply tore along. In the second half Gerswin's tunes came thick and fast and the whole show soared. It was like a different show. Even the 20 minute ballet towards the end seemed to have earned its bright Piet Mondrian stripes.

Kick, turn, kick-kick, turn - feathers, top hats, show tunes - tap dancing, show girls - kick-kick, turn. Wow! It was wow. It was gorgeous. This is what we came to see! Gershwin tunes writ large on a big stage, played by a big band with dazzling dancing.

Now if only the first half had been as good as the second I'd have joined the 5-star reviewers in my fulsome praise.

Verdict: If you like Gershwin and you love ballet - this is the show for you.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Caravan Club...

Last Saturday Stuart, Oliver, Marcin and I took a queer walking tour around London's glitzy Soho and followed it up with a night at the infamous Caravan Club.

The walking tour was great - taking in such places as the old Colony Club, various queer haunts of the 1930s and beyond, and peppered with illuminating (and sometimes funny) stories of the arrest and persecution of gay men and women by the police.

The Caravan Club, once billed as the capital's greatest bohemian rendezvous, had been lovingly recreated for National Trust and National Archives Queer City project. It was originally a short-lived queer meeting place back in the 1930s festooned with flowing shawls and coloured blankets. And the 2017 recreation was spot on.

We were greeted at the door by a suitable discerning but fabulously camp/butch bouncer who asked us our business. Once reassured that we were 'just so' he soon allowed us entry into the dim twilight world of the homosexual beyond the curtain.

Immersive actors played suitably fey characters, sang for us and encouraged us to mingle and recite limericks and songs to entertain our fellow caravaners. We were served cocktails, felt a real sense of history and laughed a lot.

The night drew to a close with a police raid. Of course.

Well done National Trust.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech...

Last night Stuart and I went to see John Malkovich in Call Me God: A Dictator's Final Speech at Union Chapel in London's glitzy Islington.

Synopsis: Nice to see Malkovich in the flesh but the show is rather Just Call Me God-awful.

John Malkovich is no stranger to dark roles, so it is no wonder that he has become a sort of muse to writer-director Michael Sturminger. After exploring two extremes together – a serial killer and Casanova – their third collaboration sees them carry on the theme of extremism. Just Call Me God: The Final Speech of a Dictator premiered in Hamburg earlier this month, and the London stop of its European tour is taking place in the charming Union Chapel. Even before the show starts, amid the bustle of the audience finding their seats, the chapel makes its presence felt and creates a special atmosphere.

While the venue does half the job, Malkovich gamely tries to do the other. Sadly in vain.

He plays Satur Diman Cha, a dictator in hiding who has recently lost all his power. When a group of soldiers and a bold female journalist, Caroline, enter his palace, he attacks them and leaves most of the party for dead. In an attempt to save herself, Caroline challenges the ruler with an impromptu interview, declaring that she is interested in his side of the story. A surreal power game ensues.

The surprising element of Just Call Me God is the number of scenarios normally associated with high tension, if not terror, that become laugh-out-loud moments. The failing is that many of these moments are far from intentionally funny though. Malkovich can be superb in veiling the sinister core of his characters with waves of sheer hilarity but here he simply corpses at his own jokes. Unprofessional? Tedious? A few people left.

The play sits somewhere between theatre and cinema, with cameras on stage and a large screen above the action showing close-ups and otherwise unnoticeable details. Malkovich traditionally is at ease with both mediums but the execution here is poor and confusing - under-rehearsed even.

It is very clear that Sturminger created Satur Diman Cha around Malkovich, because the role fits him like a soggy glove. But the play seems to rely too heavily on its protagonist, and it sometimes becomes apparent that without him it would not hold up half as well. Even when he goes off stage for a few moments, it feels as if what little magic there is is momentarily deactivated.

Since the subject-matter is not fresh, the execution ought to be wildly imaginative to justify its existence. The main character is essentially a medley of dictators, but condensing all the despots into one does not make Satur more powerful, only too generic to offer much beyond an caricature. The problematic factor of depicting a dictator is that this figure has become the villain par excellence, and two-dimensional baddies have never fared too well.

Overall this is a pretty weak production - although bravely supported by the strong presence of Malkovich, it is only the aura of the venue and conductor Martin Haselböck’s organ concerto that makes Just Call Me God experience just about bearable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Stuart and I arrived in Singapore last Friday and we've been pretty much partying ever since. Dawn and Al have been our hosts and rather lovely hosts they are too. City Tour, sky-high bars and electric trees followed by Singapore Slings at Raffles. What's not to like?!

Singapore is an unusual place. It's isolated, beautiful, clean and safe. There are lots of great places to eat, drink and hangout and being just shy of the equator the place is rather lush with vegetation. It's also a gated community bulging with skyscrapers, ex-pats and clammy weather so attracts a certain well-heeled crowd.

The 15% tax rate fills the place with high-end economic migrants, making it a global centre for trade and shipping, and it is a nice place to live - for those with money that is. For calling the place "expensive" doesn't even begin to cover it. Most things including food and drink seem to be 2 - 3 times even London prices.

And this little paradise island also has some tough rules to accompany its good living. Apart from the well-known no spitting and no chewing gum laws, commiting more serious crimes can prove costly or even fatal. Some have described Singapore as Disneyland with the death penalty. Singapore has the second highest per-capita execution rate in the world. The semi-authoritarian regime is run by a governing party that has been in power since 1959 and their motto is effectively, "If you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to fear." Now where have I heard that before?

So Singapore is a nice place to live, expensive but nice. Just don't break the law.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Macau: Getting There...

Yesterday Stuart and I ventured 40 miles west of Hong Kong to the most densely populated place on earth. It is one of the richest, has the 4th highest life expectancy and is the world's biggest gambling area. It also gaudy, tacky and defies belief.

Macau was the last European colony in Asia before it returned to the Chinese from Portuguese hands in 1999. Originally a key trading post to the Orient it is now a Mecca for gamblers. Tourists flock here in their millions to fritter away their hard-earned dosh, catch a spectacular show and eat and drink themselves that little bit poorer in one or more of the massive, themed hotel cum casinos.

The Venetian, the MGM Grand, the Wynn - all familiar hotel names to those who have visited a certain place in the Nevada desert. It shares the dancing fountains, the over the top animatronics, and the similarly high electricity bill of that place too.

Perhaps not quite as spectacularly sprawling as Las Vegas, what this tiny place lacks in size it more than makes up for in ambition. Macau has a new mega casino/hotel being built every month. And as they run out of space here they simply reclaim a bit more of the sea. This place is growing, literally.

If you like gambling, flashing neon and industrial scale chintz - this is the place for you! 

Us? We're heading back to Honkers for the peace and quiet.

Hong Kong: Welcome...

So Stuart and I have arrived in Honkers and it is as hot, as bustling, and as chaotic as I remember it. 

Stuart's lovely friend Laura was our tour guide on our first full day here and as it was Stuart's first time she showed us the sights, the sounds and smells of the place. It was great to have an ex-pat's perspective on the place. And boy did she make us laugh.

I was last here in 1996 just before Honk Kong was returned to Chinese rule and there was alot of uncertainty around at that time.

On the face of it I can't see much change since then although there is some evidence of street protest with banners about more local rule. One thing is for sure though - social media Facebook and Blogger work here - which they didn't in mainland China when we went there two years ago. So it not all bad.

Another thing that's stayed the same is that Hong Kong is a crazy city of excess. Its packed full of dizzingly high skyscrapers, dazzling lights, and hard-working and hard-partying people. It's not cheap here either but like most places in this world if you have money you are sorted. They say if you can't get it here, you can't get it. So if you are young, working, and healthy then life can certainly be lived to the max here. You can work until you drop and then party until you drop some more. 

However Hong Kong is also a place of have nots. There no social security here so if you are old, have no family, or no money you are on your own - often living rough and/or begging on the street. We saw old people and disabled people shaking tins for coins and pushing carts of dirty cardboard around (their makeshift beds for the night). A few feet away in a street cafe were a small group of business men gathered around a table with two bottles of champagne spilling it in their excitement to celebrate their latest big wheeler deal. The contrast could not have been more stark. It reminded me of London in the 1980s with its financial big bang and its huge social division between rich and poor.

A lovely place Honkers, if you can keep up with the lifestyle... and the payments.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Japan: Ye Gods!...

Waiting for check-in to open at Tokyo airport (Catherine Tate would have been proud...)

Me: They have a lot of Gods in Japan, don't they?
Stu: Do they?
Me: Yes. They do. Guess how many they have?
Stu: I don't know.
Me: Well, have a guess.
Stu: I really don't know.
Me: Well, GUESS!
Stu: 4
Me: 4?!!!
Stu: Well, I don't know!
Me: 4!
Stu: OK, a billion then.
Stu: I don't know!
Me: A BILLION GODS! You think the Japanese worship a billion Gods?
Stu: They might do.
Me: The population the size of Japan and they have 100 Gods... EACH?!
Stu: I told you I don't know.
Me: A billion Gods?!
Stu: How many you they have then?
Me: 8 million.
Stu: Really?
Me: Yes. They have 8 million Gods. Which I think is alot. Not a billion granted but alot. 
Stu: OK. That is alot.
Stu: Where shall we eat?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Japan: Magome to Tsumago...

Stuart and I set off early after a Japanese breakfast (heavy on the fish, light on the toast) on the old postal trail from the delightful Japanese hamlet of Magome through the mountain pass to the equally delightful village of Tsumago. Anything Joanna Lumley can do...

The trail was only about 8km as the red-crowned crane flies but with the ups and downs it was about twice that. It was great fun - winding paths through the hills, thick bamboo forests, the never-melting snow, passing ancient castles, male and female waterfalls, and lots of great views of the mountains.

Japan's really has beautiful countryside and it is quite a revelation to be out of the cities: no concrete, no neon, just lovely houses and amazing landscapes. People say it's the 'real' Japan and I'm minded to agree. 

We even found Joanna Lumley's walking stick.

(Thank you Toby for the fabulous suggest of this part of our trip.)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Japan: Magome...

After the dazzling cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima it's nice to have a bit of downtime in the beautiful village of Magome in the Kiso Valley. 

So quintessentially Japanese it almost seems too good to be true.

We are staying in a classic Royakan with sliding paper doors, communal bathing and communial eating.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Japan: Miyajima...

Located in Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Miyajima is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima. The island is best known for its "floating" torii gate. And it's simply fab. 

Stuart and I arrived having spent the day in Hiroshima so we were a little shell-shocked. So imagine our delight arriving on such an idyll. 

The place is simple enchanting. The ferry brought us over from the mainland to an island where there are precious few cars, a "floating" temple snuggles the beach complete with a "floating" gate out at sea, the whole place is an UNESCO site dating from 593 AD and at dusk delightful lanterns illuminated the sea front.

Japan: Hiroshima...

We traveled down from Kyoto to Hiroshima today to visit the Peace Park and Peace Museum. It was a sobering place with detailed and necessarily graphic detail of the affects of the first atomic bomb dropped on a city.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Japan: Nara, Kyoto and Mark 50th...

On Wednesday we took the bullet train down to Nara passing Mount Fuji en route. Nara is a beautiful ancient capital of Japan densely populated with temples, palaces and deer. Some of which tried to eat my coat.

We then took the train back to Kyoto where we were to stay for a couple of days to celebrate Mark's 50th. Kyoto is another beautiful city packed with castles and temples. Nijo Castle is particular lovely.

On Mark's birthday proper we walked through the famous bamboo forest and ate a traditional vegetarian lunch at a Buddhist temple. After that we took a train up through the valley to marvel at the scenery.