Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Going down under...

On holidays in Australia for the next few weeks so will be making a few observations from here...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Scenes from Knightsbridge Saturday


IMG_0025, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

The evening everyone decided to go shopping... While it was raining... And while there were several tube lines down...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Scenes from Fortnum & Mason

Suspect Christmas windows...

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Overheard at the gym Thursday...

Man 1: Yes what was how you used to do it?
Man 2: It was 2 egg whites in the blender with the protein shake
Man 3: Oh yeah that's right. After some pasta...
Man 2: Oh no pasta. That's carbs...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Scenes from Carnaby Street...

Spreadin' the lurve...

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Theatre: Nation



About half an hour into Nation, the new "exhilarating" production at the National Theatre at the Olivier Theatre, I hear whispered in my ear the words that you always wish you didn't hear on a night out: "This is a bit boring..." Alas it was the truth. The acting seemed one note, the direction flat, the music painful and there was also the return of the pointless revolve. As for the plot, it kept getting thicker every two minutes. It was as if the creative team decided to shove as much as possible of Terry Pratchett's book on stage and to hell with the consequences. Well the consequences were an awful lot of fidgeting in the audience as if they had fleas, a lot of watch staring and some fairly muted applause at intermission.

Bearing all this in mind, I would have suffered the second half, but I took the advice of some wise theatre peeps who suggested that life is too short to sit through bad plays when you could be enjoying your life at the pub. I did substitute pub for Ben & Jerry's ice cream at home but it had the same effect. Of course it is still in preview until later this month so no doubt it will improve... Having not read the book I never did find out what happened to the two leading characters Mau and Daphne. While it all seemed a bit Blue Lagoon at times, but I dare suspect few people who weren't devotees of the book would give a shit.

One element of drama which happened before the show started was a woman spilling wine spritzer over us. This is becoming a trend at the National. At Mother Courage I was kicked by somebody. Of course National Theatre audiences are so polite they apologise profusely... If only they weren't so clumsy...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Overheard on the Tube home Tuesday...

Man 1: She gives me evils because I'm dis neo liberal like you know...
Man 2: Yeah and wiv your business acumen and that...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Overheard at the gym Thursday...

Man number one: So how do you get it like that?
Man number two: Well the pastry has to be the right consistency...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Music: Michael Feinstein

Spending Sunday evening with Michael Feinstein and his 17 piece band was a great way to pass the time. When I last saw him five years ago, I wasn't so enthused by his performance. Since then he has released a number of new albums including most recently his Sinatra album with new interpretations to the music of Sinatra. This seems to have thankfully given him new music to explore, beyond being known just as the Gershwin man (or one of the foremost interpreters of Gershwin's music).

The concert featured a range of songs recorded by Sinatra, but also included some tributes to Cole Porter (including with John Barrowman) and at 53, he is looking and sounding pretty good. There were various nods to famous people in the audience such as Leslie Bricusse and Judge Judy (who married Feinstein and his partner), but in the end it was an evening of music. And the music sounded great... If only leaving us wanting to hear a little more from that band...

Play: Prick Up Your Ears



Prick Up Your Ears has sort of become known as the play that Matt Lucas pulled out from following the death of his ex partner. It is a shame really as it is a great little play that deserves to have an audience. Con O'Neill who replaces Lucas gives an excellent performance as Kenneth Halliwell, who killed his lover, playwright Joe Orton, in their small flat in Islington in the summer of 1967. Some of the reviews noted that it is definitely a play for anyone who has a more talented partner... While I would like to think that we all have our own strengths, but I have made a mental note not to share a studio flat with anyone who likes collages.

The play follows their antics of Kenneth and Joe where they defaced books at the Islington Library, and then following a short stint in prison, the rising career of Joe's. It all ends in a fight however, and I personally could have done without the nine hammer blows to the head at the end of the play, but then again I did see it on Halloween so there was plenty of fake blood about.

Regrettably, it has posted its closing notices for November 15, so get in quick to see it before it finishes.

Monday, November 02, 2009

People: Leslie Caron

Tuesday evening last week I managed to get very close to Leslie Caron. It was at one of the National Theatre's platform events where they talk about somebody and there is usually a book signing involved. Old queens, people close to death or a combination of the above seemed to make up the audience. Although there was one guy who took up two chairs that was definitely younger than me there... He sat two over and oohed and ahhed at everything she said as if he were her number one fan...

Anyway, Leslie Caron was the woman who at 16 danced with Gene Kelly in An American in Paris and then went on to be a star in her own right in films such as Gigi and Lili. She now runs a bed and breakfast outside Paris and has written a book about her life. She hasn't given up entirely on acting. She recently won an emmy for appearing in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and will be appearing in Paris next year in a production of A Little Night Music. It was interesting listening to her as she talked about her life and how it didn't quite work out the way that she always planned it, that she always managed to make the most of it... Of course, talent and ambition probably had a lot to do with it as well. Best line of the evening was confirming that Maurice Chevalier was more or less (well using a few more polite words anyway) a bastard.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rubbish Music: Carousel The Songs of Jacques Brel

An oddly shambolic concert took place at the Barbican tonight in what was supposed to be a show to highlight the music of Jaques Brel and his ongoing influence on musicians. Instead we had a band that drowned out the singers, half the singers sounding as if they had spent a bit too long at the bar, and a concert that looked and sounded like it needed to have a tech run and a rehearsal.

Some people loved this show and obviously had an affinity to the performers. I suspect however they would have been happy for them to read from the phone book. It wasn't all bad either, but when half the performances were so inept, many of those who were more interested in the music of Brel voted with their feet and left at intermission. Some of us stayed to see if it got better, but only after a stiff drink at the bar...

Part of what is amazing about Brel's music is its nuances and particularly its lyrics. But when you pump up the volume or get a performances that are just loud, noisy and atonal it all gets a bit lost. Perhaps if it was an evening of performance art that might have been a different matter and we all could have come ready to wail for the recently deceased and put up with all that self-indulgence.

The Barbican website playing clips of Brel only helps to underscore how it should have been performed so much better. Brel's influence wasn't so much on display as the a general contempt for the audience. Maybe Friday's performance at Warwick Arts Theatre will be better. I couldn't imagine it could be any worse...

Listen!


Opera: L'Heure Espagnole and Gianni Schicchi

In a week packed full of culture and goings on, Tuesday night's trip to the opera to see Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was a real treat. Well when giant cleavage greets you when you enter the theatre (it was on the curtain, not in the audience), you know it is going to be a bit of a fun evening.

Both performances and productions were excellent. Director Richard Jones (who also is responsible for Annie Get Your Gun at the Young Vic) and revival director Elaine Kidd manage to keep it bright and brisk. The opera singers even managed to show not only could they act but they had great comic timing too. Ravel's piece is not so much an opera, so it was nice to have it paired with Puccini's often hilarious and over the top melodrama. The aria O mio babbino caro is from this piece and sung delicately by Maria Bengtsson. Holding it all together was a great performance by Thomas Allen in the title role.

Worth catching and surprisingly not sold out... It has two more performances to go.

Open season on Brel at Barbican

Listen!

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Theatre: Mother Courage and her Children



After seeing a few low-spectacle shows (or no spectacle shows given the complete lack of imagination in the current Annie Get Your Gun), it was nice to see such a messy, grand epic production of Mother Courage and Her Children at the National Theatre last Wednesday. While I am not normally up for watching a three-hour play, there was so much to take in with this show that it was a hell of a journey worth taking. Fiona Shaw played Mother Courage in this production, who is a woman determined to make a living during the thirty years war (that was the war between 1618 and 1648) despite the consequences. Written by Bertolt Brecht in a new translation by Tony Kushner, the flavour of the story is influenced by recent events in the middle east.

Things blow up, people die, songs are sung and all amongst it there is money to be made and a living to be made. There is nothing too subtle about this show but with some great songs by Duke Special, a great set by Tom Pye and an overall impressive cast (especially Gerard Monaco who managed to act his scenes with his shirt off for what had to be dubious reasons except to show off his impressive physique... Ok so maybe that isn't so dubious) I was paying attention. And for those who like the ladies, there is a delightful scene where a whore gets ready for some soldiers by wiping her car park and show grounds with an old towel...

While some may find the length a little tough (particularly after a long day at work), there were way to many explosions and exceptional parts for falling asleep. Definitely it was one of the more entertaining and interesting evenings out at the theatre I have had in some time. And if you are tired enough to start drifting off to sleep, one of the shootings will bring you back. It is loud enough to be a cause of industrial deafness...

Naturally a show of this length and complexity has many technical effects. It received some criticism at the beginning of its run due to various technical difficulties. Now further into its run this show has got a real rhythm to it (albeit now Gore Vidal is present as a voice over rather than in person as he was for press night). It runs until early December and as part of the Travelex £10 Theatre deal it is a bargain that is well worth catching...

Interval musings at the national

Listen!

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Theatre: Annie Get Your Gun



Previews have begun for a great new revival at the Young Vic of Annie Get Your Gun. The cast headed by Jane Horrocks and Julian Ovenden are sensational and there is some very fine singing and dancing happening on stage. I suspect with such a great cast and a lively interpretation of this old show it is going to be a big hit for them. Ovenden and Horrocks together show a great chemistry and give this show a lot of class...

My only quibbles with it would be four piano's don't always do this music justice (or did they sound particularly great all the time on Saturday night)... And no matter how you put it... The set is just hideously awful. It almost detracts from the show as you feel like you're watching the show through a letterbox. Despite what the Young Vic's website says, if you are sitting on the left hand side (and particularly upstair) you are not going to have a good view (unless they fix it over the next few days). And during the opening Act 2 film montage do we really want Annie Oakley to look that excited about meeting Stalin? What's all that about?

It runs until January 2. Grab a ticket and get there early to get a good unreserved seat...

Theatre: The Author


The opportunity arose on Friday evening to see the new play The Author at the Royal Court Theatre. Not knowing anything about it, except my suspicion that more than just a few bloggers would be there, I was up for a night of mystery theatre and suggested to Gio that we should go. Even better was that it was short so we wouldn't have to suffer the inedible food at their bar / cafe and could go eat somewhere else. There is a trend in sophisticated theatres in London to serve pretentious overly fussy small servings of food made from ingredients that would be better off going into cans of dog food. The Royal Court is leading this trend...

But anyway, we arrived to see that there were two facing tiers of seating... No stage. Opting for the one facing where we walked in, we sat down and waited for something to happen. Sure enough, the actors were already in the theatre. They were sitting among us. Actor number one, Adrian Howells starts speaking to people and saying how gorgeous we all are. He says hello to everyone in our row but us and then somebody in the seats opposite asks a question and he ignores her. She then proceeds to pull out a notebook and write what could have been a shopping list. I thought it was part of the act, but in fact she wasn't one of the other actors. There begins what is roughly 70 minutes of prodding the audience, but not always interacting with them. In fact when the lights go dark and Esther Smith asks if we want to hear her sing and somebody shouts out "No!" (another grumpy blogger I suspect) she sings anyway...

The purpose of all this no doubt, was through a series of monologues to shock the audience about a number of different things including violence, pedophilia and potty words. Part of the novelty of the seating was that you could see the audience's reaction to all of this (including where some walked out). There were some hilariously awkward moments where author and actor Tim Crouch describes his sexual experiences to a young lady next to him. She looks as comfortable as being in a dentist's waiting room. When he asks (as all the actors do periodically), "Shall I go on?" she still says, yes!

While it wasn't everyone's cup of tea it was very well done, even if it could have been a little bit shorter. After all, once you have shocked the audience by shouting "Cunt!" at them four times, doing sexual things with a baby is really more of the same. Well... The four ladies sitting opposite me pulled the same face of distaste at them both. But this sort of play is one where you walk out straight away or go along for the ride... Since I rarely carry a notebook on me, I couldn't write my shopping list so I went for the latter. It was worth it...

It runs through to the end of October at the Royal Court for audience members who are up for it...

How do penguins approve?

Do they make noises? Do they flap their wings? Do they issue special stamps? The latest water on offer in various theatres carries this penguiny message... Pity that given the amount of energy theatres use, this would hardly offset their carbon footrint...

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Movies: Suddenly Last Winter




It has been awhile since updates on the blog, but there was a recent trip to Rome, general business, and a lack in interest in seeing anything cultural in London that partly explains that. Well anyway the cultural endeavours returned big time this week with a trip to the Barbican on Wednesday night to see the documentary Suddenly Last Winter, which traces the ill-fated journey of legislation to give equal rights to same-sex partnerships in Italy.

I never went to any gay bars while in Rome, and arriving at the Barbican full of gay Italian men I wondered if they were like this... Albeit with more flattering lighting and better coffee. Actually it was probably better not to visit them given they seem to attract firecrackers and molotov cocktails at the moment... Anyway the documentary was a personal account of a gay couple who traced the journey through the Italian Parliament of legislation that could have given Italy civil partnerships. Watching the documentary with a London audience, it was tempting to laugh and feel smug and superior at how people interviewed on the street equated homosexuality with abnormality or the end of civilisation... Or a mixed
doubles match in tennis... But what I found more fascinating was the complete failure of those in support of the legislation to have been prepared to respond to the onslaught of attacks from conservatives and from the church. The movement seemed unable to respond when conservatives equated civil partnerships as an attack on the family, and nobody wanted that... During the Q&A with the filmmakers
afterward, they highlighted not only how inept the political movement on the left is, but also how fragmented the gay and lesbian movement is. Still the filmmakers made this story so engaging and at times a little frightening. It was not necessarily the picture postcard of Rome that people would expect...

Then again as an Australian from a country where there is no sign of civil partnerships ever coming up on the agenda soon it all did not seem that surprising or shocking. One of the most socially liberal of states Victoria recently caved in to allow broad exemptions to anti-discrimination laws for religious groups. If rights cannot even be established for individuals, it seems probably a stretch to see them extended to partners anytime soon. I guess for now I can always stay smug and superior in London while thinking of Australia as the place where you put the clocks forward nine hours and put the calendar back twenty years...

There was a glimmer of hope in this documentary. One politician commented that five years earlier any debate on civil partnerships... Time will tell if there is a moment in the next ten years whether it will be possible to move further...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Overheard at Whole Foods High Street Kensington Sunday

Italian Man drinking espresso: The cappuccino is forbidden after noon...
Man listening: Noon?
Italian Man drinking espresso: Yes noon...
Man listening: Really?
Italian Man drinking espresso: Yes noon. It is really... Forbidden...

Scenes from Shoreditch Saturday

Well that's one way to look at it...

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Monday, August 31, 2009

(Open Air) Theatre: Hello Dolly



Watching a musical in Regent's Park is always going to be a little tricky as the venue lends itself better to plays as the acoustics of the venue... Well there are none. Watching HMS Pinafore four years ago on a chilly drizzly August night did not make me keen on ever going back. Four years later however and on a perfect bank holiday Monday evening - warm and a gentle summer breeze - for Hello Dolly.

Arriving at Regents Park I could feel some trepidation... It may have been something to do with running into a friend on the tube who enquired where I was off to. He thought that was hilarious and when he alighted at the next stop with his mates he shouted, "ENJOY WATCHING HELLO DOLLY!" before all of them broke out into an off-key version of "Put on your Sunday clothes" which trailed off only when the tube pulled out of the station. I remained on the train for another stop. Surrounded by manly men I could feel the glares... And the shame. Although most had got on the tube at Vauxhall where the RVT had its sports day so I probably had nothing to worry about.

Attending the show with Peter, he was quick to spot some eye candy in the crowds while I could only see pensioners for the most part. Before taking our seats, I detect that we were amongst quite a few friends of Dolly and wonder if it would become a singalong. Thankfully (for the most part) it didn't.

Hello Dolly tells the story of a matchmaker who realises she needs to move on with her own life is a great show with lots of rousing numbers (if you like that sort of thing of course). And this is a great little production full of energy and life and was just the thing for the last day of the holidays. Samantha Spiro as Dolly was a standout but the performances by all were marvellous. There was even that rarely seen art form of tap dancing and enough dazzle and spectacle to keep people cheering throughout the show.

Of course being Open Air Theatre there were still a few things that were problematic such as actors speaking while there microphones were not on, or the show being generally underlit, or not lit at all. I put the latter down to the fact that they were worried that proper lighting might lead to a swarm of moths that would lead to displays of lepidoptera not seen since soprano Yvonne Kenny wore a moth broach during the Sydney Olympics.

Still these were all minor quibbles when it was a great night out. Also when there is great weather it sure is nicer to be in an open air theatre than in some stuffy non air-conditioned one. Dolly runs until 12 September. Here's hoping there is a West End transfer in the works as well as it deserves a longer run...

Listen!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hot news this week in London...


IMG_1152, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

I still don't like the brown word... Even if invisible...

Overheard outside the Ivy London

Paparazzi #1: I'm trying to help you...
Paparazzi #2: You're trying to help me?
Paparazzi #1: Yes...
Paparazzi #2: ... You're an idiot.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Starbucks coffee chipped mug special

Be sure in London to ask for your coffee to be served in a chipped mug as well... It adds to the flavour...

Posted via email from paulinlondon's posterous

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Theatre and trousers: Call Me Madam


Not content to see one old musical this week directed by Thom Southerland, there was another of his productions to see, the final performance of Call Me Madam at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. It was a matinee, which normally would not be the smartest things to attend... Too many old ladies shoving you aside with their walking sticks to get to the unreserved seating first... And too hot... And the barbecue summer that had been called off was back on again...

But after fighting through the old ladies and battling the heat, there was a definite preference for the gay men in the audience to sit to the right hand side of the stage. This became apparent shortly into the first act... Not because it was close to the air conditioning, but because one of the cast members was dancing and wiggling about in his trousers. And his trousers had a 12-inch fly. It seemed to have hypnotic effect on a section of the audience and continued throughout the performance. One wiggle derived at least three titters (not tweets of course as the mobile phones were switched off). And in the second act a particularly dramatic dance move elicited a reaction that was almost off the charts.

There were others in the audience there not just to enjoy the wiggling wonder, but they seemed to be as enthused about the show as they would be enthused about visiting the dentist. Or for the older ones, they reacted like death was imminent.

Oh and as for the show? Notwithstanding the sound imbalance on this final performance (maybe you needed to switch your hearing aid to the T position), the show was great. It received great notices during its month long run. It is is nice to see these old productions being revived in fringe venues since the West End doesn't seem to stage musicals nowadays unless they are crap.

Listen!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hot news this week in London

The argument was limited to 260 characters alas...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Theatre: State Fair



Sitting down in a darkened space as the sweat runs down your neck, then your back and into lower regions is probably not something you would expect from a night out at the theatre. But it is worth it to see this lively and energetic little production of State Fair playing at the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court. It will have you damp with delight...

State Fair is an odd sort of musical about a pig, a nightclub singer, a boy, a girl, a nightclub singer and the Iowa State Fair. There is an awful lot of mince meat too. It includes cut numbers from other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and a book with some of the corniest jokes immaginable. But it all hangs together somehow. It helps too when you also have such a filthy minded audience (or maybe just a Londonist reviewer). People were laughing hysterically after lines such as "I'm going for a pearl necklace in the back row" and "There's a girl who knows her way around a cucumber"...

The cast are all great but I particularly liked Laura Main, who gets to sing "It might as well be Spring", the song which managed to win Rodgers and Hammerstein an Oscar. Here's hoping she has an album in the works. Even in their piano accompaniment, there is much to appreciate about the other songs in the book too... Although you might leave the theatre with that darned little ditty "Our state fair is a great state fair" in your head...

For a musical big on melodrama it's shrunk well into a small space, with an even smaller budget. Although if the show sells out (which it might start doing given its great reviews) it might be a tad frightening sitting in the front row with all those kicks in the dance numbers.

The only thing I would advise is that you should bring your own booze as are having licensing issues at the moment... Hand wash gel is a good idea too... The bathroom was pretty grim and there is no running water... That's something to think about as you hold the handrail climbing the stairs to the theatre... It runs until the end of August. Don't miss it... But skip the beer nuts at the bar...

Listen!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Scenes from a council block lift


IMG_1112, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Insight into your neighbours perhaps... Maybe that will help them to swallow...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Theatre Wake: Too Close to the Sun


Listen!

It didn't feel like closing night of Too Close To the Sun. It felt more like a wake. Too Close To the Sun opened two weeks ago and immediately posted closing notices. We arrived almost too late for curtain up as John, Feigned Mischief and I were still having dinner across the road from the Comedy Theatre. I was keeping an eye on the theatre to watch when people went in, only to realise (almost too late), that with so few people attending the show, it was hard to tell. As we entered there was a deathly silence, and while I don't recall if there even was an overture, it felt like there should have been an organ playing funereal music.

The musical is a four-hander about the last few days of the life of Ernest Hemingway. The synopsis goes something like this: Ernest plods about and tries to molest his secretary. His wife, played by Helen Dallimore, walks around the set in some rather fascinating stirrup pants and heels. Meanwhile some other guy tries to woo Helen Dallimore and the screen rights to Ernie's books while singing Ethel Merman-like numbers. All this apparently drives Ernest to blow his brains out. Any insight into one of the great writers of his time must have been superfluous.

When a show is this bad, it isn't t necessary to wait for the reviews. John and the West End Whingers provided enough analysis to explain why it was not going to work in any case. John for some masochistic reason wanted to see it again, but I was grateful that he was there as an expert witness as I could keep asking him important questions about the production such as:
  • "How long is it until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "Does that mean it is intermission?"
  • "How long is it now until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "Didn't Ethel Merman sing a song that sounded like that once?"
  • "How long is it until Ernie blows his brains out?"
  • "There surely must be only five more minutes before Ernie blows his brains out right?"
Since the previews, some of the more ludicrous elements of the show had been toned down. It was also thankfully a little shorter. The "I don't trust that pirate girl" number became "I don't trust that little girl". The reference to pirates in Iowa was too much for some preview audiences who reportedly erupted into howls of laughter. Part of my motivation in seeing the show was that I missed the composer's previous opus, Beyond the Iron Mask, back in 2005, so naturally I was a little disappointed by these improvements. Still, there were enough WTF moments in the show to keep shrugging and shaking my head. Mostly they had to do with the musical numbers which bordered on the atonal and not well executed. The exception being the jazz parts of the number "I've been Too Close to the Sun", which ends the first act with a whimper... It could have been Liza... Although pity the character singing was Hemingway. The production also marked the return of the pointless revolve to the West End as well as the house turned and turned and turned without adding much. You were still in Iowa...

During intermission our group noticed two ladies who managed to smuggle into the theatre some Korean takeaway from a restaurant nearby as well. A lovely aroma wafted through the theatre and became the topic of the Audioboo I recorded and posted above. Talking to the ladies afterwards they suggested the food was the highlight of their evening as they bought tickets to this show on the premise that it was a play and they couldn't understand what the point of all the music was. Then they added that they couldn't understand the dialogue either. We probably should have asked Roberto Trippini who wrote the libretto to explain it to them as he was sitting a few seats away.

After the show we waited by the stage door to congratulate the cast for being professional and to wish them well. We also showered them with party poppers as a tribute to being in a show where the highlight of it was when the lead character blows his brains out. Somebody clapped as Trippini walked out as well but he said (what seemed like without any irony) that the real stars were still coming. When they did appear they were good sports and hopefully they had a stiff drink afterwards. Helen Dallimore also had a creepy fan who looked like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver give her a stuffed animal and a kiss before she left as well. Lets hope nobody remembers that they were in this production... But the fans of course...

Monday, August 03, 2009

Scenes from the Serpentine Pavilion


IMG_1093, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

Is it a coffee shop? Is it art? Is it both? Certainly this year's pavilion is an inspired piece of design.

Also at the Serpentine is the Jeff Koons Popeye Series. While some at the gallery commented that if you shoved any inflatable water toy up your arse this could constitute as a Koons installation, it was brief enough for me to not get too bothered about it one way or the other...

Both run through the summer.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Theatre: The Mountaintop



Friday evening I caught The Mountaintop at the Trafalgar Studios. The two-hander is about the night before Martin Luthor King Jr is assassinated and imagines King as a man. A man with stinky feet, no toothbrush and afraid of thunder. There with him is the hotel's maid. After bringing him a cup of coffee, the stage is set for an astonishing set of revelations, many of which are hilarious.

Much of the humour derives from the banality of everyday life. There are pros and cons about different brands of cigarettes, whisky, coffee, the weather. Martin Luthor King has just delivered his I've Been to the Mountaintop speech, and as the play unfolds, both his regrets about what more there is to do, and the knowledge the audience has about what lies ahead, gives this play its strength.

Katori Hall's play is fast paced and the production is slick. The chemistry between David Harwood as King and Lorraine Burrough as the maid Camae was incredible too. Who knew summer plays could be so interesting and entertaining? Here's hoping other historical characters from the 1960s could also be recreated in a similar way. Perhaps a production exploring Rachel Carson's flatulence might be interesting too... Anyway the play runs until September and worth catching...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot news this week in London


Don't mess with my tutu, originally uploaded by ian_fromblighty.

Flickr user captures Katie Price in Selfridges in a tutu... To publish some book... Nice Aussiebums though...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hot news this week in London


DOG POO MISERY, originally uploaded by the_moog.

It isn't just the swine flu... There is dog poo too...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Opera Opera (and more) Opera


It has been a a summer of opera for me. And a very enjoyable one as well. After catching Renée Flemming in La Traviata earlier in the season, I caught the opening night performance of The Barber of Seville. This production has to be a highlight of the year and one of the best productions I have seen. While Joyce DiDonato's fall in the first act gathered the headlines, what really was sensational about this production was how great the cast was. Particularly DiDonato, Pietro Spagnoli and of course, Juan Diego Flórez as the Count. Flórez in the final fifteen minutes of the opera was simply amazing, even more so after reading DiDonato's account on her blog, where he was holding her up... Literally. After his final aria, the audience couldn't stop cheering, stamping, hollering (you name it). It is moments like this that you remember why you go to the opera.

The other moment of high drama in this opera was when DiDonato fell in the first act. I thought it was those chunky shoes... They looked great but didn't seem that practical or sensible for a set that moved around a bit. Then when a man walked on stage before the start of the second act, I was bracing myself for bad news. Collectively the audience also held its breath. While we didn't realise that she must have been in excrutiating pain, we all cheered when he announced she was going to carry on (albeit with NHS issue crutch). It was taking suffering for art to a whole new level. And she still kept wearing those chunky shoes.

One trip to Corsica later I was back at the opera again. This time to see Tosca. This production of Tosca I was looking forward to a little more than usual. Deborah Voight was cast in it initially but had to drop out... To be replaced by Angela Gheorghiu, who originated the role in this production a few years back. At the time of the first run of this production I saw the B cast and missed her interpretation. And I will have to wait a little bit longer to see her interpretation as she missed the Thursday performance due to illness. Amanda Echalaz covered the role. Now while some commented Echalaz did an amazing job (and stepping in at short notice to cover an opera in a way is an amazing feat in its own right), it isn't quite the same. Still you can't help but want to root for someone who has been set such a task and come curtain call she got a huge cheer. I particularly liked how she missed her spot for the dramatic finale in the final act (which sent her dress shimmering perhaps a little more dramatically over the edge).

Finally I caught the opening night of Janáček's Káťa Kabanová at Holland Park opera. Not familiar with either the opera or the venue, I found both to be a real treat. The cast and orchestra sounded great and the staging quite effective, in this drama of doomed love and infidelity.

Some may have thought it was a pity there was an intermission as it disrupts the flow, but I was glad for the break. Not only as it gives you a chance to go to the bathroom (it can get a little chilly at Holland Park), it provided a break from the intense drama. Interval also enabled two drag queens to come up and say hello. Drag queens at the opera I thought was quite a novel thing. I hope it starts a trend in future on the proviso that the wigs don't look so cheap (girls you need real hair taken from impoverished Russian villages to look the part). A night at the opera. It can be cruel to cast an audiences... Káťa Kabanová runs until August 7.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Overheard at the gym Friday night...

Man #1: So we could have salad for dinner...
Man #2: Yeah like lettuce?
Man #1: Yeah like lettuce... Lettuce and... Chicken...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Theatre: Forbidden Broadway

Initial impressions of Forbidden Broadway which is currently in preview but opens later this week at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Listen!

It has been a while since I have been to the theatre and blogged about it. Sure I could have written about Frances Ruffelle's cabaret show at Madame Jo Jos saying it was good but after a long day rehearsing with the London Gay Men's Chorus, I wanted something funnier. I could have also written about opening night of La Traviata with Renée Fleming which was also fantastic (overlooking the first act and the over-egged production). But it was the sheer cheap laughs and silliness of Forbidden Broadway that is worth a blog update.

While it was a little short side, there were enough fresh barbs at the London theatre scene including Elaine Paige, the West End Whingers, audience members, and even Susan Boyle, along with with material previously performed from the off-Broadway review to keep everyone entertained. Well maybe everyone who is a little in the know about the world of musicals... It is a bit of a worrying sign to be amused so much by in-jokes about musical theatre. The opening number about an argument between two homosexuals could have been a scene from any conversation in the Dress Circle shop in Covent Garden. Maybe I am just more theatrically inclined than I think I am. Well that is something to ponder over Pride I suppose...

Anyway the cast of Anna-Jane Casey, Sophie-Louise Dann, Alasdair Harvey and Steven Kynman were all pretty darn funny and worked hard for the evening's entertainment as well.

After the show the gathering of bloggers and hangers on suggested to the creative team including creator Gerard Alessandrini that the show could do with taking the piss out of Sister Act. For no other reason than it is a big, obvious, target. The bizarre show using Michael Jackson's music, was also suggested as another candidate. Then again the humour in Forbidden Broadway has always been incisive rather than just sending up any old mediocre show. It is too bad that Plague Over England wasn't still running as I would have enjoyed a comedy routine about how a play set in a urinal passes for drama in the West End...

Anyway the show is well worth catching and is a refreshing injection of life into the theatre scene in London. Actually the theatre scene over the summer has looked a bit lifeless of late. Maybe it is the heat. Or the fact that it is summer. Fortunately during this time of high temperatures the Chocolate Factory is air conditioned... Well at least the theatre. The bar and restaurant is another story altogether...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scenes from London Naked Bike Ride


Picture 500, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

It is that time of year again when naked people cycle through the streets of London. While it lacked the body paint and noise of last year's ride, it made up for that with the huge numbers of naked people cycling.

And amongst all this full-frontal nudity there was a message that we should get back to nature and stop relying on oil... More ass, less gas or something like that...

Walking back through Hyde Park afterwards one stumbled across a sea of naked and semi-naked people who had finished the ride. There were also loads of people taking photographs of this nakedness. I resisted the urge to capture close up nudity in favour of the magic of the ride... Besides some things are best viewed when they are whizzing by you...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Scenes from a Westminster Park


Picture 454, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

There are loads of things you cannot do, but it is nice to know the council would still like you to enjoy yourself while you are there...

Monday, June 08, 2009

Scenes from rehearsal Monday

Send in the clowns... We're performing at the Scoop on Friday as part of Fringe Choirs week... Also performing this week is the London Irish Pensioner Choir... But they perform on Thursday...

Posted via email from paulinlondon's posterous

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Theatre: Grasses of A Thousand Colours



Saturday morning over breakfast, we were discussing how it was possible to have sex with a cat. There was a general consensus at the table that it would be quite difficult as unlike a cow, a goat (Silvia perhaps), or a big dog, a cat would have other ideas. I hypothesised that perhaps the cat could be used like some sort of muff. Such was the fascinating conversation that ensued after seeing Grasses of A Thousand Colours at the Royal Court on Friday evening.

This play is part of the Wallace Shawn season at the Royal Court, and is a world premiere featuring Miranda Richardson, Jennifer Tilly and Shawn himself. Shawn plays a scientist who has managed to manipulate the food chain with rather surprising results. In amongst all that he has three women in his life and sex with a cat that ends up bruising his penis (or giving it a funny colour at least).

Most of the story unfolds through a series on monologues. A series of monologues that lasted nearly three hours with only two ten minute intervals. It was the first play that I had been to that comes with instructions as well. Sitting down to dinner at the theatre beforehand (something low in carbs is necessary to avoid falling asleep), you were strongly encouraged to order your interval drinks right there as the intervals would be brief. I was wondering whether this contempt for the audience was part of the experience of the play. Naturally being presented with such recommendations I ignored them, although with hindsight making time for coffee during the brief intermissions might have been a smarter choice.

It could have been worse I suppose. A month or so back I received a worrying email from the theatre saying the play was going well over three hours and that you better not be expecting to get the last train home. Of course there always was the easy (and quite popular option if Friday night is anything to go by) of skipping the third act altogether. It was during the second act when the cat sex entered the story so perhaps these people were dog lovers. Still, as fascinating and rewarding as it was to see Miranda Richardson lick Shawn's bald head and Jennifer Tilly in her underwear, those people that missed these and other things in the third act, didn't really miss that much.

Monologues are interesting stuff when they are witty and unusual and have a new point to make but when it is just relentless cat sex it does just become a bit of a drag. My mind started wandering to thinking about the cat I used to torment when I was growing up that met a gruesome end from other cats in our neighbourhood. Or the cat that was nearly eaten by a friend's dog. Then there was the cat that ate the garlic prawns about to be served at dinner... It was only when the dialogue between the characters started happening in the third act that I snapped back into attention.

If the night was warmer and the play was duller I definitely would have left at the end of act two. Well summer is here and the pubs stay open longer now. Life is just too short to sit through something that could have been edited. But given the quality of the cast and the fact that the production was not that bad, curiosity did get the better of me. There was general agreement that the cast made it almost worth hanging around to see, but coffee would be advisable. All things being equal, it is probably worth seeing, but beware of the conversations that might ensue the morning after... It runs until the end of June...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Theatre: The Cherry Orchard

Thanks to the West End Whingers, I had long held a ticket to Tuesday night's preview of The Cherry Orchard. This was a show that Time Out listed this week as the one thing you should go and see. I always have relied on friends, bloggers or just passing people on the street to be slightly fashionable and this was no exception. I was lucky too as the play turned out to be a real treat.

Confusingly however, I had the play in my diary as the Bridge Project. Well that is the name of the co-production between the Old Vic, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Neal Street Productions, under the direction of Sam Mendes. The acting troupe including Simon Russell Beale, Ethan Hawke and Rebecca Hall will perform Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare's The Winters Tale at the Old Vic over the summer here before continuing to various other locations around the world for the next two years. It has been described as a new model for theatrical productions , which hopefully does not turn out to be some sort of enslavement for actors. Afterall the works they are performing are not exactly light fare.

Having not seen Chekhov's play before, I found it all rather fascinating. There was something very appealing and topical about a play where unpaid mortgages and changing times were at the heart of the drama. The comedy of this play (if you believe the notes and other reviews) has been heightened and the long soliloquies many of the characters have to deliver were all rather imaginatively staged and delivered.

Of course it helped having Feigned Mischief sit beside me. As more than just a casual fan of Simon Russell Beale, she took enjoyment of the play to a whole new level. I wasn't too sure if she cared so much about Chekhov, but she was focussed on Simon's part. Actually I didn't mention it to her, but in a way I could appreciate what she likes about Simon. He he is a bit grrr woof (if you like that sort of thing). All of London who reads the Saturday Times have some idea of Feigned Mischief's devotion to SRB as well. She informed me that she is going quite a few more times to see both plays in the Bridge Project so your chances of seeing her at the Old Vic are probably quite good... But then again even if you're not sitting next to a Simon Russell Beale stalker, it is still worth a look...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hot news this week in London...


Headline News, originally uploaded by SteveM51.

The third tube baby in history... Ew...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hot news this week in London

The invasion of the gnomes starts in Chelsea...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Theatre: Madame De Sade



Maybe after watching Angels and Demons on Friday, I was in the mood for something with a little less action, fewer explosions and better dialogue; but I actually enjoyed watching the Saturday matinee performance of Madame De Sade. The play, which is nearing the end of its run, has had largely negative reviews in The Times and The Telegraph (and luke warm reviews in the Guardian and Evening Standard).

The review in the Telegraph prompted Dame Judi Dench to describe the Telegraph's critic as an absolute s---. Well to be fair to both, the quality of theatre criticism in London is dire, and this will probably not be the most memorable of Dench's performances on stage (as she mostly has to move between being outraged, cunning and just over it all). However all that being said, there is much to go for the play, particularly the quality of the acting, the fabulous costumes, wigs, lighting and set.

I had been forewarned that the action takes place off stage and the drama unfolds by the conversations and perspectives of the cast on stage, so I came prepared for a long afternoon. I had also gathered that that playwright Yukio Mishima's fascination with differing ideals of morality also annoyed the hell out of people. Perhaps in this day and age there is nothing so shocking about what the Marquis De Sade got up to. But if you bear that all in mind what you have is a simple story that is elevated to an engaging afternoon (or evening) of drama. Perhaps a month after the opening night and those ambivalent reviews the actors have managed to make the most of this unusual work too.

There were plenty of squirms in the audience when some of the acts of the Marquis De Sade were described in rather vivid and graphic detail. Scanning across the audience, I could see many men with their legs crossed and their hands in their crotches... Now that is the hallmark of a good play. If only they had copies of the Marquis De Sade's books on sale in the foyer to enable we patrons to take home some of the drama...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Theatre Revisit: La Cage Aux Folles



Sometimes it is good not to be the first to see some things. In the case of the first preview of La Cage Aux Folles I saw in November 2007 it was hard to tell what would become of it. Particularly since many technical problems (like curtains not coming up and so forth), made it hard to watch. Well last year it transferred to the West End and became one of the big hits of 2008. Having finally caught it in a proper theatre it is easy to see its appeal. Some updated observations:

It is a family musical (of sorts) and the enjoyment of the show probably depends on how much you believe the performances by the two male leads. In this case, the run now has Roger Allam and Philip Quast in the lead roles and they can come up with the goods. Within moments from when they appeared on stage and started arguing you could believe that they were a couple who had been living together for over twenty years.

The group I was with were initially disappointed that Graham Norton had finished his run, but by the end of the show were glad they saw real actors and singers, even if there wasn't the novelty and curiosity factor of such stunt-casting.

The musical is still quite long, but the performances of this cast (particularly Allam), will make you overlook the fact that you don't get to intermission until around 9pm. The dancing is still scary but I was sitting back enough not to be intimidated by it (or by Quast's ad libs with the front row tables).

The music ranges from the sublime to the sub prime, and while it doesn't have a big dazzling bus and a deafening soundtrack like in Priscilla, it has a lot more heart. A show definitely worth another look. Good tickets are available at the usual outlets such as the Official London Theatre TKTS booth...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hot news this week in London


img_0893, originally uploaded by Paul-in-London.

The slow and overly detailed drip of news about MPs expenses continues... Well at least the headlines are sort of entertaining...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hot news this week in London...

Or rather... Something for everybody in Stoke Newington...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Theatre Week... Oh the drama...

Last week was a week for Theatre. Four plays and one Musical. This is what happens when friends who are mad theatre-goers drop in to London and have been dying for some cultural pursuits... Well Adrian comes from Melbourne where all they have been playing down there of late I think is re-runs of Menopause the Musical and Phantom of the Opera, so his desperation for some culture was understandable...

First play up was Rookery Nook at the Menier Chocolate Factory. It was still in preview last Tuesday and I couldn't help but think that they had yet to get the pacing right. Part of the problem might have been sitting so close to the action. While it was harder to fall asleep, it also meant that the over the top acting and other shenanigans was right in your face. Sometimes a little distance helps. Still the flag seller, the dog and the biscuits strewn across the floor kept me intrigued with the show. Perhaps a trim of the play might have helped with the levels of enjoyment.

I left Adrian to watch Spring Awakening and Priscilla by himself on Wednesday. He wasn't as impressed with Spring Awakening as I was and did not see the point of the all that teen angst and levitating chairs. I hope however that seats on stage become more popular (provided that the stage audience doesn't have to do anything). Adrian did like Priscilla and commented that the bus had more lights than it did in Australia. Well, it was a much more expensive bus I gather. Still it is a bit sad when you have to say that an expensive bus and some lavish costumes are the main reasons for seeing a show...

Thursday night we caught A Little Night Music which I saw late last year at the Chocolate Factory. Alas it is still underlit so you can hardly see the actors at times. This seems a little odd given the golden hues used throughout the publicity materials... And the show is set in Sweden in the summer when the sun doesn't set. The set looks even less impressive at the Garrick with some sensible handles and brakes in clear view of the audience which evokes the charm of a high school musical on the cheap. Still the acting and singing is so good that you can almost forget these flaws. There was some charm to the performances that made the material still seem so fresh and witty and light. Adrian had to tell me to stop tapping my foot at various points as it was easy to get carried away.

Friday night we had the opportunity to enjoy Alan Bennett's Enjoy at the Gielgud Theatre. When this play was first staged in 1980 it was a flop, but for some reason it seems to have found its time now. It has been revised and trimmed since then, but perhaps a play that focusses on absurd government programmes and the odd fascination with preserving anything for heritage rings more true now than it did then. The performances are all excellent, particularly Alison Steadman and David Troughton in the leads. Reflecting on the show both Adrian and I enjoyed it.

On Saturday while it was a glorious sunny day, Adrian and I would have none of that. Instead we headed to the Leicester Square Theatre to see Stop Messing About. Billed as a Kenneth Williams Extravaganza (whatever that is), it was more of a cheap laughs bazaar. I had been warned that this show was torture as it was just an assembly of old sketches padded out to two radio shows with an interval thrown in for good measure. It did feel like torture at times (particularly since the theatre issued more than one ticket for the same seat so we had to sit further back), but there were some laughs to be had with it.

On reflection it felt much better after seeing Plague Over England. The play picks up on John Gielgud's arrest in a public toilet during the 1950s and uses it to highlight Britain's changing views on sexuality. You can only wonder if next we will be seeing a play about how dogging opened up Britain to appreciate the great outdoors. Despite the terrific acting and simulated gay things (that sitting so close as we were also looked rather smashing), it was a bit hard to see the point of it all. A dreamy sequence set in a latrine had me tittering (not twittering like in Gone With the Wind) as it was desperately grasping for meaning and significance. I had to pity the poor actors with the laughable dialogue they had to deliver at times. The creaky sets and spinning latrines also must be a new low for West End production design (after A Little Night Music too).

On Sunday Adrian wanted to see something on the West End but after all that I decided it really should be a day of rest. Well not counting photographing all the hot sweaty bodies at the London Marathon...

Hot News This Week In London...


Killer Flu Reaches Europe, originally uploaded by LinkMachineGo.

Oink oink oink...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Theatre: Rookery Nook


First impressions now with Adrian from Melbourne... More later...
Listen!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hot news this week in London


SLP: Kitty Tikka, originally uploaded by Ronald Hackston.

Another unintelligible headline from the South London Press...

Idle banter at the movies Sunday

Paul: Let the Right One In isn't that scary when you think about it...
David: You kidding? I hadn't heard you hyperventilating so much since that aborted landing flying back from Edinburgh...
Paul: Well okay... Still the central message of the movie seems to be that everyone needs a guardian angel... Of death...