Speechless

In the midst of preparations for last weekend’s Gidday Soiree, I took a break and went to Sadlers Wells to see Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words. This was both my first Bourne and even more remarkably, given my love of dance, my first visit to Sadlers Wells. And apart from it being another bonza deal unearthed during my daily travels, Sadlers Wells is an easy commute down the Northern Line from Gidday HQ so I suspect that this cultural pocket of London will feature amongst my erstwhile ramblings a little more often.

Anyhow, Play Without Words is set in London in the early Sixties and is based on Robin Maugham‘s novel, The Servant. The action starts as we see leading man, Anthony (all 3 of them) sign the lease on a swanky new pad. He hires manservant Prentice (3 of them), a maid Sheila (only 2 of these), meets up with an old friend and then hosts a party with his glacial financee Glenda (yes, 3 of these too) by his side.

Image sourced from http://www.sadlerswells.com

The trios and duos interweave to show the same character captured in three different moments in time, adding power and depth to the wordless storytelling.  There’s friction and frostiness as the relationship between Anthony and Glenda disintegrates. There’s wit and clever visual repartee as Prentice and Sheila insinuate themselves into the household. And there’s sizzle and sexual tension and lust and betrayal – and I LOVED IT!

But more than anything, it’s Bourne’s visionary eye that makes this a seamless and sensual masterpiece. I was entertained, uplifted, moved and thrilled…and determined I’d be back for more.

So as I left, I picked up the program for the rest of the year and amongst the turned-down page corners, you’ll find the San Francisco Ballet, the Rambert Dance Company, Paco Pena and…yes you guessed it, Matthew Bourne and his world premiere of Sleeping Beauty.

It might be baked beans on toast for a while should I let myself indulge in this passion.

Now where is my debit card?


If you are in London between now and August 5th, make sure you get along and see Play Without Words. I kid you not – it’s absolutely brilliant! And I even got an Editor’s Choice for my review on Weekend Notes.

ps…if you’ve been under a rock ignoring me not reading my posts all the way to the end, Birthday Number 43 is fast approaching. You are down to only 13 shopping days peeps so let’s make that a lucky 13 shall we? Don’t let a little superstition get in the way of celebrating…well…me.

 

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours…

Another excellent deal snaffled on my commute put me in an aisle seat at the Cottesloe Theatre for Detroit tonight. Written by Lisa D’Amour and first presented by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago in 2010, it’s a raw and wry out take of life in the suburbs – but not quite as we know it.

Ben and Mary scratch along together in life, she as a highly-strung paralegal, he as a mortgage advisor recently made redundant. The play opens on their back patio with new neighbours Kenny and Sharon who have been invited over for a BBQ, and continues by moving back and forth between the adjoining back yards until the final scene.

I don’t want to divulge too much so I won’t talk about the plot. In any case, I went along without any knowedge of the story, just letting it all unfold in front of me and I loved it. Often when you don’t know what to expect, you can just be present to the action in front of you rather than taint it with the anticipation of what’s to follow.

Suffice to say Kenny and Sharon have an interesting past and these two unlikely couples share neuroses, dreams and philosophies on life until the whole thing goes up in smoke.

The characters are larger than life and there’s no one performance that shines brighter than the others. One minute I’d be cringing at Mary’s pedantry and nagging, the next chuckling at Kenny’s slightly skewed outlook on life (or dancing), then smiling at Sharon’s passionate neighbourliness, before wondering what sort of business Ben could possibly end up with as he interrupts his website ‘development’ activities to offer some self-help style financial mentoring for ‘them next door’.

The Cottesloe is quite a small theatre with the audience sitting right up against the performance ‘space’ so the whole time I felt like I was peering over the fence from my own back yard. It added an intimacy to the play and it felt slightly voyeuristic with every afternoon shindig and midnight tryst that played itself out before us.

The performances were electric and with no intermission, this ensemble cast maintained a cracking pace for the audience for just under 2 hours. Will, Stuart, Clare and Justine really did leave it all on stage. They were brilliant.

Alas, this production at the National Theatre on London’s Southbank closes next Friday (14th July) so you’ll have to get your skates on if you want to see this one. But it’s expected to have its off-Broadway debut in August at Playwrights Horizons and as tickets went on sale today, those of you across the pond have the opportunity to partake.

I saw a play years ago – Art written by Yasmin Reza – which is one of my all-time favourites and Detroit reminded me a little of that. Gritty, dark, passionate and not for the faint-hearted. But absolutely fantastic and not to be missed.

Aaaaawkward….

I went to the theatre last night. Another super deal in the Metro tempted me to the Wyndham Theatre in Charing Cross Road to see Abigail’s Party. So I headed on in after work and had a quick bite to eat before making my way around the corner, into the theatre and up the stairs to my seat in the Royal Circle.

The scene below brought back memories of growing up in the 70s: bold patterned wallpaper (we had the most…ahem, extraordinary black and white geometric pattern on our kitchen walls when I was a kid), shag pile carpet and orange, orange, orange…

The play follows its five protagonists who gather to while away the hours as Sue’s 15 year old daughter hosts her own party down the street. Laurence and Beverly host, complete with nuts, cheesy pineapple sticks and copious amounts of alcohol, and give the audience a sense of their toxic relationship right from the outset.

Before long, the new neighbours arrive. Tony, handsome and morose, sparks a predatory gleam in Beverly’s eye, and Ange, gauche and outspoken, seems to say all the wrong things at the most inopportune times. Long-time resident Sue arrives last, conservative and mousey. And so this freakish five are left to careen slowly towards the play’s shocking climax.

Mike Leigh has the ability to cut to the very heart of our human foibles.

Selfish, opinionated Essex girl Beverly is hell-bent on her gin-fuelled binge while Ange faux-pas her way through several G&Ts herself as she tries valiantly to fill the uncomfortable silences. And the men? Well Tony stays stoic under Beverly’s lascivious eye and Laurence flaps about, swinging between conciliatory concern for his guests and violent fury at his wife. And Sue tries, politely yet unsuccessfully, to stay aloof from them all. The whole evening is just awkward.

And absolutely hilarious.

I am told that no-one does Beverly like Alison Steadman, but for the rest of my life, I don’t think I will ever forget Jill Halfpenny, gyrating on the cream shag rug in her mint green maxi dress…to Demis Roussos.

The end is not all happy-happy and tied up with a bow and I did leave the theatre thinking it was all over with a whimper rather suddenly. But that certainly didn’t detract from a very entertaining and laugh-out-loud kind of evening.

Even if it was all a little bit…aaaaawkward.

Bookings are open up to 1st September but if you are anything like me – marking something mentally that I’d like to see, then never getting around to booking until it’s finished that is – you should google theatre deals and Abigail’s Party and get yourself along…

…or before you know it, it’ll be curtains.

Wired For Sound…

This weekend I was back at the lovely Phoenix Cinema for another From The Archives screening, this time to celebrate this particular local’s 100th birthday on May 9th.

Every From The Archives follows a theme and as The Phoenix was the first cinema in the area to show a ‘talkie’ – The Singing Fool starring Al Jolson – in 1929, this afternoon’s theme was the advent of cinematic sound.

The first clip set the scene – a ‘trailer’ for The Jazz Singer. Not a trailer as you and I know them but rather an earnest young man describing and then cutting to footage of the film and the opening night itself. In that day and age, cinema goers were astonished – the man’s lips moved and his words came out! Extraordinary stuff when you put yourself in those shoes.

The second film was Walt Disney’s first foray into sound and his introduction of the world’s most famous mouse. I had read about Steamboat Willie a couple of years back as part of a biography on Disney – the movie is only 7 minutes long, but features Mickey and Minnie and big cheerful dose of that irrepressible Disney magic.

And then it was time for the main event, the completely joyous Singin’ in the Rain. For those of you who have been living under a rock (and shame on you if you have), the story revolves around the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927 and the scramble of the major studios and their leading men and ladies to survive the rise of the talking picture.

But it is the combination of wonderful music, show stopping routines and the chemistry of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor that has you leaving the cinema humming ‘Good morning, good moooorning!’ and generally feeling that life is a pretty wonderful place to be.

And all of this for free.

Finally as part of the nod to 100 years of local cinema history, we had our photo taken in the auditorium before the show to be put in a time capsule for future generations to find. Just imagine what someone might think of us in 100 years’ time!

And since I have been to three Phoenix freebies now, I decided to put my money where my feel-good is and become a Friend.

It’s just a whole lot of unmitigated feel-good really.

Oh What A Night…

How could a post about the fabulous Jersey Boys be called anything else? It was a night to remember indeed.

To celebrate A-use-to-be-down-the-hill’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, I decided to spring for a girlie night at the theatre. Jersey Boys has had such great reviews during its London run and you never know when these things are going to finish or get all expensive so I grabbed a couple of tickets and off we went.

Fuelled by a couple of glasses of wine over dinner beforehand, we climbed the stairs to the Grand Circle of the Prince Edward Theatre, squashed any vertiginous tendancies and squeezed into our seats to be greeted by a bird’s eye view of the entire stage. Then the music started and we were away.

I’d heard of the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli – although I did get him a little confused with Ritchie Valens before the show began (it’s sometimes good to feel too young to know these things for sure) – but with the first note, I realised that I knew every song. Some of the time I remembered the later cover versions – I particularly remember bopping along to The Spinners’ version of Workin’ My Way Back To You Babe in 1979 – but classics like Big Girls Don’t Cry and Walk Like A Man featuring Valli’s trademark falsetto are still as great now as they ever were.

The show charts the story of The Four Seasons, the struggle to hit the big time, the genius of Bob Gaudio’s writing and Valli’s extraordinary range, the personal tragedies and the ups and downs of life on the road. As Valli (Ryan Molloy on London’s stage) points out, as the bad times always pass, so do the good ones.

This is a fantastic, feel good musical. The cast is great, the show moves swiftly and the music of the era runs its nostalgic fingers through slicked back hair and many great memories. And quite frankly I defy anyone not to let a little tune burst forth on the walk back to the tube. 

Oh wait…I think that was just us…

The 39 Steps…British and Brilliant!

Last night I popped down to The Criterion in Piccadilly Circus to see The 39 Steps. I read the book several years ago and then saw the Hitchcock film (with its amended ending) so I was looking forward to seeing how this tale of murder and mystery translated not only on to the stage but also into a comedy as well.

The play follows the Hitchcock movie plot pretty faithfully and there’s a clever mix of effects, movement and acting which allows for the transition of each stage of Richard Hannay’s thrilling and fast-moving tale.

The show is billed as 4 actors playing 130 characters over 100 minutes. The three female roles – the predatory Annabella Schmidt, the innocent Margaret and the ‘do-right’ Pamela – are played by Catherine Bailey.

Catherine Bailey plays Pamela, love interest for the protagonist, Richard Hannay

These are necessary roles in the story and Catherine does a great job with all of them. But this play, by its very nature, throws its male characters into the limelight.

Andrew Alexander plays Hannay with manic, John Cleese-ian fervour moving from privileged languor to adolescent awkwardness to splendidly British stoicism as Hannay evades the law, the criminal and any costume changes. 

The police chase through the train and across the roof achieves just the right mix of panicked flight  

That leaves 126 characters. And these are brought to life by Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes providing moment after moment of comic ingenuity…

An early moment of hilarity from Stephen Critchlow and Ian Hughes

So it is indeed 4 actors playing 130 characters over 100 minutes.

It is also inordinately clever and brilliantly funny. If you are in London and fancy anything from a giggle to a guffaw, make sure you catch this.

A Highland Fling…

After travelling for the last couple of weeks for work, on Friday night I was looking forward to a quiet weekend, catching up on a few chores and squeezing in a bit of chilling out. But in actual fact, Saturday became one of those days that kept unraveling and unfolding as the day progressed. 

After a slight over-sleep (meaning no chores pre-departure), a planned catch up with A-down-the-hill prior to a regular appointment at the hairdressers developed into somewhat of a larger day and after an impromptu movie matinee (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows if you must know, and yes it was great!) I found myself at a Ceilidh.

‘A what?!’ I hear you say.

A Ceilidh.

A Ceilidh, pronounced ‘kay-lee’, is a traditional Scottish knees up, comprised of kilts, whisky and haggis. But mainly, it is about dancing, informal, fast-and-furious, ‘catch your breath between sets’ kind of dancing. So it’s just as well I had come completely unprepared for a night out – flat boots, jeans, long sleeved t-shirt and not a scrap of make-up – because before long, I was sweaty and ‘unkempt’, and absolutely loving it!

We arrived with A-down-the-hill’s Scottish contingent (McHubster is from north of the border you see), snaffled a table and the boys went off to queue for drinks and a spot of haggis. I had grand intentions getting my vegetarian haggis later in the evening but, well, I got rather busy. You see, the music started and the caller invited everyone to take the floor. After a walk through of the dance – usually comprised of a series of steps set to 16 bars which is then just repeated – we were off. And that’s pretty much the way the night went…all night.

The first dance was The Gay Gordons (don’t ask!) and then a little into the second dance, I was delighted to find I had just renewed my acquaintance with The Virginia Reel, a dance I learnt in primary school.

Three and half hours flew by. There was The Dashing White Sergeant, Strip The Willow, The Flying Scotsman, The Canadian Barndance, The Eightsome Reel and a few that we didn’t catch the name of, made stuff up (because we had no idea what we were doing) and had a laugh anyway. The haggis was piped in (and I do mean bagpiped) half way through the evening and Burns’ Address To A Haggis read with due ceremony, much theatre and sense of occasion (for those of you who don’t know, Burns’ Night falls this Wednesday on January 25th).

It was a fantastic night – young and old alike took the floor and it was a refreshing change to see the guys itching to get onto the dance floor to strut their stuff. There was a sense of joyful abandon in the hall – maybe the flow of whisky helped a little – but this was just a great, old-fashioned knees up and the best thing to do was leap off the deep end and give it a whirl.

If you are interested in finding out more you can click here for upcoming ceilidhs in London and here if you feel you really must swot up on a few of the steps.

But there’s really no need…sometimes a little improv. makes the best fun of all!

Death and the Maiden: A study in vengeance

As a result of another Metro offer (I do love a deal!), I was off to a matinee at the theatre this week to see Death and the Maiden. Not the opera – although there is a reference to the music of Schubert, thus the name. This is the play written by Ariel Dorfman in 1990. The theme is judgement – human rights butting up against vengeance to challenge what we think is fair and just.

 

Paulina Salas is a former political prisoner who has been the victim of torture and rape. The play is set 15 years later when she and her human rights lawyer husband Gerardo are living a quiet life by the sea. On the particular night of the play, Gerardo has a flat tyre on the way home and is helped by a passing stranger who then visits their home later that evening. Paulina becomes convinced that he is the sadistic Dr Miranda, the instrument of her rape and torture all those years ago.

The play centres around Paulina’s absolute conviction, and her desire for vengeance contrasts starkly with her husband’s belief in ‘the human rights process’ he has been fighting for all his life. In the midst of all of this, we are left to wonder about Dr Miranda – is he or isn’t he?

This is Thandie Newton‘s West End debut and she grips the audience with her impassioned portrayal of the slightly crazed Paulina (and is more than ably supported by Anthony Calf as Dr Miranda and Tom Goodman-Hill as her husband Gerardo). The play raises challenging issues throughout: how certain can we ever be of innocence/guilt and the single-mindedness of a victim’s belief in the release revenge will bring as well as the broader themes of penitence, forgiveness and above all, justice – what is it and how far is too far to achieve it.

This is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of theatre that poses more questions than it answers in the end.

I think you should go.

 

Strictly Heartstopping…

Every so often I experience something that affects me so deeply, I just cannot get it out of my mind.

Settling in last night with a bit of Ben & Jerry’s, I was all ready to be entertained and uplifted (to a degree) by my regular Saturday night double dose of guilty pleasure, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor.

But not like this.

After nine amazing performances on last night’s Strictly, this happened:

I was mesmerised. Absolutely spellbound. For the whole 90 seconds, I think I actually stopped breathing.

I kept seeing it over and over in my head all night, despite the brilliant performances on the X Factor Final (part one) that followed.

It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning. And just to double-check I wasn’t imagining it all, I watched it again before posting – twice.

My heart still skipped a beat.

Exciting. Aggressive. Passionate. Uncompromising.

I have nothing further to say on the matter.

ps…oh wait, hang on. I need to let you know that there are only 14 sleeps before Christmas is upon us. That’s only 14 shopping days left so chop chop peeps. You don’t want to be late!

Nuremberg Post Script…

So last we corresponded I’d been in Nuremberg and I revealed that there had been some wining, dining and generally sociable behaviour. I also mentioned we’d been to Peruvian restaurant, El Encanto to celebrate a busy and successful week.

The following is the result of what happens when combining two hysterical tired females with cocktails and arm them with a camera while they are impatiently waiting for their food….

My small contribution to Movember
These napkin rings look like ears!
Look pigtails! (aka Heidi Hair, the closest I’m likely to get…)
Bringing out my inner devil…

Here endeth the lesson.