Quote Of The Day

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

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Glass Menagerie @ The Duke of York's Theatre...

Last Friday Stuart and I went to see an ambitious new production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie at The Duke of York's Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Starring six-time Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, for me it was a bit of a disappointment.

Prior productions positively sing with broody of regret, undertones of homosexuality, and betrayal. Here they were in short supply.

Devastated by her husband’s abandonment, Amanda Wingfield (Amy Adams, admittedly excellent) obsesses over the futures of her restless son, Tom (Tom Glynn-Carney), and emotionally vulnerable daughter, Laura (Lizzie Annis in her stage debut). Years later, through the fractured prism of memory, Tom (confusingly concurrently on stage but played by Paul Hilton) reflects on the crushing pressures placed on his sister to secure a suitor (Victor Alli), and the betrayal inflicted by his pursuit of freedom.

Acclaimed director, Jeremy Herrin litters the stage with random furniture and still more random blocking decisions. The large glass cases of glass figurines seemed almost in the way. The sides of the stage were littered with chairs and desks. The actors were cramped. They seemed unsure, which got in the way of the story telling. Never a good thing.

What should have been a powerful meditation on the fragility of memory was for me an exercise in the memory of much better productions. Which is a shame considering all the talent at its disposal.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Le Bal De Paris @ the Barbican Centre...

Yesterday lunchtime Stuart and I we went to see (experience?) Le Bal De Paris at the Barbican Centre. “Glitzy” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Probably, no definitely, it was the most amazing virtual experience we have ever had the privilege to be immersed within.

To start we are slung with a back pack, then sensors on your wrists and ankles, and finally a head-set and headphones. Hold your arms out and zap! Suddenly you are in a completely alternate digital world. Avatar style. Metaverse come alive. The body-tracking technology follows your every move.

We chose a glamorous costume (Stu and I both chose different Chanel dresses), a character’s head (Stu a dog, me a fox) and we were all set. As you look down at yourself your clothes flow and ripple as you move. If you look into a virtual mirror in the virtual dressing room you see your virtual-self move in real-time, life size.

Where once we were standing with eight other patrons in VR kit we are now with ten glamorous animals all laughing at themselves and their digital selves. Dressed to the nines.

We are encouraged to board a platform which then glides towards some doors that swing open to reveal a large blue hallway boarded on each side with dozens of large blue harps being played by mythical creatures. The harps part ways to allow us through as the music swells.

We float towards the end of the majestic blue hall where our platform stops and an old-fashioned lift envelopes us as if by magic.

The lift jolts (or we think it does) and we journey up a dozen or so floors. The doors eventually open and we step out onto a gold gilded platform that floats us out into a cathedral like grand dance hall high above the ground. It's a monumental ballroom. The virtual space is enormous. There are multiple levels plunging down and thrusting up way above our heads. Each level has hundreds of individual figures dancing, lounging, playing instruments. Far ahead of us a huge orchestra has its own platform playing a sweeping classical dance. I really can’t tell you how detailed the realisation is. And how huge the room is - maybe 500m wide and 1000m deep.

We are encouraged to dance on our platform too. There are suddenly two other real-life performers as avatars and a third virtual dancer telling us a story of love and dance. Stu and I do a bit of honey cokey and Status Quo dancing for fun.

Our platform gradually turns and rises up and up through the massive hall as we dance.

At the top it approaches a door which slides open to reveal a dock with a launch bobbing on a calm sea. The sea stretches out to the horizon, a huge blue sky above us and a coast far off to the left and the right.

The launch sets sail straight out to sea as we leave the coast behind. Dolphins with creatures on their backs dance around the surf. Fish jump. Huge fountains rise out of the waves, massive plants and flowers dance in the water. We navigate through a floating garden of seahorse statues, towering structures of dancing creatures and cascading water.

We disembark onto a stonework dock. There is a bright green privet maze leading off to one corner which soon we negotiate. In the middle of the maze is a magical walled garden with a party going on. There are dancing creatures and characters straight out of Alice In Wonderland. We are again encouraged to join in the dancing, waltzing around the garden. It’s quite magical.

Then a tram arrives. We all board it as it leaves the garden heading down a track at great speed. We twist and turn eventually arriving in Paris. We drive through the twilight 1890s streets ending up outside an impressive building called Mimi’s. We exit the tram, and enter the building. It’s a sort of Folies Bergère. There is a jazz band in the foyer. We walk into a side room where there are peep holes to secret rooms with seductive creatures lounging. We navigate the little side corridors and hidden doorways until we eventually we find ourselves on a stage surrounded by a ring of long-legged dancing girls (with fox heads). We dance and perform, whirling around with the can-can dancers. The music whirls and whirls and gets louder and louder. Eventually it reaches a crescendo and a huge audience is revealed in front of us. Wild applause and we all take a bow.

As the applause subsides a voice whispers, "please remove your mask". And we do.

We are suddenly back in the room deep in the bowels of the Barbican Centre. The room we never left. Looking at the other eight people in their VR kit. We are all speechless.

One of our number falls to her knees. She’s feeling overwhelmed. Needs sugar. The rest of us return our kit and thank our guide profusely. Everyone is buzzing and talking about what we have just experienced. Wow!

It was quite a mind-blowing VR show. Massive worlds full of Parisian glamour, dancing and showbiz.

The show was developed by world-renowned Spanish choreographer Blanca Li. Le Bal de Paris won the Lion of the Best VR Experience from the 78th Venice International Film Festival. All the digital costume design was by Chanel. The virtuosic musical score was by Tao Gutiérrez. We were taken on a journey from classical waltz to a rip-roaring wild Cancan finale through a universe as poetic as it is fantastic.

If you ever get a chance to experience it. Do. It is utterly amazing.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Family and The Assassin @ Olivier Theatre "We loved it. We found a lot out. And we fell in love with Shubham Saraf just that little bit more."

Mahatma Gandhi (Paul Bazely - yes, him off of Benidorm) is a lawyer, a champion of non-violence, and a beloved leader of India.

Nathuram Godse (Shubham Saraf - yes, him off of Heartstopper) is a journalist, a nationalist – and the man who murdered him.

This is the story of that murder. And as Godse states at the start, why we will put statues up to celebrate him for his act of violence.

Last night Stuart and I went to see Anupama Chandrasekhar's grippy play The Family and The Assassin at Olivier Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

It’s exciting to see such epic, and bold political play of Indian history commanding the National Theatre’s main stage. In it, Anupama Chandrasekhar artfully unpicks the forces of history with a tale of violence and colonialism that echoes into today.

The story traces Godse’s life over thirty years during India’s fight for independence: from a devout follower of Gandhi, through to his radicalisation and their tragic final encounter in Delhi in 1948.

Director Indhu Rubasingham reunites with Chandrasekhar, one of India’s most exciting playwrights, for this essential exploration of oppression and extremism.

We loved it. We found a lot out. And we fell in love with Shubham Saraf just that little bit more. What an actor. On stage for two and half hours taking the audience with him on every step of radicalisation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

xPropaganda @TheGarageHQ "The first time I met Claudia Brücken in 1985 I fell in love. The second time I almost got thrown out. Last night I fell all over again" Review ->

The first time I met Claudia Brücken I fell in love. The second time I almost got thrown out.
In late May 1985 me and a couple of my Uni mates got a train down to the Ambassadors Theatre in that there glitzy London. We were there to catch an early promotional showcase by record label ZTT at a week-long residency called "The Value of Entertainment". When we got there the auditorium was full of journos and few fans of Frankie Goes To Hollywood (not that they were in attendance), of The Art of Noise, and of Propaganda. Propaganda's first two singles (Dr. Mabuse and Duel) had at that point fared quite successfully in the charts. We were keen to see what FGTH and AON's label stablemates were like live. Our hopes were high.
The showcase started with the Art of Noise (Paul Morley addressing the audience after three dancers had performed to some AON tracks), then Anne Pigalle, then Andrew Poppy, and then Instinct. Foot tapping with impatience we wait. And waited. Then the interval came. Ho hum. Off for a drink.
Back in our seats and suddenly here they were. Right in front of us. Propaganda in the flesh. They had finally, magically appeared on stage before our very eyes and we were simply beside ourselves. We later discovered that they had been joined on stage by former Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes and ex-Japan drummer Steve Jansen, but we didn't know that then. We just knew we were super excited. 
The band was due to debut their new single p:Machinery. We edged forward in our seats. 
And then, it started; power, force, motion, drive. Power, force, motion, drive. It was epic. And we loved it. We danced about in our seats and applauded wildly when they finished. Bravo! Bravo! Another hit!
So excited were we that on the way out of the theatre we bought tickets for the following night. So we traipsed all the way back to Uni getting the last train and then all the way back again to London the following evening. We'd be hearing p:Machinery twice in one week! Yay!
So on that second night we waited impatiently in our seats once again. Surrounded by a completely different set of fellow audience members who, like the previous night, had absolutely no idea what they were about to hear. Lucky us. We wanted to tell eveyone what they were going to hear. But we didn't - we're not complete knobs. Or so we thought.
The first half dragged even more than the night before. Come on. Come on.
Eventually the lights dimmed again in the second half and sure enough Propaganda took to the stage once again. We were overcome with excitement. There a hush. You could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. Wait for it....  The opening bars of p:Machinery started....
And three things happened all at once. Each in almost slow motion.
We three rose as one, jumping up high screaming at the top our voices almost launching ourselves at the stage in excitement wildly applauding and cheering.
Four security men all took a large stride towards us.
The band recoiled and stopped the playback. They stared at us. The entire audience turned round to look at us. Silence. Oh shit. One of the security men edged along the seating. He took what seemed like an eternity. He reached us and told us to sit down and stay sat down. We did. Red-faced. Earth swallow us up. Please!
Looking back, we were being complete knobs. We really were. But we were just so excited to hear a song that we knew was brilliant and that no one else in the venue apart from the ZTT label and band had heard before. And of course, the band had stopped because they were actually recording the performance for release later (or so we discovered).  
Luckily no restraining order was issued then or now. 
Hence my ability last night, 37 years later, to enter The Garage in London's glitzy Islington unhindered to see p:Machinery performed live once again.
Propaganda as a band are now defunct of course but we (Darren, Eddie, Niall, Sam, I and many other men of certain age) were there to see it's latest phoenix like incarnation - xPropaganda. Claudia Brücken, Susanne Freytag and producer Steve Lipson are back together as xPropaganda, promoting their new album The Heart Is Strange at a one-off gig.
The Heart Is Strange is great album. Not scaring the horses, or indeed fans of Propaganda's seminal album A Secret Wish, it is an album full of lovely ethereal songs touched with Lipson's knob-twiddling genius. And Claudia Brücken's ice-queen vocals give a suitably deadpan, note-perfect performance in wonderfully stark contrast to those dreamy songs. It is a juxtaposition that really worked. Especially when perfomed live, as evident on-stage last night.
At her side Susanne Freytag banged the drum (both figuratively and literally) for spoken-word co-vocal performer of the night.  And Steve twiddled his knobs.
And when the opening notes of p:Machinery started up at the end I shrieked. I jumped up and down. And I danced like it was May 1985. This time with no security men to stop me, I fell in love all over again.
Set List
The Night
Chasing Utopia
Beauty Is Truth
Only Human
Don't (You Mess with Me)
No Ordinary Girl
The Wolves Are Returning
Dr. Mabuse
The Murder of Love
Sorry for Laughing (Josef K cover)
Ribbons Of Steel


Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The House of Shades @ Almeida Theatre...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Beth Steel's The House of Shades at the Almeida Theatre in London's glitzy Islington.

Starring the ever-brilliant Anne-Marie Duff as matriarch Constance Webster the play is an epic telling the story of a working-class family, the Websters living in an industrial community.

Directed by Blanche McIntyre we get to meet generations of Constance's family on a sweeping journey from a kitchen sink drama in 1965 and the optimism brought by the new Wilson government through to the industrial strife of the 1970s, the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, the rise of Thatcher, the rise of Blair, the Tory win of 2010, via Brexit, and through to the fall of the Labour Red Wall in 2019. Like I said, it's an epic. Three hours. Lots of social commentary. But great - if a little meandering in places.

As the action takes places over such a long time the many generations inevitably see the cast doubling up playing both fathers and sons; grandmothers, mothers and daughters. But with a deft hand McIntyre direction keeps us on track.

The themes are many and varied but essentially come down to politics - both personal, sexual and economic. A women's right to work; to the freedom from childcare. The justification for strikes in an age of rabid inflation. The chilling long-term effects of child abuse. A truly graphic depiction of a late stage abortion. The right to buy. Parental bullying. Bitterness and regret. The age of rage. How a social conscience can only get you so far. How incest is rarely (never!) the answer. Yes, folks, it's a Greek tragedy of sorts.

Steel seems to conclude that, broadly over the years, the Tories have done what has been expected of them, while the Labour movement has consistently failed those that it has existed to represent. When articulated through the angry voice of Constance's daughter Agnes, the writer’s views are potent, but they could prove to be a bitter pill for many to swallow, particularly when delivered here, in the heart of leafy Islington.

In the last 30 minutes the play does perhaps begin to feel the strain of its own worthiness. The sheer number and weight of all the arguments just begin to feel a tad too heavy for a night out at the theatre. But that said, when the human and political dramas do gel, when all the elements are working together, it's corker of a play.

PS: if you are thinking of going there are many warnings about the on-stage abortion in Act I. It is very graphic and has a particularly grisly ending. You have been warned!

Monday, May 23, 2022

Pet Shop Boys at The O2...

Last night Stuart and I (and the world and his husband) went to see the Pet Shop Boys at The O2 Arena in London's glitzy North Greenwich. And what a dazzling show it was.

The much-delayed gig was billed as Dreamworld - The Greatest Hits Live and it didn't disappoint. It certainly had lots of hits - from the laconic You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk to the crowd-pleasing It's a Sin.

Taking to the stage at 8:20pm the Boys performed for a little under two hours. It was uninterrupted music but with few of the usual costume changes. Sadly, for me there were none of the wonderfully bonkers costumes from previous shows. In fact, the show was a fairly straightforward one. A linear rendition of the songs with a bit of back projection thrown in. Not that that took away from the songs of course that are all winners. But it was a little disappointing having seen them do such amazing productions at their Tower of London gig in 2006, their O2 Arena show back in 2013, and again at the Royal Opera House shows both in 2016 and again in 2018. But with Covid-19 still echoing through many touring productions - productions that were being planned way back in deep lockdown times - like The Human League's earlier in the year - having more pared down shows is perhaps inevitable for a while.

That said, the graphics were great. And Neil was in fine voice. A great night out. Mostly*.

Here's the full set list:-
Can You Forgive Her?
Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)
Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)
I Don't Know What You Want but I Can't Give It Any More
So Hard
Left to My Own Devices
Single-Bilingual / Se a vida é (That's the Way Life Is)
Domino Dancing
Monkey Business
New York City Boy
You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk
Love Comes Quickly
Losing My Mind (Stephen Sondheim cover)
Always on My Mind (Gwen McCrae cover)
What Have I Done to Deserve This?
It's Alright (Sterling Void cover)
Go West (Village People cover)
It's a Sin

West End Girls
Being Boring

*On a sourer note we were treated pretty badly by the O2 Arena staff. They were really rude to us when going in. No football shirts allowed. OK... why? My mate in an Arsenal top too was refused entry entirely. Luckily Stu had a jacket I could borrow. When challenged they had no reason to not let us in.
Then at our seat the heavy-handed front of house staff kept pulling our phones down even though 20,000 other people were talking photos and videos behind us. We were low hanging fruit for them as they could not be asked to wade further into the seating to stop others. Bloody annoying. Moan over.


Sunday, May 22, 2022

Arsenal 5 - 1 Everton...

I always love the last home game of the season. 60,000 people celebrating football. A sort of end of term party. Smiles, laughter, solidarity, and friendship. We are stronger together as Gooners and as LGBTQI+ fans. 
Top four was not meant to be this year - so let's see what next year brings.


Friday, May 20, 2022

Five Friends Grinning At A Camera….

It’s been fab having Rema and Rene staying this week - their music production course workshop was in London. 
And a fab meal out with Sheila last night too. (Loving the bib/napkin Shei!)

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The new Arsenal 22/23 home kit. Had to be done. @arsenal

The new Arsenal 22/23 home kit. Had to be done. 

Besides £5 from each shirt is going to a North London charity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Newcastle! Away!…

Great night out in Newcastle. Dreadful result for Arsenal though. Throwing away a top four spot. But fun to meet up with everyone. And St James Park is an experience! 145 steps up. Great atmosphere. 
Currently waiting for train home having demolished breakfast of champions.