Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Theatre: Major Barbara



After dealing with a head cold for the last few days, the offer to see the first night preview of Major Barbara at the National Theatre with the West End Whingers seemed like a sensible enough diversion. Well... Any excuse for a trip to the theatre for those bloggers of stage... I was wondering whether the usual drinking and carrying on at interval would be so appropriate with the play featuring the Salvation Army, but nobody else shared this view.

I also had a theory that the audience would be full of Salvation Army members. This turned out to be incorrect too. Instead the audience was full of was old people (and bloggers perhaps) and it felt like it was pension day. Old people audiences are great as they laugh at all the right spots and generally don't talk. But they do smell of moth balls and forget to turn their mobiles off. I noticed one old girl in the row in front of me also preferred to read Bernard Shaw's text from a scrappy paperback rather than see it. Some of these senior citizens also take up more room than they realise. I found myself on rather creepily familiar terms with the woman next to me as she rubbed her legs up against mine. Maybe she had a blood clot I don't know but darn those cramped front row stall seats...

As for the play, well it turned out that this production was one of those that the National does rather well. A big set, big lights and an even bigger cast. Shaw's work written in 1915 about ideals, poverty, security and profits seem as relevant today as ever. Laughing at jokes about businessmen buying their way to get honours seemed all a bit too familiar. The jibes (including against Australians - obviously we were just as irritating to Londoners as far back as then), fly about fast enough that it probably helps to have the script with you so you can remember it all. Amongst all the witty banter there were a few startling moments (such as a fight scene at the Salvation Army) that did seem to jolt one back to reality. I could have done without the final audio of bombs falling and exploding. The last scene is set in the arms factory and the stage was surrounded by an impressive display of bombs... Waiting... We know they are going to explode in Europe, Japan, Vietnam, Iraq and so forth...

But anyway, spelling things out in big bold letters aside, it looks set to be a great production. It is a great cast too featuring Simon Russell Beale as Andrew Undershaft, Hayley Atwell as Barbara and Clare Higgins as Lady Britomart Undershaft. Sitting so close to the front and with the actors perched up so high on an elevated stage you could really feel them at work... And you could hear the metal supports of the stage creak and groan too... But maybe that was someone's hip... That old woman next to me was moving about a bit. You can never tell... Worth a look anyway...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Not the news this week in London


DUBYA Believing Standard, originally uploaded by bixentro.

It may not be news, but for £75 you can have your own bit of East End graffiti...

Scenes from Deal Sunday


Deal tourist information, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

A trip out of London to the Kent Coast today was a chance to appreciate some of the historic sites of this area...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Overheard at Oxford Circus Bus Stop Saturday

Man: You know... It is much better getting the train...
Woman: It is?
Man: Yeah like... With driving you get caught in traffic... It takes ages... While the train...
Woman: Oh yeah...
Man: Yeah...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hot news this week in London...


Evening standard, originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.

Al Fayed vamping it up at the never ending Coroner's enquiry into the death of Diana.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Concert: Ute Lemper



There are some people I would pay to see even if they sat on stage and read a phone book. Just out of sheer curiosity to see what they would do with it. Ute Lemper is one of those people to me. And when you become a fan, you buy their CDs and you put up with their eccentricities like that last never ending track on the album of Punishing Kiss or all that annoying screeching on the Grapefruit Moon track on Blood and Feathers. On the other hand someone recently told me that they no longer see her shows as "her head is so far up her own arse that it all feels like a bit of an ego trip".

I saw the Ute with Alice at the Shaw Theatre Thursday night and he definitely agreed with that last sentiment. And given the number of people getting up and leaving during the course of the show maybe this wasn't an isolated view. Well the show started late and the seats at the Shaw toward the rear of the theatre resemble QANTAS economy so maybe they just had to get up and have a stretch.

Anyway the late start was attributed to some ticket printing error which issued some tickets with a start time of 8pm rather than 7.30. So to please nobody the theatre started fifteen minutes late and so people kept filing in until after 8pm. This is good enough reason why tickets should never be mailed to people. If you pick them up at the box office you wouldn't have to worry about misprinted start times. But I digress. When it did get going Ute started with a great version of Piaf's Milord which sounded like the version on Blood and Feathers so that was helpful in framing what to expect - German jazz basically. Alice who was not familiar with this Album was none the wiser...

It didn't help that the in-between monologues were written for an American audience as well. Perhaps all that time living in New York has made her not realise that with his limited achievements and general incompetence the world has managed to get around the fact George Bush is still in the White House. In between obscure references to American politics, there were references to yin and yang and the moon and the ocean and the navel and the moon and the yin and the ocean and the moon and so on etcetera. It all became an incoherent blur that you just kept hoping the next song would start.

And some of the songs were great. Highlights included her version of Surabaya Johnny and her performance of a few Jaques Brel songs. When she sings it is an amazing experience. When we get the jazz asides it can be a mixed bag. Then again perhaps given the technical problems with sound, lighting and acknowledged jet lag - the result of flying in late from Greece due to a 24 hour strike - perhaps we weren't seeing the best possible performance.

Leaving the theatre Alice suggested that since he wasn't that fond of Germans or jazz, it was never going to be a memorable night for him. I on the other hand had a great time. It isn't that often you get to see a scary German woman get up and sing and screech and make trouble. And if you are a fan of Ute Lemper that's exactly what you came to see... And you got it. Well maybe a bit more singing next time... Her new album is out from later this month. I'll be getting it too dammit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Overheard at the gym Monday

Man #1: So what are you doing tonight?
Man #2: Ah just a general workout so I can get in shape for Sydney...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Scenes from the BAFTAs Covent Garden Sunday


100220083933, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

All the glitz, glamour and excitement of the BAFTAs at Covent Garden. A naff awards ceremony that for some unexplained reason gets a lot of attention (probably since the Oscar telecast is on Sky). Still, there were the fashions to behold like this £5 little number from Primark...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Concert: Chita Rivera



Saturday night (with thanks to the Whingers again for their very sensible tactic of group booking shows) I saw Chita Rivera at the Shaw Theatre. During the course of the week I had to explain who Chita was to a number of people. After telling them to "wash their mouth" once they asked "Who the hell is Chita?", I explained she originated many of the great Broadway roles including Anita in West Side Story and Velma in Chicago. The fact that West Side Story is celebrating it's fiftieth anniversary also firmly puts her in the category of concerts by old Broadway broads like Barbara Cook, Elaine Stritch or Bea Arthur.

There is something fascinating about watching these septuagenarian or octogenarian performers still working and travelling. Whether they need to work or not, they obviously thrive upon the audience adoration. The love from the audience last night didn't quite feel like it was reciprocated however. Mind you, these sorts of concerts seem to drag out of the closet the scariest group of theatre goers ever seen. I couldn't blame Chita being wary of all those hideously bright cashmere scarves, sports jackets and overbearing fragrance that was fashionable twenty years ago. At the end of the show some cheap queen brushed by to the front to give Chita a single red rose. Given the amount of rose oil he or the flower was drenched in, it was hard to tell if either were real. But I guess most of this audience wasn't looking for something real or new anyway. They were here for an embalming of Broadway's past so it worked well for everybody.

Knowing her audience, Chita did give musical medley after musical medley of her back catalogue. But fortunately she also performed some great songs in full by Kander and Ebb and a thrilling rendition of Jaques Brel's Carousel that showed why she still is a great performer and someone who knows her craft. She is more the vampy gravelly kind of singer, but she could hold your attention for nearly ninety minutes. Sitting in the front row of the Shaw also made for an intimate experience, but thankfully she didn't do any of those lightening bolt high kicks she is famous for. That would have been a little too intimate...

Chita made the comment that she was glad to be at the Shaw theatre and was surprised at the audience reaction deriding the venue. There is something soulless about this theatre in Kings Cross attached to a bland hotel, despite the comfortable seats and the proximity of the stage to the audience. The venue lacks a critical mass of theatres and bars around it, but it is good to see there is a space in central London for concert performances. We did eventually find a pub nearby where if you bought two glasses of wine they would throw in the bottle. Still a bit of a false economy if you spend Sunday morning with a hangover I suppose though...

Scenes from Camden Saturday


Camden Fire, originally uploaded by mummybot.

Flickr members capturing a fire that seems to have destroyed the Camden Canal Market - one of the Camden Markets - and part of the Hawley Arms tonight...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Overheard after body pump at the gym

Man #1: I haven't seen you in ages! What've you been up to?
Man #2: Well this morning I cycled with my boyfriend to Borough Market...

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Idle chatter at Canary Wharf bar Thursday evening

Woman (grabbing Paul's arm): Hello haven't I met you before?
Paul: No I don't think so but are you having a good night?
Woman: I sure am. I'm Elaine.
Paul: Hi Elaine I'm Paul. And what are you up to?
Woman: Well I'm like going to Brodies now...
Paul: Oh Brodies that's where I'm about to head...
Woman: Great I'll look out for you...

And yes... Paul was lying...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Theatre: Speed the Plow



It had been over a week since I had been to the theatre so a trip with the West End Whingers to see Speed The Plow at the Old Vic on Tuesday evening seemed like a jolly good idea. Even better due to the fact it starred Kevin Spacey, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Michelle Kelly (who is currently gracing our screens as the warty mad woman in Sweeney Todd).

Mind you when I told a friend that I saw Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic I was informed that he is in every friggin' thing at the Old Vic regardless of how miscast he has been. Well everyone's a critic I suppose. Still there was lots to enjoy about David Mamet's play about Hollywood execs debating the merits of artistic and commercial success. And in between it all is an ambiguous secretary upsetting the manliness of it all. I say ambiguous because depending on whether you could ignore or put up with the secretary probably depends on how much you enjoy this play. Spacey and Goldblum are excellent but when it came to discussing the role of the secretary everyone had a different opinion:
Oh I got bored listening to her monologue in the second scene so just admired the rooftop plants...
She just droned on and on...
The role wasn't written right...
I didn't get what she was saying...
An intermission would have helped with the second scene as I could have had more gin...
She was miscast...
Did anyone else notice that circle bed in the second scene?
Mamet doesn't write good women's roles does he...
Why didn't she just shut uuuuup?
She wasn't a character but a vague set of statements collected by the playwright...
I didn't recognise her without her warts...
Why was she wanting to make a film about radiation?

In the end I decided it was just Mamet's way to just wind us all up. It certainly worked a charm on the young American boys and girls in the first few rows who mistook the ambiguity for some scheming superbitch and cheered and whooped when she got her comeuppance. It is always a bit embarrassing when you are with a stupid audience, particularly when you are so close to the stage as it is like you can feel the cast ridiculing you... Still when it is Spacey, Goldblum (filling out a suit quite nicely for someone in their fifties), and Laura on stage it is probably some ridicule that you could put up with. It is running for the next few months and one suspects it will be a hit regardless of who gets the point of the secretary and who doesn't.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Scenes from the Columbia Road Flower Market Sunday


030220083890, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Who's the guy with the hairy plant?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Conversations

Paul: I have got a big chicken tonight...
Adam: Yeah he is the one doing the hoovering...

Friday, February 01, 2008

News this week in London

Well they import everything else...