Quote Of The Day

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Hansard @ Lyttleton Theatre ...

"Can we address the elephant in the room?"
"Which one? There's a herd of them."

Last night Stuart, Jane, Sara, and I went to Simon Woods's play Hansard at the Lyttleton Theatre on London's glitzy Southbank.

Woods used to be an actor and this is his first play - and it's a corker. It's a two-hander with wall-to-wall zingers. And a tragic twist that had us in tears.

The 'Hansard' of the title refers to the official report of all UK parliamentary debates. Truths that are recorded for future reference. And the truths revealed here are devastating.

On the National Theatre web site, the play is described as 'touching and original' which does it a bit of a disservice. It is far more than 'touching' and not actually wholly original. But don't let that put you off.

It's a summer's morning in 1988 and Tory politician Robin Hesketh has returned home to the idyllic Cotswold house he shares with his left-leaning wife of 30 years, Diana. But all is not as blissful as it seems. Diana has a stinking hangover, a fox is destroying the garden, and secrets are being dug up all over the place. As the day draws on, what starts as gentle ribbing and the familiar rhythms of marital sparring quickly turns to blood-sport.

Starring two-time Olivier Award winners Lindsay Duncan (note-perfect) and Alex Jennings (excellent) the play evokes the marital viciousness of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and the catty put-downs of The Boys in the Band.

The early wit of the piece soon metamorphoses though into a savage argument as Diana takes on her husband's support for the infamous Section 28 clause in the Local Government Act, in which the government of Margaret Thatcher attempted to ban teaching about the acceptability of homosexuality. That debate is remembered today as one of those moments when English society was asked to define itself, and when Tory politicians imposed a certain view of the values people should live by.

As an attack, and indeed a defence, of now the governing class thinks, it was simply a delight. And cynical as Hell.

"You Torys stay in power by telling us who we should be frightened of - foreigners, gays, travellers - and then offer us a solution to supress those very 'threats'. It's endless - you finding new groups of people to be your 'threats'."

A great first play. I can't wait to see what Simon Woods does next.

And here's a line I'll use at some point...

"No... no.. I can't remember..."
"Can't remember what?"
"Why I married you."

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Cally Clock Tower...

A few weeks ago, Stuart and I went to climb the newly restored 164-year-old Caledonian Park Clock Tower in London's glitzy Islington.

The clock tower has only recently been officially reopened after years of neglect. The tower and the park that surrounds it have a fascinating heritage, the views from the top are spectacular, and what's more - it is free to go up!

James Bunnings' 1855 creation, originally built as part of a huge cattle market, has long stood proud but aloof, a local landmark to be admired from afar, but rarely open to visitors. When the market closed in the 1960s, the tower has served as little more than a folly. Until now.

Now, you can climb its 220 steps to gain magnificent views of north and central London, as well as getting a close-up look at the workings of the turret clock.

The restoration, a new heritage centre, cafe and public toilets around it, were all over-seen by Islington Council, supported by a grant of nearly £2million from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Bit of history of the place...

The clock tower sits in the middle of what was The Metropolitan Cattle Market (later Caledonian Market). The market is just off the Caledonian Road was built by the City of London Corporation and was opened in June 1855 by Prince Albert. The market was supplementary to the meat market at Smithfield and was established to remove the difficulty of managing live cattle at that latter site.

The market was designed by the corporation's architect, James Bunstone Bunning. He had previously drawn up plans to rebuild the cattle market at Smithfield, before the Corporation decided to remove the trade in live animals to a site outside the City itself. Apparently, the smell of the pig shit had become overpowering.

The market originally covered 30 acres of the site and grounds of Copenhagen House (previously a pleasure resort and tea garden). It occupied most of the land between Hungerford Road and Hartham Road (north), Caledonian Road (east), Brandon Road and Blundell Street (south) and York Way (west) and its construction cost the Corporation £300,000. Market Road, North Road, Shearling Way and Brewery Road were internal roads within the market area.

The site was chosen for its proximity to the goods yards of the newly opened Great Northern Railway and North London Railway to the north of Kings Cross station. Livestock could be conveniently transported to the depots before being driven the short distance up York Way to the market or walked down from Junction Road railway station. On market days in excess of 15,000 animals could be traded.

The central market area was arranged in a rectangle with stalls and pens for cattle, sheep and pigs and a 46 metres (151 ft) tall central clock tower. Dealers' offices were arranged in the central area and slaughterhouses were close by. The market was enclosed by cast iron railings, the columns of which were topped with cast iron heads of the animals traded. The railings remain but the heads were removed many years ago.

At each of the corners of the main area, large market pubs provided accommodation and entertainment for those visiting the market. The pubs were named The Lion, The Lamb, The White Horse and The Black Bull. Today, three of the four remain and, with the clock tower, are listed structures. A fifth pub, The Butchers Arms, built to a similar design, was located at the south-west corner of the market site at the junction of York Way and Brewery Road. The building remains.

In the early 20th century, as the trade in live animals diminished, a bric-a-brac market developed, which after the Second World War transferred south of the Thames to become the New Caledonian or Bermondsey Market. The markets in the area of the old Metropolitan Cattle Market finally closed in 1963.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Exhibition @ BFI...

Monday afternoon Stuart and I went to see the temporary exhibition for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance at the BFI on London's glitzy South Bank.

For those of you unaware, Jim Henson's original The Dark Crystal film came out way back in 1982. Not being a big hit at the time, the film went on to find a life on video and then became a bit of a cult classic.

Now Jim Henson's Creature Workshop have worked with Netflix on an all-star prequel called The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance which launches this Friday.

And when I say 'all-star' the voice cast is pretty impressive; including Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Eddie Izzard, Helena Bonham Carter, Shazad Latif, Toby Jones, Lena Headey, Natalie Dormer, Mark Strong, Jason Isaacs, Simon Pegg, Benedict Wong, Harvey Fierstein, Mark Hamill and Sigourney Weaver!

So to coincide with this new series, the temporary exhibition has been created and has been touring.

The exhibition is free (as are the sets of Gelfling ears you get to wear), and consists of puppets and models from the new show, complex animatronics, story boards, behind the scenes videos, and recreations of the sets. There was a quiz too - with prizes (full size posters).

Great fun.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Appropriate @ Donmar Warehouse...

Last Friday night David and I went to see Appropriate at the Donmar Warehouse in London's glitzy West End.

It's hard to believe Appropriate was written way back in 2014; it seems so precisely pointed at the current 'post-truth' culture ushered in by climate change deniers, and boggling accusations of fake news that you'd think Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had penned it within the past few months. It must instead be a testament to the inescapable and unflinching truths that Jacobs-Jenkins' writing brings centre-stage that the play has so much to reflect on in 2019.

Appropriate focuses around the dysfunctional Lafayette family. They have been forced to convene to deal with their recently-deceased father's immensely unkempt plantation house. The family chiefly consist of three siblings; oldest sister, argumentative and devoted Toni (Monica Dolan), middle brother, pragmatic yet money-driven Bo (Steven Mackintosh), and the youngest brother, fraught recovering addict Franz (Edward Hogg).

Tensions rise to extreme levels over the ghosts of their pasts, as they are forced to reconcile with the notion that – being a plantation owner – their father may not have been as good a man as they'd initially thought. Horrific photographs are discovered of slaves being lynched, gruesome human remains are discovered in jars.

The insecurities and inherited generational ignorance are exacerbated further by Toni's reclusive son Rhys (Charles Furness), Franz's notably younger fiancée River (Tafline Steen), and Bo's mothering wife Rachael (Jaimi Barbakoff) and teenage daughter Cassie (Isabella Pappas) who's determined to be treated like an adult. Each character feels like they've been crafted to prod and provoke the others in ways that are a joy to watch. Sparks start to fly.

Ola Ince's direction brings out great performances from all the cast, although Dolan is particularly noteworthy as the ferocious centre of most of the play's conflict. That's not to say that Jacobs-Jenkins' script doesn't give every character a chance to shine; Furness and Pappas, for example, share a sensitive and poignant scene reflecting on the buzz of the cicadas surrounding the house – a cacophony brought to life by Donato Wharton's claustrophobic sound design. Other design elements are equally exceptional, such as the Lafayettes' late father's hoarding realised brilliantly in the overwhelmingly creaky and creepy set from Fly Davis.

And although Appropriate is presented mainly as family drama, there are also undercurrents of horror – characters feel presences, lights flicker, and objects move of their own volition when no-one's in the room. The play gave the impression that these two genres were going to collide spectacularly in the play's climax - but sadly they didn't. There is a bit of a fizzle at the end - an underwhelming montage. Which is a shame, because Appropriate is otherwise an urgent wake-up call to how the way we remember the past could be cataclysmic for the future.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Evita @ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre...

Last night Toby, Andy, Kev, Mark and I went to see Evita at the Open Air Theatre in London's glitzy Regents Park.

Back in 2016, the Open Air Theatre enjoyed tremendous success with an edgy, silver paint and glitter-infused version of another Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic, Jesus Christ Superstar, which returned to the venue for a second sold-out run in 2017 and can currently be seen at the Barbican. This time round it’s Evita getting the open air treatment. Could lightning strike twice?

Well, yes. Ish.

Some shows lend themselves well to the future tinkerings of bold, young directors and some should be delivered straight to the taxidermy room for strict preservation for the rest of eternity.  Which was it to be with Evita? **Spoiler** Bit of column A, bit of column B.

This production of Evita is a very different beast to both that JCS production and to what Evita purists might think of as "their Evita". The way it 'normally gets done.' Because people love this show. They really do. And messing with the classics can be a risky business.

First, the not so good stuff. The production feels strangely stripped back and yet overstuffed at the same time. The set is simply bleachers, or steps, leading downstage making the show effectively a rock concert with a bit of dancing.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, but rock concert lighting can cast shadows both literally and figuratively across any performance. With harsh spotlights you can't always see the actor's face or indeed see what they are trying to get across with their acting. And don't get me started on all those pointless microphone cables - they tried not to trip over - when they all had radio mics!

At the start of Act I when Agustin Magaldi serenades us with "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" I couldn’t help but wonder what the great Harold Prince, the musical’s original director who sadly passed away just over a week ago, would be thinking right now.

But I have admit, this should not really have come as a surprise. Visionary director Jamie Lloyd, who has made a name for himself with daring re-imaginings of classics such as his Olivier-nominated revivals of Piaf and the Scottish play, has, as expected, gone to town with this production. Yes, folks, here is the headline you have been waiting for....  "Oh! What a Circus"! There, I said it! I am not sure I have ever witnessed as many confetti cannons and pyrotechnics in all my years of attending the theatre and I’ve certainly never seen as many impetuously unleashed at the Open Air Theatre before. It was like the Battle of the Somme - only with more canon fire and more smoke.

Add to said smoke flares some spray paint cans, buckets of white paint, buckets of sky blue paint, and glitter galore and you are starting to get the picture.

Lloyd’s motifs are omnipresent and dominant in this production and some land better than others do. For example, his use of balloons works brilliantly during "The Art of the Possible" musical number as those generals who would oppose the corrupt Argentinian regime are underhandedly 'silenced,' signified on stage by the bursting of their respective balloons. Some choices may come across as a little too abstract though, such as the decimation of Che, who strips down to his underwear towards the end of the production before Eva herself attacks him with buckets of paint and a bucket of confetti.

Trent Saunders’ portrayal of Che, complete with khaki pants and a red T-shirt sporting the epochal image of Che Guevara, is a misfire in the sense that the character staggers around the stage angrily, disorientated, or even seemingly inebriated at times and therefore no longer commands our attention, as the character should. Saunders undoubtedly has the talent and the vocals in his arsenal; it would have been intriguing to experience a more authoritative or else more sympathetic interpretation.

Samantha Pauly and Ektor Rivera are both physically stunning and well matched as Eva and Juan Perón, respectively, and Pauly delivers the big numbers like "Buenos Aires" and the immortal "Don’t Cry For Me Argentina" effortlessly. Spending most of the show in her loose-fitting slip, symbolic of Eva’s lower-class beginnings as well as the bedroom, where she would instigate her rise through the ranks of society, it is only in the dying moments of the show (after Eva’s untimely death) that we finally see Pauly kitted out in the classic white, sparkling dress, jewellery and blonde wig. She raises her arms in the air to give the audience that iconic pose, etched in musical theatre history forever, and freezes like a glorious tombstone as the lights fade to black... and most of the Evita purists in attendance finally got a glimpse of what they came for.

A great show. An inventive production. That (mostly) works.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Scientist, war hero and gay icon Alan Turing is new face of the £50 note...

Legendary codebreaker and father of theoretical computer science Alan Turing will soon be gracing your pocket on the side of a shiny new £50 note.

The cash will feature a portrait of Turing, the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) developed by the man, a mathematical table from a seminal paper on computable numbers, the blueprints of the British version of Bombe – one of the primary tools used to break Enigma-enciphered messages during WWII – and a string of binary code denoting Turing's birthday.

It will also include Turing's prescient quote on computing, given in 1949: "This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be."

Turing was chosen out of a list of 989 British science luminaries suggested by the public, beating such contenders as Charles Babbage, Dorothy Hodgkin and Stephen Hawking.

The new polymer note is scheduled to enter circulation by the end of 2021.

Turing developed the theory that underpins all modern computers while working at the National Physical Laboratory and later at the University of Manchester. He also devised the Turing test – a thought experiment that attempts to define a standard for a machine to be called "intelligent".

During the war, Turing was working for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, where he played a pivotal role in cracking intercepted messages encoded with the Enigma machine, helping the Allies defeat the Nazis.

Despite his many achievements, Turing was persecuted by the state for his homosexuality – which was a crime in the UK at the time. Instead of being rewarded for his wartime heroics, he was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration using Diethylstilbestrol (DES), in a horrible process with a variety of side-effects. The alternative was prison.

After suffering from side-effects, Turing killed himself in 1954 by ingesting cyanide by the way of a poisoned apple – although rumours that he was poisoned by government spooks have endured to this day.

The UK government publicly apologised for the treatment of Turing in 2009, and he and another 59,000 men were officially pardoned by the Queen in 2013.

"As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing's contributions were far ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand," said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Fleabag @ Wyndham's Theatre......

Last night I went to the first night of the critically acclaimed multi-award winning production of Fleabag at the Wyndham's Theatre in London glitzy West End.

Returning to its birth as a one-woman show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning comedic play is a triumph.

For the uninitiated, Fleabag is a rip-roaring look at some sort of woman(!) living some sort of life(!). Fleabag may seem oversexed, emotionally unfiltered and self-obsessed, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With family and friendships under strain and a guinea pig café struggling to keep afloat, Fleabag suddenly finds herself with nothing to lose.

The play inspired the hit television series - much ground of which is retrod tonight - and then transferred to a sold-out run in New York. Directed by Vicky Jones, the show has come home to London for just 30 performances.

It's filthy, funny, snarky and touching. A suitable swansong to a great piece of work.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Southern Belles @ King's Head

Last Friday night I went to see two one-act plays at the King's Head theatre in London's glitzy Upper Street,

Presented together as Southern Belles as the headline production of the King's Head's 2019 Queer Season, the two plays were And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens, and Something Unspoken, two rarely performed pieces by Tennessee Williams.

And Tell Sad Stories of the Deaths of Queens was never performed in Williams's lifetime, owing to its openly gay characters. Williams wrote the play in 1957, after his Broadway successes with Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

The play charts the heart-breaking encounter between an extraordinary drag queen Candy Delaney (Luke Mullins) and a troubled sailor Karl (George Fletcher) in 1950's New Orleans and explores the boundaries of love, passion and heartbreak. The strain of Candy’s longing is clearly visible in Mullins’ performance. Fletcher cuts an imposing figure as Karl: aggressive and manipulative on the outside, he lets Karl’s emotional turmoil shine through.

Something Unspoken was written in 1958 and debuted as part of a double bill with Suddenly, Last Summer. In this piece, tensions between a wealthy Southern spinster, Miss Cornelia Scott (Annabel Leventon), and Grace (Fiona Marr), her loyal secretary of 15 years, boil over in a confrontation that exposes their complex, unacknowledged and romantic yearning for each other.

The plays were both short - and very, very good. Tone-perfect, sultriness and sweaty unrequited sexuality simply oozed from the stage.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet @ Sadler's Wells...

Last week Stuart and I went to see Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet at the Sadler's Wells theatre in London's glitzy Rosebery Avenue.

And in a nutshell, Bourne's latest take on a classic was simply great.

The show was a passionate and contemporary re-imagining of Shakespeare’s classic love story populated by lust-crazed teens and set to Prokofiev’s wonderful score. What’s not to like?

Set inside an asylum known as the Verona Institute, our Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) is used and abused by one of the guards, Tybalt. Danced with conviction by Dan Wright, he is a brute, a bully and an abuser, who hits on Juliet and rapes her within the first few minutes of the show. Yes, Juliet needs help and is holding out for a hero.

Institutionalised by his dreadful parents Senator and Mrs Montague, Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) soon arrives on the scene. He meets, falls in love, and fights to save our love-struck Juliet with equal gusto. Accidents do happen though, and during a psychotic break Juliet rather lets Romeo down in a rather stabby way.

The cast are all magnificent. Young and fresh, their dancing is vivid and expressive. Bourne has coached them well and their ensemble pieces are at once reminiscent of the demons welcoming Orpheus's descent into the underworld and moments later of the bleachers scene from Grease's Summer Nights.

A joy.

Friday, August 16, 2019

RIP Keith Archer

Stu’s Dad passed away earlier today. At just 77 years old he was taken too soon. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Gingerline: Chambers_

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to a secret glitzy location to take part in a secret event called Chambers_ - one of Gingerline's latest events.

For nearly two hours we were whisked to different culinary worlds.

I can't tell you too much about it or what happened within the event- we are sworn to secrecy - but I can tell you it was lot of fun, the food was great, and the 'social' at the end was fab.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Eurythmics Songbook @ Royal Festival Hall...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went to watch Dave Steward perform the Eurythmics Songbook at the Royal Festival Hall on London's glitzy South Bank.

Asked by Nile Rogers to perform the Eurythmics hits - and with Annie Lennox not being involved (see others for comments on this) - we weren't sure what to expect.

Would it simply be a karaoke night? We needn't have worried - it was great.

Thumbing through his extensive little black book, Stewart knows a few people in the business to step into Annie's big shoes. And step they did.

Ryan Molloy, Emeli Sande, Beverley Knight, Folami and Kimberley Davis all sang beautifully.

We were treated to all the hits (well, most of them), a dazzling light show, a gospel choir, and the obligatory confetti canon.

By the end we were all up on our feet dancing and singing away.

It was a great night out.


Take Me To Your Heart
Never Gonna Cry Again
The Walk
The City Never Sleeps

Love is a Stranger (with Ryan Molloy)
I Love You Like a Ball and Chain (with Iris Gold)
I Need a Man (with Django Stewart)
You Have Placed A Chill in My Heart (with RAHH)
I Saved the World Today (with RAHH & Roo Savill)
Who's That Girl (with Roo Savill)
There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart) (with Emeli Sandé)
Miracle of Love (with Emeli Sandé)
When Tomorrow Comes
(My My) Baby's Gonna Cry
Thorn in My Side (with Ryan Molloy)
Here Comes the Rain Again (with RAHH)
When the Day Goes Down (with Kaya Stewart)
I've Got a Life (with Kaya Stewart)
It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back) (with Chic feat. Nile Rodgers)
Missionary Man (with Chic feat. Nile Rodgers)
Would I Lie to You? (with Beverley Knight)
Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves (with Beverley Knight)
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (with Beverley Knight)

Particularly lovely to bump into the lovely David, Nathan, Stuart, Luca, Stuart and Paul too!

Friday, August 09, 2019

A Midsummer Night's Dream @ Bridge Theatre...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Nicolas Hytner’s latest interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Bridge Theatre in London's glitzy London Bridge Quarter.

The Bridge has billed this latest production as immersive, but in fact it's really just old-fashioned promenade for the groundlings in the pit, who mill around or are shunted about a bit. The actors appear on various platforms that rise and descend around them, mostly containing variations of beds. And, we got shunted about. A lot.

The star attraction this time around is Gwendoline Christie (playing both Hippolyta and Titania), who was catapulted to fame thanks to her role as Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series Game of Thrones. Here she is joined not by White Walkers but by David Moorst, Hammed Animashaun, and Oliver Chris.

And they serve her very well; Oliver Chris’s Oberon is very funny, while Hammed Animashaun plays Bottom to perfection, and Moorst is agile as Puck.

Few plays offer themselves to as much gender-fluidity as easily as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, full, as it is, of transient passions and illicit affairs. Hytner’s staging dives right in, even swapping the roles of Oberon and Titania (so that Oberon falls in love with the ass-headed Bottom).

Hytner’s handling of the text is equally fluid. Hey, Shakespeare can withstand all manner of cuts, changes, and swaps. But some of the changes seemed a little haphazard here. What was undoubtedly on the money, though, was the staging, that was both exuberant and energetic.

In fact, this irreverent interpretation had the atmosphere of a party - by the end the whole thing sort of collapses into a massive cast-audience dance party – complete with giant moon balls!

A fun night out.

Thursday, August 08, 2019