Quote Of The Day

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Weeping Angels...

On Monday Stuart and I took a lovely stroll around Stoke Newington's beautiful old cemetery Abney Park.

   

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Erasure...

Last night Stuart, Ange and I (along with the world and his husband) went to see the magnificent Erasure perform at The Roundhouse in London's none too glitzy Chalk Farm.

Ostensibly to promote their new album World Be Gone the marvellous duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clark put on a great show, as ever, for a very enthustiatic crowd.

Andy bounded on to the stage dressed in a broad-brimmed hat, glitter ball top and trousers while Vince wore a blue suit.

For the next 1 hour 45 minutes we were treated to all the hits - with one notable exception - along with some fan-voted favourites and five tracks from said new self-produced album.

World Be Gone is Erasure's 17th album and is quite a change of direction. Gone is their sugary pop and uplifting songs of love and hate replaced by a voice of remonstration and discontent. The

songs are a lot more sombre taking on topics that blur the lines between pop and politics. None demonstrates this more adult theme than the beautiful protest song “Still It’s Not Over” - a

lament on HIV/AIDS. Although the new songs are mostly melodic, they are slower and painfully vulnerable and perhaps not suited to a largely standing venue when people really just wanted to

dance, dance, dance baby.  Heart-felt though the performances were of these more thoughtful songs when they came on people were all too often seen running to the bar or the loo.

But then when a high-tempo hit came on to follow it the place erupted again in a sea of cheers, dancing and singing. And the hits kept on coming. It was perhaps the biggest kareoke venue in

town.

Even as the last notes of A Little Respect died away the crowd kept singing it all the way out of the venue, along the street and down onto the Northern Line.

There is a lot of love out there for these boys - even if a new album is not quite up there with their best.

And the notable exception that was missed out from the show? Due to the extra security on the door following the terrible Manchester bombing last Monday getting people in to the Roundhouse was

a very slow affair. With Erasure due to start at 9pm, at 8:50pm there were still over 500 people queuing to get in. Eventually the venue gave on the addition security checks and just let people

flood in. But despite this the gig still started a little over 10 minutes late so something had to go from the set list and sadly is was one of my favourites - Ship of Fools - along with one of

the new tracks A Bitter Parting.

Which left the full set-list as

Breath of Life
Drama!
It Doesn't Have to Be
Love You to the Sky
Oh L'Amour
Chorus
Oh What a World
Just a Little Love
Blue Savannah
In My Arms
Sweet Summer Loving
Knocking on Your Door
Love to Hate You
Sometimes
Still It's Not Over
Phantom Bride
Here I Go Impossible Again
Stop!
Always
World Be Gone
Lousy Sum of Nothing
Take Me Out of Myself

Encore
Chains of Love
Victim of Love
A Little Respect


Monday, May 29, 2017

Arsenal FA Cup Win...

An amazing game last Saturday saw the might Arsenal defeat a sub-par Chelsea to lift the FA Cup.

Arsene Wenger has become the most successful manager in the history of the FA Cup after winning the competition for the seventh time.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Woyzeck...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Woyzeck at the Old Vic in London's glitzy Waterloo.

Synopsis: Good play. Rather grim though.

Starring Star Wars: The Force Awakens' John Boyega this Woyzeck is in the British Army living in the grim Berlin apartment in 1981 with his partner Marie (Sarah Greene) and their baby. Unable to afford the rent, he takes part in a paid medical trial and his world starts to fall apart. Big time.

The play is adapted by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child writer Jack Thorne from German playwright Georg Buchner's original work, which was unfinished at his death in 1837. With less philosophising that in many

English translations of the piece Thorne's version is firmly about class, masculinity and mental health.

My only quibble with this version might be that to reinforce the reasons behind Woyzeck's descent into madness Thorne rather over eggs the pudding. We know Woyzeck suffers from mental health issues but let's include:

orphan (check), abusive father (check), sexually explicit mother (check), seven unhappy foster homes (check), traumatic tour of duty in Northern Island (check), bullied by his commanding officer (check), on a dodgy

drug trial (check), jealous personality (check)... the list goes on and on. Yes, we get it. He is not a happy chappy.

The play is certainly dark and yes at times gruelling but Boyega is always compelling to watch. His eventual madness is well handled and we are genuinely shocked when he bangs his head against the wall.

That said, there is much humour to be had from Ben Batt’s roguish, laddish Andrews - Woyzeck's best mate. Mind you, there is a touch of the Iago about Andrews to Woyzeck's jealousy-torn Othello (a role Boyega must

surely play soon). Traitors come in all shapes and sizes, it seems?

Talking of size... Young Batt gets his kit off quite a lot (the programme warns us of full-frontal male nudity) and it doesn't hurt the fact that he's as fit at a butcher's dog.

Oh and the 2017 fashion of using the C-word gets a good old outing here - we counted its use on eighteen occasions. Stuart and I should play Theatrical Sweary Bingo; eyes down for a ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Kings Cross (Remix)...

Last Saturday night Stuart and I went to see Kings Cross (Remix) at the Camden People's Theatre in London's none-too glitzy Euston.

In Tom Marshman's latest show Kings Cross (Remix) he has brought to light testimonies of hidden histories in the Kings Cross area in London from the 1980s. A painter, a barman at The Bell ("Mrs Bridges", punters, activists, a sex-worker... how the area has changed, HIV, Thatcherism, the music, the sex, the politics, the drinking...

Using mime, dancing, monologues each of the stories is brought to life in vivid detail. It is funny, tragic and - for us who inhabited Kings Cross and The Bell in the 1980s - deeply nostalgic.

Kink, drink and liberty.

Go see.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Half A Sixpence...

Last night Roger and I went to see rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches again musical Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's glitzy West End.

Synopsis: Perky show. Strong cast. Like the lead’s trousers though - rather weak material.

Originally a star-vehicle for Tommy Steele this revival has been marvellously conceived by writer Julian Fellowes with a slick production, a wonderful cast, even if a few of the songs were perhaps - how can I put this? - rather less memorable than some of the others.

That said, when the songs were weak these boys and girls stepped up to the plate and certainly knew how to make a little go a very long way.

The source material is HG Wells’s 1905 novel Kipps what tells the story of a cockney draper Arthur (played by the outstanding Charlie Stemp) who strikes it rich, dallies with the toffs, gets swindled out of this money, goes back to his childhood sweetheart and then strikes it lucky all over again.

Let's not look too deeply into the subtext of the piece - well, ok, just for a bit - but whereas some might think of this as a "We were poor, but we were happy" or "Money can't buy you happiness" tale in fact it's told closer to a "Oi! Poor people! Know your limits!" fable.

The poor are severely downtrodden and only dream of one thing - money. And if they get it they can never be accepted in high society. The poor women in particular only seem to want a husband, a baby or both. Fellowes seems to acknowledge this one-dimensional portrayal of the masses and introduces a socialist (but who soon takes the money) and 'gives' him a Suffragette girlfriend (but to whom he gives no lines and marries her off quick sticks.) Oh, well. It is just a musical!

Talking of which, if the first-half was just OK, the second-half really picks up as it includes a show-stopper called Pick Out a Simple Tune, which starts with a rudimentary plucking at a banjo and gathers into an almost orgiastic cockney knees-up, engulfing stiff sophisticates at a Folkestone soirée.

And to crown the night off we were treated to an eight minute all-singing, all-dancing, jazz hands, table thumping, version of Flash Bang Wallop (What a Picture!) which was worth the ticket price alone.

Good to see the show reinvented from its 1960s roots but I think it might need a bit more work to be the outstanding show the excellent cast really deserve.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Explosion...

Terrible news last night. Manchester Arena. 22 dead, 59 injured in suicide attack at pop concert.

Children are among the dead as police say one male suicide bomber detonated an improvised explosive device after the concert.

Witnesses say they saw a "massive explosion", with nuts and bolts from the bomb littering the ground.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Arsenal 3 - 1 Everton...

The final game of the season was a bad tempered one. We won but list out on a champions league place for the first time in 20 years. And who caught the ire? Stan Kroenke.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Salomé...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Yaël Farber's new play Salomé at the National Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Synopsis: Lovely lighting.

Although visually striking the whole night was fatally undermined by a thoroughly turgid script. And at a snail-like pace.

Encouragingly Salomé here is presented as a fresh and politically potent concept. Farber sets out to strip away the veils of myth and misogyny that hide the figure of Salomé (Isabella Nefar). She finds in her a young woman in a brutally male world and an occupied country. Raped by her stepfather (a creepily lascivious Paul Chahidi), Salomé slides around the fringes of power, her abused body a metaphor for her colonised country. Then she meets Iokanaan (John the Baptist) and realises that, by demanding his execution, she can turn him into a martyr and ignite a revolution. That apparently whimsical demand for his head is neither sexual nor capricious here but a provocative, political act.

 It’s a fascinating proposition that, in theory, gives a shadowy woman voice and agency. In practice, we get no closer to Salomé. She remains a near silent, symbolic presence.

And in this silence a few people simply saw boredom. And with that boredom left mid-performance. Which was a shame. Because the bit at the end with the curtains was pure Eurovision.

A classic case of style triumphing over content.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

American Style - Philip Glass & Laurie Anderson...

Last night Stuart and I spent an evening in the company of Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson in the Barbican Hall in London's brutalist Barbican Centre.

Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson might have known each other for forty years but the 100 minutes on stage together barely scratched the surface of what either of them have achieved either separately or together in that time.

Part improv, part jamming session, part greatest hits Ms Anderson and Mr Glass each treated us to some of their solo work while the other played along. It sometimes worked and it sometimes didn't. The playing of the instruments all too often drowned out the speaking.

The stage was set up with a piano for Glass, a desk with laptop and electric violin for Anderson’s music, and a comfortable fireside chair for her story telling. The backdrop was a large screen on which were projected images – photographs by Anderson that had been manipulated in various ways and bringing attention to the many facets of Anderson’s creativity.

Anderson, one of the most creative and influential artists of her generation has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, John Cage, Peter Gabriel from the world of music and with writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Lou Reed to whom she was married. It was works by these last two writers that formed the basis for the performance.

The voices of both writers were present as recordings of them reading their works were played. Wichita Vortex features the voice of Allen Ginsberg reading his anti-war poem and Junior Dad is a song from the rock opera Lulu created by Lou Reed in 2011. Anderson accompanied the songs on an electric violin that could be manipulated into different sound effects by way of laptop wizardry, while Glass performed the piece at the piano. Voices from the past formed a theme to the evening’s pieces, the performance beginning with a very personal piece by Anderson "I’m Standing in a Room" recalling the loss of her mother. Anderson is one of the best story tellers around. Her timing is superb and her voice, though often pitched at a monotone is amazingly expressive. It was like she’s speaking to each member of the audience personally, almost in a whisper. Her juxtaposition of unexpected ideas is nothing short of miraculous. Anderson’s poem "World Without End" had lines that stop you in your tracks and ponder that big things in life – “When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down.” It was just a shame the sound production on the night was sub par.

To be honest, big fan though I am of both, I think I prefer them performing separately. That way they get the sound right.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Arsenal 2 - 0 Sunderland...

A very empty Emirates Stadium last night. We made heavy work of it too. And now it's all down to the last day of the season. We need to win and everyone else needs to lose. Fat chance. Hey ho. 
 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Angels in America...

Last Saturday Stuart and I went to see both Angels in America plays back to back at the National Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Synopsis: A simply outstanding production. There is blood, tears, laughs aplenty, Russell Tovey getting his kit off, and we see lesbian sex with an Angel. What's not to like?

An epic eight-hour duo of plays featuring more than 30 characters, from travel agents and lawyers to divine emanations and bisexual Mormons, Angels in America is unique.

It creates a world where illness and sexuality are unapologetic and political diatribes sit alongside angelic visions.

It is also very, very funny.

Set in 1985 Tony Kushner's two plays (full titles) Angels in America - A Gay Fantasia On National Themes - Part One: Millennium Approaches - Part Two: Perestroika tell the stories of three gay men living tortuous lives in Reagan's America. AIDS is rife and people are dying.

Prior Walter (a sublime Andrew Garfield) is one of these unfortunate souls but who has a rather fabulous journey to make before he meets his maker.

A second Joe Pitt (hunky Russell Tovey) is a bisexual Moron whose wife (Denise Gough) has her own illusionary world to explore.

A third man Roy Cohn (outrageous Nathan Lane) is a real-life vicious closeted lawyer who knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Tragedy strikes each of them, but not before a world of fantasy touches them all.

All the cast are excellent but especially Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the nurse Belize.

Highly, highly recommended.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lettice and Lovage...

Last night Stuart and I went to see Peter Shaffer's play Lettice and Lovage at the Menier Chocolate Factor in London's rather unglitzy 'London Bridge Quarter'.

Synopsis: Amusing rather than funny.

Directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman the play is about a stately home tourist guide (Kendal) who makes up exaggerated and oft outlandish stories to make her tours less boring. This is by far the best it on the play. She then is hauled in front of her boss (Lipman) who despite firing her also feels some sympathy for her. They develop a friendship, which is sweet if rather improbable.

The play is in three acts and although at times drole the piece ends up being a rather thinly veiled attack on post-war Britain including English modern architecture, (Shell House comes in for some particularly vicious stick). They even propose a tour of the "fifty ugliest new buildings in London".

We saw it in previews and to be honest although great actors both Ms Kendal and Ms Lipman seemed rather under rehearsed. More than once, they fluffed their lines and did not always know where to stand.

Originally, the play was written for Maggie Smith. I bet she did it better.

The show did not start until 8pm (why?) and finished closer to 11pm, which on a school night lead some of the audience to head for the door for their last train.

Recommended only if you really, really like Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Philip Glass Music in 12 Parts...

Last Monday night Paul, Stuart and I went to see a recital of Philip Glass's Music in 12 Parts at the Barbican Hall in London's glitzy and savagely brutalist Barbican Centre.

Coming in at five and half hours the twelve pieces were written in the early 1970s and reflected early experiments with minimalism. Repetitive, hypnotic and at times genuinely euphoric the time just flew by.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Gavin's 40th Birthday...

Last Friday night Stuart and I went down to Piano Works in London's none-too glitzy Farringdon to help Gavin celebrate his 40th birthday. The music was loud (too loud really) but we had a gay old time. Judith was in good form and we meet some friends of theirs - a nice couple from the Dominican Republic and Romania - Gina and Robert.
 

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Arsenal 2 - 0 Manchester United...

Last Sunday Mark and I went to watch the mighty Arsenal take on the once-mighty Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.

Goals from Granit Xhaka and Danny Welbeck were enough for Arsenal to record their first ever competitive win over a Jose Mourinho side.

Four more games to go - let's see if we can make a dash for fourth place.

 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Post Haste...

It's been a fab weekend filled with theatre, fortieths, football, weddings, and anniversaries. But the funniest thing was watching Stuart desperately trying to delete a "Terrible" TripAdvisor posting he made whilst a little bit worse for wear.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

11th Anniversary...

Happy Anniversary to my handsome, funny, sexy better half Stuart - it's been so great to find in you that one special person... to annoy for the rest of my life.
 

Friday, May 05, 2017

The Ferryman...

Last night Stuart, Jane, Sara and I went to see new play The Ferryman at the Royal Court in London's glitzy Sloane Square.

Synopsis: This is a play that deserves all of its five star reviews. Gripping, funny, tragic and enlightening. It also deserves all the awards that will surely be heaped upon it. Fight for a ticket. Do not be put off by the three and half hour running time either - it simply flies by.

Jez Butterworth’s new play starts with the discovery of a body. For ten years, Seamus Carney has been lying in a bog near the Irish border. Throughout that time, his wife Caitlin has been living with Carney’s brother Quinn and his seven children in a warmly chaotic Armagh farmhouse while upstairs Quinn’s wraith-like wife languishes in bed.

But as the Carney family gather to celebrate the day of the harvest, this other, uglier harvest from Northern Ireland’s bloody soil cannot be ignored.

Starring Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly and directed by Sam Mendes, it’s easily the best new play of the year and arguably as mighty as Butterworth’s 2009 smash hit Jerusalem. Where that play exuberantly summoned the unquiet souls of a mythical rural England, this one does something similar for Northern Ireland but this time through the concrete political context of 1981.

Bobby Sands is on hunger strike, Margaret Thatcher is on the radio and the IRA are on the streets. Considine is tremendous as Quinn, the ex-IRA member and committed family man struggling to suppress both a violent past and a treacherous love for Donnelly’s bright-eyed Caitlin.

An ominous sense of foreboding stalks the play and the ending is all the more shocking for it.

Butterworth is as interested in the future as he is the past. In a crack cast Tom Glynn-Carney stands out as hothead 17-year-old Shane, who makes an easy recruit for a revolutionary cause.

If you haven’t yet got tickets for the West End transfer of The Ferryman then you’d best get on the case, fast! A Broadway transfer must also beckon.

Oh and the excellent cast is joined on stage at various points by a live rabbit and a live goose. Reason enough to go see I would have thought.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Blondie...

Last night Stuart, Simon, Joanna and I went to see the magnificent X Offenders Blondie perform at the Camden Roundhouse in London's not too glitzy Chalk Farm.

Ostensibly to launch their new studio album, Pollinator, and thirty-nine years after the band played a career-defining gig there the legendary rockers lit up the Roundhouse with an up-tempo set of hits old and new. In fact the new stuff sounds so much like the old stuff (a good thing) it was sometimes hard to tell them apart. Stuart and I were singing along to some of new tracks with lyrics to the old ones - the way you do. Oh, how we laughed.

The visuals were great, Debbie Harry looked amazing and was in fine voice. She chatted and joked with the crowd and worked us all up into a frenzy.

Their new single, My Monster, written by The Smiths’ former guitarist Johnny Marr wasn't the best but we danced around anyway.

Great night.

Set List

01. One Way or Another (One Direction cover (only joking!))
02. Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves cover)
03. Fun
04. Call Me
05. My Monster
06. In the Flesh
07. Rapture
08. (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) (Beastie Boys cover)
09. Fragments
10. Long Time
11. Atomic
12. Gravity
13. Heart of Glass / I Feel Love (Donna Summer cover)
Encore:
14. Maria
15. Too Much

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Bob Dylan and His Band...

Last Sunday night Stuart and I went to see Bob Dylan and His Band perform on his Never Ending Tour at the London Palladium in London's glitzy West End.

I didn't know much of Dylan's music before the gig and I'm not sure I know much more now - he did a lot of covers. A lot. And rather dreadful ones at that. The first four songs were great though - very lively and very musical.

A couple of his songs sounded like they were being played by an Hawaiian wedding band but then I like Hawaiian wedding bands so that was fine.

"See Bob Dylan" (Bucket list tick.)

The set-list was:-

01. Things Have Changed
02. To Ramona
03. Highway 61 Revisited
04. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
05. I Could Have Told You (Frank Sinatra cover)
06. Pay in Blood
07. Melancholy Mood (Frank Sinatra cover)
08. Duquesne Whistle
09. Stormy Weather (Harold Arlen cover)
10. Tangled Up in Blue
11. Early Roman Kings
12. Spirit on the Water
13. Love Sick
14. All or Nothing at All (Frank Sinatra cover)
15. Desolation Row
16. Soon After Midnight
17. That Old Black Magic (Johnny Mercer cover)
18. Long and Wasted Years
19.  Autumn Leaves (Yves Montand cover)

Encore
21. Blowin' in the Wind
22. Ballard of a Thin Man


Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui...

 
Last Friday night Stuart and I went to see Brecht's classic political satire The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at the Donmar Warehouse.

Starring Lenny Henry and me (more of that later!) Brecht's classic, Chicago-set satire on Hitler's ascent to power almost feels too obvious to stage in 2017, the year a right-wing demagogue took control of the United States. Employing Mr Henry as Arturo Ui was then perhaps a genius bit of counter-casting as he bears very, very little resemblance to Trump.

That said, the fact this new version is by waspish American satirist Bruce Norris would suggest there would be parallels there – plus plenty for Henry to get his comic teeth into.

Before we had even taken my seats at the Donmar, we had spoken to two actors and shaken a few hands. It was all part of the Donmar's transformation. The stalls - stage and seating - had been removed and replaced to create a space decked out as a late night jazz cafe complete with wooden tables and chairs to fit the new setting of prohibition era Chicago.

The cast mingled with the audience as they arrived in the building and then in the theatre chatting as if you are cafe customers. The reason behind some of the conversations only becomes apparent as the play properly started. If you are sat at the front, you may be roped in. As I was in the second half.

In Norris' adaptation, our Brechtian villain is a gangster who wants respect as well as power and will be as ruthless as he needs to be to get there. The fact that his protection racket targets grocers and in particular, the cauliflower importers and sellers gives you a taste of the rather bizarre tone of the piece. Who knew cauliflowers could be such a ripe target for gangsters?

It is an Arturo Ui which is frothy and fun, with unsubtle references to Donald Trump and blatant parallels with the likes of Richard III - Norris also manages to weave in excerpts from several other Shakespeare plays including 'To be or not to be'. There are also tantalising snatches of popular songs sung live in a lounge jazz style, it becomes a game of name that tune - try and guess the song from a verse or two of familiar lyrics sung in an unfamiliar way. Nat King Cole's Nature Boy gets its second stage outing in as many years too (it was the song playing at the start of Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet). And did we heard Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out For A Hero?

The second half doesn't feel as quite as riotous as the first and in embellishing the play this way the more serious plot development scenes can feel a little stodgy and subdued in comparison. It certainly isn't a production of nuances so one wonders if it they could be trimmed to leave more room for the fun stuff.

And so it was that I got called up on stage. I was asked to play a man on trial - falsely accused of course. For 20 minutes; I nodded, I ran around, I sat in chairs, I got cross-examined, I pointed to the guilty party, I got dressed in bandages, I got in a wheelchair, I got shot. The end.

(Weirdly out in the West End on Sunday night - two days later - someone in the street recognised me and said "I saw you on stage at the Donmar last Friday!" Fame at last!)

Anyway, enough of my fame… back to the play...

Lenny Henry's Arturo is less menacing, more of a lovable rogue who happens to have people killed and that pretty much sums this up. It is a production weighted more towards silliness than biting satire but that isn't a criticism because it was laugh out loud funny.

Recommenced.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Fame At Last...

On Friday night I got invited to be on stage at the Donmar Warehouse (in a Brecht play) and ended up being part of the production. I was on stage for 20 minutes playing a man on trial. The play had Lenny Henry in it.
Weirdly out in the West End last night someone in the street recognised me and said "I saw you on stage at the Donmar last Friday!" 
Fame at last!