Quote Of The Day

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

India Day 2 : Bombay - The Great Divide

Sited on what were once mudflats on the western coast of India, Mumbai (a.k.a Bombay) has risen to become one of the world's great cities. It boasts some of the most expensive property in the world, yet at the same time has a serious problem with poverty, as homeless migrants continue to pour into the city.

This great divide in wealth we saw very clearly today, our first full day in India. 

We drove past...

Exhibit A - The Rich
A $2 billion house, 27 stories, 650 servants, 3 helipads, 3 swimming pools, 3 floors of parking (for 160 cars), cinema, kitchens, 45 bedrooms etc, etc, etc.
Population 6 (1 man, 1 wife, 1 mother, 3 kids)
FYI the man is hated by most Indians as he gives nothing to charity

A few streets away....

Exhibit B - The Poor
Dharavi slum
Population 1 million people (10 million people live in one of Mumbai’s 2000 slums. That’s 50% of the population!)
Age 178 yrs old
Most densely populated area on the planet. 
700 toilets (for 1 million people!)

That said, the Dharavi slum can be incredible welcoming. And quite some spectacle to visit. We know because we took a slum tour (I hasten to add it was a tour that was hosted by someone who lives in a slum and the money goes to run one of the education centres in the slum). 

Slums in India are defined as anything illegally built on government land. In reality they are hives of activity - no beggars, everyone was working to improve their lot - as either potters, tanners, drapiers, artisans, mechanics, or manufacturers. The chaos is beautifully organised. And profitable. 

By far the biggest industry in Dharavi however is recycling. Imagine the biggest rubbish dump in the world, then double it, then double it again. Then sort this mountain of rubbish into neat piles. Piles sorted by material, by size, by shape, and by colour. Then clean, repair, crush, melt, smelt, and resell absolutely everything. Aluminium and tin is melted down in foundries. Plastic is sorted, cleaned, cut and remolded. Cloth is shredded and respun. Nothing is wasted. The GDP of this slum alone is US$ 1 billion. 

Slum workers are paid a pitance however - on average 500 rupees (£5) per day - or, if skilled in making say machinery or stitching suitcases - 1500 rupees (£15) per day. Most workers live in the slum factories where they work as they can't afford to rent due to Mumbai's property prices. 

To give you some idea, education (which you must pay for) cost 10,000 rupees per school year per child. The poverty trap keeps the poor poor. 

That said, during our tour, we saw lots of facilities - churches, mosques, temples, a wedding venue, doctors, pharmacies, loads of markets, restaurants, shops, and even a unisex gym. And people seemed genuinely happy. The kids kept practising their English on us and asking us our names. The adults did too!

There was no smell to speak of and the place was very clean. We even saw a woman washing her front step. Although upon closed inspection her front step actually seemed to be her master bedroom. No room for a helipad here. 

It was only our first day here in India but we have already seen some of its her extremes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

India Day 1 : Heathrow

So we are off on our holidays. Three weeks in India. Can’t wait. 

Neither of us have been to India before so we are really looking forward to it. 

We are flying out of Heathrow terminal 5 First Class. That means we get to enjoy the Concorde Lounge and a visit to the spa first. 

Concorde Lounge? First Class? Spa?
Stuart has changed!


Monday, October 29, 2018

Company "Successfully Gielgud-ed the lily" @CompanyWestEnd "Shouldn't have favourites, but @JonnyBailey @AlexGaumond are show-stealing." Review--->

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Marianne Elliott's magnificent production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Company at the Gielgud Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

★★★★★ Daily Telegraph
★★★★★ Evening Standard
★★★★★ The Sunday Times
★★★★★ The Observer
★★★★★ Metro
★★★★★ Time Out
★★★★★ The i
★★★★★ Daily Mirror
★★★★★ The Stage
★★★★★ Radio Times
★★★★★ WhatsOnStage

We were hoping that these ridiculous number of five stars reviews were justified. They were. It was a fabulous production of a fabulous show. The songs were memorable, the story funny, the acting spot-on, the band gorgeous, the set magnificent, the direction perfect, and the singing sublime.

Premiering in 1970 as a musical about contemporary attitudes to sexuality and relationship status, it ruffled feathers back then, won awards and revealed that musicals could be serious as well as filled with pizzazz. Marianne Elliott’s new production reverses most gender roles, giving a powerful and fizzy look at a single urban woman’s life as she hits 35, pulling no punches as the show looks at marriage, choices, friendship, and whether or not all candles need to be blown out on a cake for a wish to be counted. It fits so neatly and so vibrantly that it instantly feels like this is what Company could have been all along, we just missed that one little element. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they have successfully Gielgud-ed the lily.

Changing the roles means more than just changing names and costumes. Stephen Sondheim has reworked some lyrics and songs for the production – altering attitudes, emphases and wording to reflect the new focus of the show. It still follows the main character through a series of illustrative vignettes on the day of their 35th birthday – a collection of thoughts and scenes describing an emotional, rather than narrative, arc. Witnessing the various positive and negative states of her friends’ marriages and divorces, Bobbie reflects on her own situation with the boys she goes out with, reflecting (perhaps discovering) her own true wants and needs.

As Bobbie, Rosalie Craig is a whizz. Beautiful vocals, charisma to spare and comic ability to break a full auditorium with little more than an eyebrow raise. It is just a mature, engaging, memorable and enjoyable performance, simple as that. Craig’s singing is top notch and would steal the show in most other productions in town. Sadly, for her, alongside the great Patti Lupone and the rest of a superbly capable cast she will have to be happy as just one of many fine singers. Each number is delivered with creativity in the music, choreography (Liam Steel) and staging, with the genuine highlight being the level of sass the three boys (Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo, Richard Fleeshman as Andy, and George Blagden as PJ) manage when performing the cracking You Could Drive a Person Crazy. It would be easy to detail the individual achievements of each cast member, but there is a word limit and really all that needs to be said is that every one of them comfortable shares a stage with Patti Lupone and Rosalie without a single dud in the pack.

That said, and I know we should not have favourites, but Jonathan Bailey and Alex Gaumond's turn as a same-sex couple hesitating over marriage, is simply show stealing. As Bailey said, "You literally do not have to change a word and suddenly you have a really honest, searing presentation of a man who is treading water between queer culture and the heteronormative ideal of marriage. That contradiction and debate is so relevant right now." And it is very, very funny to boot.

Supported by a very clean set design from Bunny Christie and an excellent musical backing throughout, this is a musical that feels brand new. The update to the lyrics feel natural, the characters are well written (though some, like Andy the air steward a little superficial) and the comedy sharp.

In 1970 Bobby the bachelor was the right choice for Company. It is a great part, super character and is a fantastic vessel for a story about marriage and relationships in a world where the old structure of these things was changing. Now though, Bobbie fits perfectly. It’s a modern musical for a modern audience – intelligent and fun. This feels exactly like how a new production of a classic should be done. Five stars!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Landscape / A Kind of Alaska / Monologue / Apart From That - "Haunting. And hilarious" - @JamieLloydCo #PinteratthePinter @HPinterTheatre #PinterThree

Last night Stuart and I went to see an amazingly dynamic and varied collection of Harold Pinter pieces at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Billed as part of the Pinter at the Pinter season, this night was called "Pinter Three" being the third collection. Superbly directed by Jamie Lloyd, it was a top night of potent and very funny sketches, songs, and plays by the great man.

The cast were top notch too - Keith Allen, Lee Evans, Tamsin Greig, Meera Syal, Tom Edden were all excellent.

The night started with Landscape - a minimalist marvel: a woman (Tamsin Greig) is locked in a beautiful memory and her husband (Keith Allen) demands to be heard. In the play, the couple seemingly don't hear each other - they just sit and recount their dreams and talk at each other not listening. We wondered whether the woman was in fact dead and simply in the man's imagination. A treatise in loneliness and isolation. Brilliant.

We were then treated to a selection of comedic sketches starring the rest of the cast including the famous sketch Apart From That, with Meera Syal and Lee Evans. "How are you?" "Fine" "Yes, but apart from that?"

One of the sketches with Keith Allen, Lee Evans, and Tom Edden all dressed as women gossiping about their trip to the butcher's was hilarious.

The first half then ended with Lee Evans performing the poignant Monologue. Was his imaginary friend dead?

In the second half, the sketches continued as did the laughter.

To finish the night off we were treated to the final play, A Kind of Alaska. This was another spellbinding evocation of loneliness, isolation and the strange mists of time. Deborah (Tamsin Greig) awakes from a twenty-nine-year sleep and is suspended between the conscious and unconscious worlds. Her doctor (Keith Allen) and sister (Meera Syal) are at a lost of what to say. How to tell her who is dead and who is alive. Or was perhaps Deborah herself dead? Haunting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World "It was British eccentricity at its best. And we simply loved it" @AndrewLoganAMW @AMW_2018 @The_Globe #AlternativeMissWorld #AMW18

Last Saturday night Oliver, Martin, Stuart, Luca, Stuart and I (and a few hundred other freaks) went to watch (experience? witness? revel in? be subjected to? wonder at?) Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World at Shakespeare's Globe in London's glitzy South Bank.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before. When we arrived Ollie suggested we go down the front and he was not wrong. We sure copped an eye full.

The structure was like the regular Miss World competition or any other 'beauty' contest - a number of contestants (seventeen in total) paraded before us in first day-wear, then swim-wear and finally evening-wear before being asked a couple of inane questions about world peace.

However, here any similarity to a regular well-behaved beauty pageant ended. Even though the theme of the night was peace - Psychedelic Peace – it was war up there. A battle to be the best. The ‘best’ what though was anyone’s guess!

Judges for the night included Grayson Perry, Jarvis Cocker, and Zandra Rhodes among others.

And the contestants certainly didn't disappoint. Each person's 'dress' (a loose term) was bigger and more spectacular than the last. Some of the contestants’ outfits even came with accessories - and by accessories, I mean additional people, props, wheels, balloons, machinery, hydraulics, bubbles, balls, paper aeroplanes, live animals, and in one case, an entire game show set!

Outrageous, bizarre, funny, queer, colourful, eccentric, inclusive, dazzling, OTT, thought-provoking, stunning, colossal, gay, loud, charming, chaotic, sweet, extremely ude, crude, clever, strange, flashy, shocking, subversive, bright, naked, and at times simply astounding.

In-between each round came some entertainment (a colourful rocker, four queer little people dancing to Divine, and a transvestite English folk dancing troupe) and thank goodness, it did. These inter-lulls gave us some respite from the onslaught on our senses.

Like a big can of rainbow paint had been thrown at a LGBT hippy commune. It was Drag AgitProp meets Old Time Music Hall meets a pansexual Seaside Special meets Crufts meets X Factor meets Duckie meets a very camp Christmas panto.

It was British eccentricity at its best. And we simply loved it.

When it comes back - we will be down the front again for sure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Porgy and Bess "A solid production of a solid show" @E_N_O ---> review --->

Last Friday night Paul, Stuart and I went to see Porgy and Bess at the London Coliseum in London's glitzy West End.

Billed as The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess (although adapted by DuBose Heyward from his and Dorothy Heyward's play) the show is set in 1920s South Carolina and tells the story of Porgy, a disabled black street-beggar living in the slums of Charleston. It deals with his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin' Life, her drug dealer. Can Bess's love for Porgy could save her from a dark past, or do old habits die hard?

Written in 1935 from the outset, the opera's depiction of African-Americans attracted controversy. Problems with the racial aspects of the opera continue to this day. Indeed several of the members of the original cast stated that they had concerns that their characters might play into a stereotype that African Americans lived in poverty, took drugs and solved their problems with their fists.

The belief that Porgy and Bess was racist gained strength during the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power movement of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. As these movements advanced, Porgy and Bess was seen as more and more out of date. When the play was revived in the 1960s, social critic and African-American educator Harold Cruse called it, "The most incongruous, contradictory cultural symbol ever created in the Western World."

Perhaps unsurprisingly Gershwin's all-black opera was also unpopular with some celebrated black artists. Harry Belafonte declined to play Porgy in the late 1950s film version, so the role went to Sidney Poitier. Betty Allen, president of The Harlem School of the Arts, admittedly loathed the piece, and Grace Bumbry, who excelled in the 1985 Metropolitan Opera production as Bess, made the often cited statement, "I thought it beneath me, I felt I had worked far too hard, that we had come far too far to have to retrogress to 1935. My way of dealing with it was to see that it was really a piece of Americana, of American history, whether we liked it or not. Whether I sing it or not, it was still going to be there."

Over time, however, the opera has gained acceptance from the opera community and some (though not all) in the African-American community. Maurice Peress stated in 2004 that "Porgy and Bess belongs as much to the black singer-actors who bring it to life as it does to the Heywards and the Gershwins." Indeed, Ira Gershwin stipulated that only blacks be allowed to play the lead roles when the opera was performed in the United States, launching the careers of several prominent opera singers.

Politics aside, the ENO performance was very good if somewhat stylised. For the most of the three-hour performance the 60-strong cast members were on stage. That said, both baddies - Nmon Ford’s Crown and Frederick Ballentine’s Sporting Life - were played as lively and three-dimensional villains. Our hero and heroine were solidly performed too. Nicole Cabell's Bess perhaps lacking some of the vocal power that Eric Greene's Porgy displayed however.

The biggest hits from the show are probably Summertime, I Got Plenty o' Nuttin, It Ain't Necessarily So and I Loves You, Porgy. The first of these, Summertime, opened the show and as soon as Nadine Benjamin launched into her sweet rendition, we knew we were in safe hands.

A solid production of a solid show.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Emma, Carolina, and Ignacio...

Yesterday Stuart and I spent a lovely day with Emma, Carolina, and Ignacio. They treated us to lunch, we did some drawing, had  a little lesson about space and lizards and dinosaurs, and laughed a lot.

What a smart boy Ignacio is. He's aged 5 but growing up so fast. He did a drawing of the sun for me using golden tape and of Spikey Snake for Uncle Stuart. They are now proudly displayed on our fridge door at home.

Sarah, Christopher and the Kids...

Last week Stuart and I met up with Christopher (who I had not seen in 12 years!), Sarah and the kids (Dylan, Lola, and Eve) - who will be turning 13 very soon!

We went out for something to eat, did a bit of shopping, and played some video games. Great fun.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Wild Duck @AlmeidaTheatre ... ---> review --->

Last night Stuart and I went to see a new production of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's 1884 tragicomedy masterpiece The Wild Duck at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Directed by Robert Icke and designed by Bunny Christie the production is a new version, and nothing less than a new take on the concept of "the truth."

At the start, the stage is well lit but empty. Kevin Harvey, one of the actors, comes out. "Turn your phones off. Turn them off now," he says. People check their phones. "They only tell you lies."

So starts just over two hours of a meta / post-modern take on an odd story of two friends and their complex relationship with the truth. 

Kevin Harvey plays one of the friends, Gregers, the son of Håkon (Nicholas Day). Edward Hogg plays the other, Hjalmar, son of Ekdal (Nicholas Farrell.)

Hjalmar's wife Gina (Lyndsey Marshal) used to work for Håkon and she lives along with her husband and daughter Hedvig (played tonight by Grace Doherty) in a house paid for by Håkon. In fact, Håkon seems to be paying money to Ekdal too. And to Gina. Håkon looms large over their entire family. And Gregers will stop at nothing to get the truth behind his father's deception. Nothing.

At the start, the actors frequently break out of their on-stage roles using a handheld microphone. As the action progresses though this theatrical device is gradually undermined as the other characters start to realise what is going on and characters start to interact with the actors playing them.

It is a fun trick and helps to bring the piece alive. The actors finally stop pretending to be characters and end up speaking directly to the audience. What is truth and what is lies?

But, what price truth? A high one as it turns out.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sir Ian McKellen "A good vintage. A long peppery nose. A fruity character. A nice finish. Goes down well. Gets better with age. Goes with anything." @IanMcKellen

Last Sunday afternoon "Sir Ian McKellen" joined Stuart and I for Sunday dinner.

A good vintage.
A long peppery nose.
A fruity character.
A nice finish.
Goes down well.
Gets better with age.
Goes with anything.