Thursday, 31 October 2013

London Walks: Ghosts of the Old City

With one thing and another, I was dashing to make the Ghosts of the Old City walk this evening, which was the one offered by London Walks that I was keenest to see. Nuts, it would be the earliest! Anyway, after a tortuous series of unexplained and unwelcome stops on the District Line, I had a scamper from Mansion House Station to St. Paul's Station, Exit 2, where the walk was leaving from. As if I knew where Exit 2 was! Anyway, I made my best guess, and Google Maps told me how to get there.

Now, Google Maps is a great resource, but they have a major flaw, which is that they invariably put the Tube exits in the wrong place, and never give them all. Which would be why, on exiting Mansion House station, I was utterly confused. I had taken the exit for St. Paul's (Exit 4), but came out in an alleyway. Luckily, I turned right, which was the way I needed to go, onto Cannon Street. Then I was confused again - I was now on the main road, where Google Maps Streetview had told me to go left, but it didn't look the same. Luckily, there was a map, and it turned out that the Google Maps exit for Mansion House station was actually across the road from where I was. I had, it transpired, taken the correct exit - it's just that Google didn't know it existed. (I do note that they seem to ignore comments about the location of Tube exits on their maps. Well, mine anyway.)

I soon saw a sign saying that St. Paul's, and the station, which is behind it, were five minutes away. Which is about as much time as I had. This was going to be tight. So off I scurried, still unsure about where exactly this particular exit might be, where they were meeting. But I had an idea that it might be on the side I was currently scurrying towards. Got there just after St. Paul's bells struck 7, the time the walk was due to start. I was willing them to stop, that the guide might not notice the time. There was nobody at the exit I was making for - nobody that looked as though they were about to head on a walk, at least. But then.. out of the corner of my eye, I spied the fellow on the video, standing on a bench, giving a speech to a large group of people. Just round the back of the station entrance. So I hurried over there, and slipped into the back of the group. He seemed to have just started, and was in full flow.. and he was finished taking money, so I got on the walk for free! Well, all right then!

My, but he's an entertaining fellow! All in black, with a full length cape and white face make-up, he has an actorly way about him. A voice that carries, and a way with words. He had plenty of entertaining stories to tell us over the next two hours. More funny than scary, but fascinating if you're into history, as I am. And he could sing! Broke into a few ditties as we went around.

There were about 40 of us in the group, and part of the entertainment was in passing all these people celebrating Hallowe'en. Drunken party-goers abounded, as we wound our way past pubs, and we had some fun with them commenting on us, and our guide commenting on them. Later on the walk, we kept running into other guided groups, including an Italian one. Our guide had to take us further over, and kept being drowned out by the loud Italian guide. He told us to huddle closer, and just pretend we were at Rome airport! We also had to compete, at one point, with the Ghost Bus, which stopped outside the same pub we did, at the same time. And the conductor came over, nearly to where we were standing, with a microphone he was using to communicate with his passengers. And drowned out our guide again. Honestly, no manners! and I've been on the Ghost Bus tour, and it's not great, in my opinion.. I think we had the better deal.

Our walk wasn't very scary - despite the half-hearted attempts to "scare" us by having people dress up in costume at a couple of spots. But it was very, very entertaining, and I do like getting into the nooks and crannies of a place - the spots you hardly ever see. And my, but our guide was energetic - he must have been middle aged, but he took off at a fair pace, and by the end, we'd had quite a workout. Actually, I think a number of people dropped out along the way. Fair play to the man on crutches, who lasted till the end! Recommended, if you like your history.

So, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend, for a well deserved rest, after all that moving. Nothing booked, but there is a play we might go to. And my last plan for Monday was a film - but I haven't had time to see what's on. Watch this space..

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Restaurant: Taiwan Village

Well, I've been exhausting myself dragging cases between flats, and I was up early this morning to go to the Guildford office. So, having learned, by way of an online manual, how to use the washer-dryer in my new place, and put on a wash, I figured I'd earned a bite to eat. Out.

I'd passed a place called Taiwan Village on the way to the old flat with my case, and noticed that they had General Tso's chicken on the menu. So that caught my attention. Because that's my all-time favourite. Also, there is an attractive entry, and the prices are very attractive.

So, when I came back with a case full of stuff, which I dumped in the new place, I made my way there. I was swiftly seated - but I was lucky; the place is small enough, and even late-ish on a Wednesday night I got the last table. The décor is nice, although I didn't see much of it, seated, as I was, just inside the door. Some strategically placed, and nicely varnished, wood blocks your view of the door and maintains privacy. I ordered "special" egg rolls and, of course, the aforementioned General Tso's chicken, which is in the Taiwan-specific section at the back of the menu. And the (slightly) more expensive of the two wines available by the glass. I have a policy of going for the next-priced wine above the house wine - I find it tends to be much nicer.

A rather apologetic waiter came to me shortly after I'd ordered, to say they didn't have any "long" wine glasses left and did I mind having a "short" glass? I dubiously agreed, and was duly served my wine in a brandy glass. Well, that's a first! Anyway, it was very nice. But no match for the food, which was spectacular. I made a point of saying that continually to them. The egg rolls were filled with minced beef, and were the most succulent I've ever had. The chicken was delicious. I skipped dessert, having a second glass of wine instead. Truly, a find - and just five minutes' walk from my new flat. Well now! There's a minimum charge of £15, but you would get a full dinner for that. As I said to the smiley proprietor as I was paying - "You might be seeing me again". Oh, they definitely will. A nice touch they have is that they hold the door for anyone leaving. Caveat - it took them a long time to find me a fork (I'm woeful with chopsticks!)

Well, the man with a van isn't free until Friday, which leaves me tomorrow night to do as I please. Wheee! Previous plan was a ghost walk - we'll see. I would enjoy it - always good to see the old city anyway.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

London Dungeon

We set off in good time for the London Dungeon this evening. A packed Tube disgorged us at Westminster, and we had time to take a few photos. From the steps leading to Westminster Bridge - as Helen pointed out, the crowds on the bridge itself made that a less feasible option!

We arrived at the Dungeon about half an hour before the start time printed on our prepaid ticket, but they let us in anyway. We had a photo taken with props, which we had the option to buy on the way out (the photo, not the props!), and then began a long, long queue.. we were indoors for this bit, and the queue, as was explained to us, was in different stages. I must say, they did all they could to make the process entertaining for us, with plenty of sound effects, a scary film, and plenty to look at along the way. Honestly, one of the best queueing systems I've seen. This process ended at the ticket desk, after which there is the option of toilets before the tour proper starts.

And what a tour it is! They've done wonderful things with pumpkins.. Along the way you meet, in chronological order, Henry VIII, Guy Fawkes, Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd, and Jack the Ripper. There's a boat ride with a difference, which isn't the only point on the tour where you're destined to get wet. Most of the scenes are interactive, and the costumed actors are terrific. Highlight has to be the "drop ride", which you do have the option to skip, as you exit the same way whether you do the ride or not - but I highly recommend it. Although the Dungeon has no cloakroom, at the beginning of the drop you leave your bags under the stage facing you; you return there at the end of the ride. Even though the wait is rife with safety warnings, really, you're well secured and it's suitable for all but very small people, pregnant women, and those who jump if you say "boo"! And the latter probably wouldn't go to the Dungeon anyway.

You exit, as always, through the giftshop, which has a wide range of scarifying goods - the t-shirts, however, I found to have unrealistically small sizes. You also have the option to purchase the photo that was taken at the beginning and the photo of yourself that they sneakily take as the ride drops. I liked that one, but the price was a bit steep, I thought, at £10. All-in-all though, a terrific attraction, as it always was!

We ate afterwards at Cucina restaurant, just around the corner, where the prices are very reasonable, the minestrone is terrific, and the chicken kiev uses garlic butter for a change, not just garlic sauce. Helen also proclaimed the calamari and the meatballs very tasty. Service is swift and friendly. Only downside is that I got way, way too much food.. I couldn't manage a dessert, which I'm sure would have been delicious.

No going out tomorrow, I'm in Guildford. On Hallowe'en itself, I may have to move the rest of my stuff, for lack of other opportunities - so probably won't be heading out that day. I shall have to content myself with scary stuff online instead. Then I'm in Ireland for the weekend. So, to the best of my recollection, I now don't have anything booked until the office Christmas party on the 20th December. But I'm sure I'll find a film to go to on Monday! Of course, they're not advertised just yet - watch this space.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Film: Like Father, Like Son

Well, I couldn't not go to anything tonight, despite moving house, eh? ;-) Not that I'm completely moved - but I wouldn't have been able to get it all done tonight anyway. So I had planned what to go to, and that turned out to be a Japanese film, Like Father, Like Son. In the Ciné Lumiere, which I figured I could walk to from the new place.

Well, that was the plan, except of course I spent as much time as I could dragging stuff between flats, which meant I had left myself a little tight for time. So I took the Tube instead - Google Maps suggested a bus, but I didn't trust it to be faster and it said the Tube would get me there in time. I was impressed to find a direct Tube - I didn't think they did those from West Brompton into town, they certainly don't in the other direction! I noticed that the Overground platforms were closed because of the storm, which made it puzzling that there seemed to be a number of passengers stranded there..

When I got to the cinema, I was asked whether I was over 60. Huh?! She was then apologetic - she was just running through all the concessionary options and pointed out that you couldn't always tell. Well, I suppose.. Anyway, I was a little late, but still in time for the main film.

Which is the story of an affluent Japanese couple who discover that their six-year-old only son was switched at birth with another baby, and now they and the other parents have to decide whether to switch them back. It's sweet, it's heart-warming, it's beautifully shot, and it shows interesting insights into Japanese society. Such as the wives' disinclination to disagree with their husbands, the competitiveness of Japanese society, and the obsession with filming and photographing everything. Mind you, we're all getting like that.. Only problem with this film is, it's about half an hour too long. Several times, I had to resist the inclination to check my watch. Ah well.

Coming back, on my way to the Tube station, I passed a bus stop that said "towards West Brompton". On examination of the schedules, I saw that the 430 bus went straight there, and I knew I could find my way back from West Brompton Station. And fancy if there wasn't a 430 due in two minutes! And I was too tired to walk, after all the moving. So that was fortuitous..

Tomorrow is the London Dungeons! Yep, as the lady said, Hallowe'en is starting early..!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Opera: Nabucco

Off we went again this evening, to see Nabucco in the University Concert Hall, Limerick. We ate first, and having had a not great experience at the Castletroy Park Hotel last time, we thought of eating in Ristorante del Arte in the Crescent shopping centre instead. And that's what we did.

Despite all the warnings on the approach roads about roadworks, naturally there was little sign of them. Typical. Never believe Irish warning signs. They go up when needed (maybe), then stay up until some student nicks them for their flat. Unless they're too big and heavy, or positioned out the country, far from students, in which case they stay there indefinitely, heeded by nobody save nervous tourists, who are probably already phased at having to drive on the wrong side of the road. If the council needs them somewhere else, it just goes out and buys new ones. And they wonder why the country is broke.

The restaurant in the Crescent sc is located right beside the cinema, which makes parking awkward. Luckily, I got what must have been the last space in that section. We were shown to our table by a very smiley waiter with an accent. She was quite insistent that we take that one, although I knew my mother would have preferred a quieter table. She explained that it was because of the type of seating - the tables over there had low chairs, and the chairs at the other tables weren't as comfy - she made my mother sit in one to try it out. So we sat where we were told, and it was quite fine! She then explained that she knew, by looking at people, which they would prefer.

Pity she didn't pay as much attention to our order for starters. Really, all we wanted was garlic bread. First, we got it with cheese, then we got it with bruschetta! Well, the rest of the order went ok. She had the fish, I had the chicken marsala, which I usually do, we both had mash, and all was gorgeous. We both wanted wine, so our waiter got us a 500ml jug. I do like that touch at this chain. We went for the house wine - I could see no evidence of a wine list. And, of course, we would have to have desserts - I went for the ice cream Napoletan, which is delectable and easily the chocolatiest thing there. My mother went for creme brulee, which she enjoyed very much. We came away happy, and very stuffed. I was on a chocolate rush that lasted all night! And we did a smidgeon of shopping - my mother found a top she liked in Carraig Donn. She doesn't get out much to go shopping.

We got to the concert hall in good time, and found a great parking space - naturally, since for once it wasn't raining. Not all night did it rain, except for a squall while we were eating. Which was fine. The opera had three intervals, which was great for people watching - some nice outfits were spotted. Again, it was an Ellen Kent production with the Chisinau National Opera and National Philharmonic Orchestra. So their outfits were also a matter of interest! They're known for having elaborate costumes.

For my money, between this and Aida, both of which are spectacular productions, Nabucco shades it. It's based on the biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco for short), who defeats the Israelites and brings them as slaves to Babylon. Things don't go quite to plan, however.. Again, there were kids on stage, but purely as extras this time. The singing was wonderful, with the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves the highlight. But the music overall is sublime. A highly deserved standing ovation finished off the night.

Nothing else planned for the weekend. Monday is looking like a film - I'll spend the weekend deciding which. Of course, I might be moving into a new place on Monday! so I'll play it by ear..

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Opera: Aida

Back to the University Concert Hall, Limerick this evening, and back to the Castletroy Park Hotel to eat. Well, it was certainly less busy this time - and that didn't seem to improve matters. Service was as slow as I remember from before the change of ownership, and although we had exactly what we had last time, the food didn't taste anything like as good. I got the impression that it had been left sitting. Tomorrow night (well, tonight at this rate!) we're planning a change - thinking of Ristorante del Arte, at the Crescent Shopping Centre. It's not as close, but it is good, and we will be out and about earlier tomorrow, with errands to run. And we can shop! ;-)

We parked as close as possible to the concert hall entrance - important, given that it had been raining for most of the day and there were flood warnings. Indeed, it was raining heavily enough as we went in that I had to stop briefly across from the entrance to let my mother off, before finding a space to park. Collected our tickets (including those for the next opera, which I booked at the same time - mustn't forget them!) and then it was time to take our seats.

Like all operas showing here, this production of Aida was directed by Ellen Kent and featured the Chisinau National Opera and National Philharmonic Orchestra. And had spectacular costumes, and, as someone described at the interval, "tacked-on" dances that looked amateurish, the dancers not experienced enough. And included kids, sometimes dancing, sometimes just as decoration. They were probably local.

Well yes, the dancing does look "tacked-on". But it's entertaining, and fits the story (Aida is the Ethiopian slave to an Egyptian princess - both fall for the leader of the army, fighting the invading Ethiopian hordes. He loves Aida, but the princess offers power. Doesn't end happily for anyone). And you can't fault the singing. Aida, of course, is full of great set pieces, with large choruses and great arias. And the standing ovation at the end was well deserved. Even if the "amazing fire effects" weren't really. But I believe that more amazing effects were offered at certain venues.

And at the interval, I bought tickets for their production of La Boheme (my favourite opera), in March. Now all we have to do is keep those safe for five months or so! Also bought a couple of tickets for the Christmas Raffle - prize, a €1000 voucher to the concert hall. That'd take a while to use up!

And so, roll on the same company's production of Nabucco, tonight. Hope it stops raining.. Right, need my beauty sleep.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Film: Captain Phillips

Yep, didn't ever get to that play I was going to, in the end. But that was because the second flat I was going to see last night, whose agent didn't show, rescheduled for tonight. And.. I said I'd take it!! So that was well worth the trouble. Now all that remains is for the paperwork to go through before someone steals it from under my nose. But I'm hopeful there won't be such demand - the other room, the smaller, is the one that's being advertised, and has been up for a long time. (I said I'd treat myself to the bigger room.)

So, knowing I wouldn't get to the play, I planned early in the day what I was going to do with myself, after the flat viewing was done. Film, of course. So I redid my film ratings - Captain Phillips won. It's not that much of a surprise, really - it started a lot lower, but has risen meteorically in the IMDB ratings. It's showing in the Odeon, and I remembered I still had an Odeon voucher from Amazon Local. So that was that.

I had intended to walk, but I've been doing so much of that over the last couple of days that a blister popped up en route, so I took the bus instead. And duly forgot what the closest stop was to the cinema (it's rare for me to take the bus to the Odeon Kensington). So I still had a little walk. I was early (cried off the last flat viewing, I knew I really wouldn't take it - it was more expensive, and not that much closer) so had time to kill. I treated myself to a celebratory, and very yummy, slice of chocolate and orange window cake at the Costa café attached to the cinema. Note: pay the takeaway price, which is lower, and go eat it outside and people-watch. There's usually something interesting going on - like the lady who wanted to know what time Blue Jasmine was letting out and what time The Great Beauty was letting out, because she wanted to go to one and her husband wanted to go to the other!

And so to the film. Beforehand, they showed the trailer for Gravity again - not as scary the second time round, I found. But I'm sure the film overall will get me going, when it is eventually released. The feature, "Captain Phillips", is directed by Paul Greengrass, also notable for The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, and United 93. Hey, and I see he directed a tv documentary on U2! Well, he's ok in my book then.

Back to the film, which stars Tom Hanks as the Captain Phillips of the title, who was captain of a Maersk cargo ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. Based on a true story, this is not your average action film. Filmed throughout on shaky handheld cameras that put us in the thick of the action, it's pacey, short on dialogue, and has a terrific score that heightens the tension at relevant points. But it also shows us something about the Somalis' background, and makes them real characters to us. I really felt for their ringleader, when the story came to its inevitable conclusion. Gripping stuff, and Tom Hanks is excellent, as ever. This is more intelligent than the vast majority of action films. Recommended.

Right! That's it from London for this week - back to Ireland tomorrow. Next event is Aida, on Thursday, playing at the University Concert Hall, Limerick - the same venue as last week's Cinderella. Well, I should certainly know the way - time was I used to give lectures in that same concert hall!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Film: The Epic of Everest

I'm glad I decided to go to a film after a long evening's flat-viewing; it gave me a welcome break. This can become an obsession.

Anyway, as I hadn't heard back from the people who might have squeezed me in this evening, and my last confirmed viewing was in Shepherds Bush at 7.30, I had plenty of time before the 8.45 showing of The Epic of Everest, showing twice nightly at the BFI as part of their Extreme Summits season. In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the climbing of Mt. Everest, there's a host of Everest-based films showing, and this seems to be the best.

Well, when I say I had plenty of time.. I had time to squeeze in a KFC before heading to the BFI. I was sorry I did, it was so salty: which makes the statements printed on the tray liner all the more ironic - about how they were the first fast food restaurant not to salt their chips, and other such healthy claims. Maybe it was a build-up of salt, but by the time I gave up on my meal, every single thing in it tasted over-salted. And I hadn't added salt to anything. Maybe I'm out of practice, I dunno. Oh, and I was wise not to sit in the downstairs seating area, having seen the sign that said it closed at 8, which was in 15 mins. I knew I wouldn't be finished, and I wasn't, when the steel grille came down at the top of the stairs leading to the downstairs seating. And, sure enough, they hadn't bothered to check whether anyone was still down there, because a few minutes later, a bemused man climbed the stairs to find himself locked in, and had to be rescued. Hmm. Approach this place with caution.

So, I made it to the BFI just as they were calling for people to take their seats. I settled into my seat - they're comfy here. And the film started.

Now, this is actual footage from the 1924 Mallory & Irvine expedition to climb Everest. They've remastered it and added a soundtrack which, while largely appropriate, does get intrusive at times. But my, the film is fascinating! We start by being amused at the language used in the descriptions (it is a silent film), and at what people are wearing. I wasn't the only audience member to remark at Mallory climbing Everest in a tweed jacket! We are treated to something of an ethnographic documentary on the locals - a couple of statements would be regarded as quite un-PC these days. And there's that gorgeous Himalayan scenery as a backdrop. And our fearless heroes plodding through it, with donkeys and walking sticks. Through, as is mentioned, valleys where no human has trod before.

And as they climb higher, and knowing what's coming, the stakes become higher and the drama heightens. For the final shots, as the narrator says, they physically couldn't take the camera any higher, so they used the most powerful telescopic lenses of the day, and explained to us the distance at which each shot was taken. Our last sightings, therefore, of the doomed mountaineers are as black dots moving on a massive white landscape. And it is truly poignant when, after they haven't returned, a rescue team goes looking for them, and gives a pre-agreed signal, depending on whether they're alive or presumed dead. So, through a telescopic lens, we see the rescue team lay out blankets in the form of a cross. Dead, then. It would be decades before Mallory's body was found - Irvine's hasn't been yet.

Stirring stuff. See it, if you get the chance. Showing in the BFI for the rest of the month.

As for tomorrow, I am intending to go to the play I didn't get to today. But that all depends on the flat-viewing. See, I didn't get to see the first place - there was no answer at the house, and it turns out he wasn't there at all, despite having arranged the time with me. Well, I couldn't wait. But we cleared it up later and I'm going back tomorrow (today, now!). If he's that poor a timekeeper, I may be there all evening..

Friday, 18 October 2013

Ballet: Cinderella

It's my mother's birthday next week, and when we saw that the Royal Moscow Ballet was staging Cinderella at the University Concert Hall, Limerick - down the road from her - I agreed to take the day off and come back specially for it. Mind you, that was months ago.. I can see from the email receipt that I booked the flights in May. So there was that feeling of worry that the box office wouldn't have our tickets, and me with no evidence of having booked them, since I'd booked by phone, to get the senior discount for her, which wasn't available online. But that's just me being paranoid, of course!

We decided to eat at the Castletroy Park Hotel beforehand - right across the road from the university, it's the closest hotel and one of the closest restaurants. We got parking quite close to the entrance, which was surprising, considering the crowds we encountered when we went in. It soon became apparent that a wedding was in progress. Lots of high heels, fascinators and inadvisable outfits.

The restaurant doesn't open till 6, but we always eat in the bar anyway. Well, it was cacophonous! But we found a free table - no mean feat, considering the corner where we normally eat was completely reserved - and braved it. And spent our time people-watching, and commenting on outfits. As one does. I asked for Chilean wine - all my favourite wines seem to be from Chile - and thought I'd have the steak, for a change. My experience of the steak burger and steak sandwich here is that there's simply too much food! Turned out to be an excellent decision - both wine and steak were terrific. As I remarked to the server when I was paying, best steak I've had in a while. My mother's salmon was less successful, although she did finish it. And I noted, again, how the service has improved. It used to be so slow.. now it's pretty faultless. Coming out, we practically bumped into Michael Noonan, the Minister for Finance, whose constituency is Limerick City, and who was exiting a press conference held in the hotel in the aftermath of the budget. He looked happy enough - usually does. I guess they or their entourage might have been the people for whom the tables in the bar were reserved. Busy, busy day for the hotel!

We were early to the ballet, and got a decent parking space. And got the tickets, without hassle. Apart from that moment where she's searching for your name, and you're bracing yourself for her not finding it.. We didn't feel like more wine, and just hung around until we could go in. And overheard some language that sounded like Russian, to the ears of someone who doesn't speak more than a couple of words.

We were, as always, in Row P, which has the advantage of having an aisle running in front of it, so loads of leg room, and a rail along the front of the row, which you can hang your coat on. Although mine kept falling off. My mother won't sit anywhere else in this concert hall. And we had aisle seats, which is nice. View excellent, but it is from most seats here. Lots of kids, as always at the ballet (mainly girls) - I suspect the majority of them are taking ballet classes, and are dragged along as an educational experience. Not a lot of high fashion - I expect more at the opera next week. Lots of red, mind..

My mother remarked, during the show, that the costumes were spectacular. I overheard the same remark passed by someone at the interval. Can't argue with that. The stepmother and ugly sisters provided comic relief - the only criticism my mother had was that Cinderella wasn't very good-looking. O well. All I really noted about her, apart from the fact that she's a really good dancer, was that she's skin and bone. But that's an occupational hazard. And, as always, you get the bits in regional costume inserted at a specific point in the show. Which I can't imagine to have been part of the original production. But they're fun to watch. All in all, honestly, neither the most exciting nor the most technically accomplished ballet I've seen - but very watchable, and a nice addition to the long run-up to Christmas.

For Monday, there is an interesting-sounding play, but it's at 7.15 and I have another flat-viewing at 7.30, so that's out. (Yes, the last place fell through - I sent him all the references he'd asked for, and he got back to me and said the room was gone.) Two viewings on Monday actually - the other is earlier. So it's looking like another film - the second viewing is convenient for Shepherds Bush, so a cinema there would be a good option. I'll figure it out over the weekend.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Light Princess

Phew! Worra night. I had three flat viewings and had to go straight to the National afterwards for The Light Princess. Fortunately, all my timings worked ok, and the last viewing was in Shepherds Bush, so I had researched my route on Google Maps and just took the Central Line from there, changed to the Jubilee Line to Waterloo, and knew my route from there to the National anyway - I've been often enough, it's just been a while.

It's actually the first time I wasn't rushing to get to the National! I collected my ticket, and, as usual, immediately got lost. See, I was looking for the Lyttleton, and all I could see were lifts to the Olivier. Figures - I can never find them when I'm looking for them. Anyway, I bravely continued to the back of the lobby, where I found the Lyttleton Cloakroom. Yay! No sign of a door into the theatre though. I ventured to the right, and finally found a door. Getting there. (Signs would be cheating, I suppose.) Mind you, I needed the Circle - these were stalls, so I'd need to go upstairs. But you need to be very careful in the National - the stairs all go to different places. I finally found stairs to the Lyttleton Circle. Whee! (Never did notice the lifts they mention on the website.) And when I got upstairs, of course, I had to go round the other side, because that would be the side I was sitting on. But I still made it in time, incredibly. And trudged all the way up to the back row, where the seating is as comfy as anywhere else and the view is absolutely fine. Don't bother with the more expensive tickets - the back is just as good.

The Light Princess is a musical fantasy by Tori Amos, in which a princess takes to the air after the death of her mother - she floats. It's an allegory of her avoidance of unpleasant feelings. Meantime, in the rival kingdom, the little crown prince does the opposite, becoming morose after his mother's death. Between the two is an impenetrable wilderness. And from there the fairytale unfolds.

Don't be put off if you're not into fairytales - I wouldn't have come myself, or enjoyed it, if this had been an ordinary fairy story. But, of course, the floating princess is absolutely fascinating to watch. They use a combination of wires and black-clad acrobats to keep her airborne, and it is intriguing to watch them manoeuvering her around the stage. And to see how she manages to keep singing throughout. And the music is incredible - it soars, and moved me to tears. And I wasn't the only one. I wish I could get a recording of it.

It's a pity this is recommended for 13+ .. I don't really think the little 'uns would be bothered by it, and they are traditionally the target market. Runs until the 9th January. Highly recommended.

And I was floating somewhat myself, as I crossed the bridge to go home a more direct way. For I found a flat that I want, and am in the process of organising to get it. My days in my current flat are numbered!

For today, I'm back to Ireland, and going to the ballet of Cinderella tomorrow. It'll be good to have something of a rest!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Black Jesus

Well, here we go again. Didn't happen.

I had a flat viewing @6 (unproductive) and, finding myself on North End Road, decided I'd like something to eat. I finally came across an Italian, Porcini, which had some customers but not a lot. So I plumped for that.

The wine was a good choice - not the cheapest on the list, the second cheapest - the pinot bianco. It was delish. My starter, focaccia, was a bit dry and there was too much of it, but the main course - saltimbocca alla romana - was gorgeous. And both staff and customers are Italian. What more do you want?

Well, service that doesn't move through quicksand for one. It was 15 minutes after I had finished my starter before I got my main. I had to stand to make them look in my direction, so I could ask for the bill - which it then took them five minutes to get together, given that there was some confusion over what I'd ordered. I didn't have time to finish my meal, and I still missed the play. Howzat for service?

Hmph. The Light Princess tomorrow. Won't be heading to Porcini's again if I'm in a hurry - or, at least, I won't have a starter.

Bah humbug..

Monday, 14 October 2013


(Fanfare:) So, after much suspense, tonight's offering was.. "Roots"! Playing at Donmar Warehouse, near Covent Garden. Can't actually remember whether I've been here before, but I looked it up, as usual, on Google Maps Streetview before I left.

So, after an unscheduled stop on the District Line (almost inevitable), I changed to the Piccadilly Line, glad that the delay announcement, as I was on the platform, related to trains west of where I was, and that I was headed east. And I managed to get a seat, as we weren't yet in the centre. And settled down for quite a long trip, sighing inwardly that I didn't have anything to occupy me. I needn't have worried - the red-haired lady, in the red coat, who happened to be sitting beside me, proved the most talkative person I've yet met on the Tube! We got to talking, I must have told her half my life story, and I only just had a chance to get a word in edgeways as I was getting off to ask her what she did for a living. Belinda, from New Zealand, with the corporate social networking business, if you're listening, it was lovely chatting with you!

Right, anyway. Found the place with no problems, and produced my debit card, as required, to collect my ticket. Then he made me sign a receipt, and then there was a problem, as he was supposed to check my signature, and I hadn't yet signed my new debit card. Oops.. so I dug around for something else with my signature on it, aware that I had no ID on me - then I remembered I also had a credit card, which was signed. Phew. Made sure to sign the debit card while I remembered.

After something of a climb - I was in the cheap seats in the circle - I turned left, as that was where I was to go for my seat number. And utter confusion ensued. I vaguely remembered, from the seating plan, that I was in the very back row - but not where my seat was. So I asked the people who had just sat down what numbers they were. 36 & 37 - well, I was 35, so I must be beside them. Turned out, at the interval, when I found the seat numbers discreetly printed on the seat backs, that they were in the wrong seats and I should have been on their other side. But it doesn't really matter.

This play is set in Norfolk, in the 50s. Simple country folk, to whom the youngest daughter returns from London to visit, full of tales of her socialist boyfriend and quoting his ideas to them, to their increasing irritation. There are two intervals, allowing three different sets to be staged, representing three different rooms - first, the kitchen of her sister, whom she always visits first, then her parents' kitchen, and finally, her parents' front room, whose table is laden with food, in preparation for the visit of the famous boyfriend of whom we've heard so much.

So much of this rang true! The country life is realistically and charmingly presented, with birdsong, rain effects, a backdrop with images of nature. I recognised so many of the characters from my own childhood - farm labourers, men in cloth caps who get in from work exhausted, put their feet up and read the paper. Women who are so busy with housework they never sit down. There are long silences while women in the play cook, tidy or do the washing up, and men read the paper. Beautifully done. And the young woman, back from the big city, alight with all the new ideas she's acquired, resentful that her parents never showed her these things when she was growing up and frustrated that they can't understand them now. Ah yes, met her somewhere.. Her soliloquy at the end is profoundly thought-provoking.

She, in particular, is electrifying. They all ring true. One touch I liked is that the stage hands, who move the props in the intervals, although not taking part in the play, are still dressed as though they are, in the clothes of the period. I absolutely loved this - would have given it a standing ovation if I hadn't known I'd then have the spotlights at eye-level and not be able to see the actors I was applauding. Very highly recommended - runs until the end of next month.

Coming out, I was glad I'd remembered the street names - it was dark, and the streets around there are confusing and narrow. Be warned.. you can get lost here very easily.

Right - no films for me this week, ironically considering that the BFI Film Festival is on. Well, bad timing.. Next (Tuesday), I'm going to see Black Jesus at the Finborough Theatre, so can walk there. It's about a Truth and Justice Commission enquiry in Zimbabwe, as part of which a man is interviewed who is known as the "Black Jesus" because he decides who lives and who dies. It's supposed to be a powerful analysis of the political complexity of Zimbabwe. I can imagine it will be powerful indeed, in such a small venue. Then, on Wednesday, I'm going to see The Light Princess, at the National Theatre. It's a musical fantasy, apparently, written by Tori Amos, and it's getting rave reviews. I'm so glad I'm going to see it at last - every time I logged onto the National's website, for the last several weeks, it was the first thing I saw, and it looks gorgeous. And then it's back to Ireland for a ballet. Then there are two operas, a London Dungeon trip, a Christmas party and Christmas dinner. The remaining days this year have yet to be filled. ;-)

Thursday, 10 October 2013


As I thought, the Tricycle is the theatre that's confusing on Google Maps Streetview, because there's a huge sign advertising it, with what looks like an entrance underneath - but the actual entrance is a couple of doors down. Not an issue when you're actually there, since you can't see the sign!

I was in less of a hurry this time than the last time I was here, and had a little chance to look around. There seem to be two stages, and there's a cinema. A large bar area that serves food - which I could have done with, I hadn't had time to eat before coming. Not enough time for that though, so I just took my seat. I was in the second row from the back, on the balcony - the seating is erected on scaffolding, and a bar did cross my line of vision to the rear of the stage, but didn't impede my view of the front, or my enjoyment of the show. From their accents, I noticed a lot of Americans in the audience, as people took their seats.

Handbagged is a comedy about the relationship between the sovereign and the Iron Lady. The cast consists of six actors - two for each of the ladies, and two gents. Each of the Queen and Maggie is depicted by two people - an older and younger version, dressed in similar colours (Maggie, appropriately, in shades of blue), with the actions carried out by the younger versions and the older women providing commentary. Each male actor plays a variety of characters.

Well, it's hilarious! It's also a history lesson - Maggie was PM for 11 years, and oversaw some dramatic political developments - but it's history lite. The fourth wall is frequently breached, and the youngest actor keeps reminding the others that the younger audience members don't necessarily know these things, and are not necessarily interested in the longwinded version. It's laugh-out-loud funny, all the big historical events are given a nod, and my! but the voices are terrific. Maggie's, in particular, is so realistic it's chilling. Literally chilling - I remember hearing her on telly when I was growing up, and knowing what she was responsible for, and how much hatred was directed at her, that voice always sent a shiver down my spine. Tonight, we could laugh at it. It's safe to, now.

I like the Metro's review - A clever, mischievous little pleasure with the sharp teeth of a kicked corgi. Extended until November 16. Go on, take yourself up to Kilburn and give yourself a treat, if you get the chance!

Didn't fancy a big meal on the way out, but then I saw a Chicken Cottage just past the station, so I popped in there and had one of their excellent grilled 1/2 chickens. It's been an age since I ate there! Meant I had a chilly wait between trains on the way home, but it was worth it. And now I know where the waiting room is at Willesden Junction.

So, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend. Looking at a film called Ida for next Monday, then it's Black Jesus on Tuesday. Back to Ireland for the ballet of Cinderella, and two operas, Aida and Nabucco. And the London Dungeon on the 29th. And our office Christmas party is on the 20th December. We're having Christmas Dinner at the Greenhills hotel, Limerick. And that's all I've booked for this year. So far!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Film: Insidious: Chapter 2

Whee! I finally got to see Insidious: Chapter 2! As I say, very highly rated for a horror film, but still not so high that I got to see it quickly. It has been showing since Friday 13th (yeah, I don't think that was an accident) September. There were only a few people there, but then it was the early evening showing on a Wednesday. There was a couple that were obviously there on a date - she was brandishing a couple of red roses. Well, they do say that horror films are the way to go, so she cuddles into you for protection.. Me, I have something of a different reaction to horror films. I wouldn't be a great horror date - I'd be more interested in the horror.

Directed, again, by James Wan, and with the same cast as before (plus some newcomers), this starts where Insidious left off. The same night, in fact. So it does really help to have seen the first film. Not to give anything away, but there was an old lady in black, and a hand on Renai's shoulder, and she just turned around and.. So, in this film, all these points are dealt with. Very thoroughly. And we find out exactly who the old lady is! It's worth seeing for that alone.

If you liked Insidious, you'll like its sequel. And yes, just like its IMDB rating, it is better than the original. In particular, the scary background noise that accompanied every single unexplained opening of a door is much less prevalent here, and used only when there is real horror. The same spooky elements that made the original so good are all back, and there are some interesting tie-ins to events in the first film. Terrific - Hallowe'en starts here! I loved it.

Tomorrow night is Handbagged, at the Tricycle. It's a hilarious-sounding play about the relationship between the Queen and Maggie. I've only been to the Tricycle once before - good impression, but I shall have to remind myself how to get there. Black Jesus on Tuesday, the ballet version of Cinderella, and the operas Aida and Nabucco, in Ireland next, and the London Dungeon on the 29th. Still haven't sorted something decent to do on Hallowe'en itself..

Film: In a World...

If you read the last blog, you'll know that I was up in the air about what to go to yesterday. Film, yes, but which? The IMDB ratings were all over the place, and after I sorted them out, with some surprises, LondonNet was down and I couldn't check where, when, or whether, the films were showing. Had to wait until today.

Mind you, I had a fair idea I'd be going to In a World... it's been at the same rating for a while, and was now at the top of my list - along with two older films that I wasn't as keen on seeing, and turned out not to be showing anymore anyway! And so I got to use the first of the two Amazon Local vouchers I bought a while ago, for cheap Odeon tickets, because the Odeon is the only place it's on. Actually, I have enough Odeon points to get a free ticket anyway, but they don't have an expiry date, and the vouchers do. And so I headed into the Odeon on Panton Street, which, I must say, is getting a tad scruffy around the edges.

The strange title relates to the content of the film. This is all about voiceover artists. (Now, there's something you don't come across very often!) Y'see, it relates to the way some trailers start with the phrase "In a world..." So, we have this 31-year-old vocal coach, whose father is a famous voiceover artist, but who has never, herself, achieved the same level of success. And he thinks she never will, because it's a man's game. The story itself is pretty predictable. She finds success, despite his resistance, and despite some sleazy competition. She finds love, and her family draws closer together. Her sister is played by Michaela Watkins, whom I've seen in a trailer for a film called Enough Said, in which she stars, and the film producer who gives our star a voiceover job on a trailer is played by Geena Davis. It's a while since I've seen her - she has definitely had a facelift, she can barely move her jaw. We also see our star giving accent coaching to Eva Longoria, and there's an Irish guy whose accent she keeps trying to get. And his accent is only slightly exaggerated!

Well, it seems that the star also directed and wrote this. And it worked out really well for her! It might have a predictable story, but it's a joy to watch. It's quirky, it's very funny, it's way more intelligent than your average comedy, and it's really interesting, because it gives an insight into an industry that we don't hear very much about. Recommended, if you get the chance.

Tonight.. is looking like Insidious: Chapter 2. Yay, I finally knocked the film list down to there! Unusually highly rated for a horror film, I still wondered, at 7.1, whether I'd get to see it.. but here we are at last. Directed, again, by James Wan, it has pretty much the same cast as Insidious. I hear rumours that it's better - it's certainly rated higher. Looking forward to it - I do love my psychological horror! Tomorrow, going to see Handbagged, which is a comedy about the strained relationship between Liz & Maggie. For next Tuesday, I've booked to see Black Jesus, showing at the Finborough Theatre, which is walking distance from here. They seem to be going strong, despite the closure of the wine bar downstairs. It would actually have been cheaper if I'd seen it this week - it's a policy they have - but that would have prevented me having enough time to go see Insidious! Anyway, they're cheaper on Tuesdays, which is handy, since that's when I'm going. Going to a few things in Ireland after that - Cinderella (ballet), and the operas Aida and Nabucco. And, feeling Hallowe'eny, I'm off to the London Dungeon on the 29th. Mwah-hah-haah!

Monday, 7 October 2013

The World of Extreme Happiness

As I said before, I was looking ahead and saw The World of Extreme Happiness. Thinking it sounded interesting, I went looking for deals, and came across a Time Out offer that was only good until Wednesday. So I said I'd go tonight.

Despite a signal failure at Gloucester Road, I made it in time, and there were no crowds at The Shed tonight. It was up to them what ticket to allocate me - all I was guaranteed was that it would not be a restricted view. I ended up in the front row, at a corner. Which was fine. Seating is on folding chairs, which are a bit uncomfortable after a while, but ok - and the floor was covered in sawdust.

The play deals with a girl born into poverty in the Chinese countryside, who hates her lot and decides to better it by going to the city. However, in the way of such things, all is not rosy there either. The story deals with many contemporary Chinese issues, such as female suicide, female infanticide, the Chinese obsession with self-help gurus (warning: this section contains flashing lights), and Mao's Great Leap Forward. So far, so educational.

The story is a good one, and the climax compelling. The lead actress is amazing, particularly at the end, when she has to change character dramatically. The play is obviously driven by intense political feeling. Only problem is a couple of the male actors, who come across as quite wooden. In particular, the first scene, in the countryside, feels forced. Maybe it just doesn't translate well.. it certainly comes across strangely. The play does improve after that, but Chimerica it ain't. Runs until the 26th.

Next is looking like another film - was going to be The Crash Reel, but I see its IMDB rating has suddenly plummeted! Actually, I just checked, and the same is true of a whole heap of films. Unfortunately, LondonNet seems to be down just now, so I can't check whether the films that have newly risen in the rankings are still showing, or when and where. Have to leave the decision hanging until tomorrow.. For Thursday, I've booked a play called Handbagged. Showing at The Tricycle, it's a comedy about the famously frosty relationship between the Queen and the late Baroness Thatcher. Sounds good..

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Film: Filth

Well, what an unpredictable day!

So, I went flathunting in the afternoon - loved the room, by the way, just waiting now for the landlord to sit back and peruse the many applications he has - which meant the two films at the top of my film list, which were on in the middle of the day, were ruled out because I had to travel for them. I'm sure I'd have made it back, but I preferred not to stress myself out. Just as well really - I had to chase him for the address. I had enough to do without traipsing all over for films.

So I decided on a film that turned out to be the closing gala of the Raindance Festival, in Leicester Square at 7pm. Decided to have a Chinese first, Chinatown being just across the road. I've had enough of my regular - which has really gone downhill - and happened across the Feng Shui Inn. The lamb in honey sauce caught my eye, and seeing that they weren't completely full, I said I'd give them a try. Well, it was only delicious! As were the spring rolls. (By the way, this is the first place I've been where they also have summer, autumn, and winter rolls!) A bit pricey - I think they include service. But I had an excellent time, and I would definitely go back.

I finished at 10 to 7, and the cinema was just across the road. And chaotic! So I joined the end of the first queue I saw, which stretched into the square. By the time the people in front of me got to the front, it was after 7 and I had resigned myself to going to something else. After all, it doesn't do to rock up late to a gala! The final straw was when they and I simultaneously discovered that this queue we'd been standing in all this time was for ticket collection for the gala. Only. (They did have a sign to that effect, but you couldn't see it for the crowds.) Well, I wasn't going through all that again..

So I decided to check what films were on where. Unusually, my phone, which throws a hissy fit whenever you ask it to access the internet, works fine in Leicester Square. I couldn't remember all of my film spreadsheet, but I did remember that there was another film that was only on tonight - but I couldn't remember what it was. Then there was a long, Indian one - but that isn't showing anywhere close enough, or early enough, to make it feasible when I have work in the morning. I did remember that Filth shot up in the IMDB ratings recently and seemed to have stayed high, and when I checked I found that it was showing in Shepherds Bush in just over an hour, which gave me plenty of time to get there. That's the closest place to home it's showing. And thus, after a quick check of the Tube map to verify the fastest way to get there, that is what I did. It did strike me as ironic that ShowFilmFirst was offering free tickets to a showing of this, but I didn't get one in time..

For once, the ticket machine actually worked! Never has for me before in this cinema. And then, of course, I was so early that I figured I'd buy something to nibble on, since I hadn't had dessert. I could have bought my ticket at the same till. Never mind.. So I headed for the Ben & Jerry's stall, where it turned out that, of the three people behind the counter, two were trainees. One didn't know the secret of scooping very hard ice cream (sadly, I didn't hear what her mentor suggested she do in future) and the other had to enlist the same guy's help when he accidentally entered into the till that I had given him £20 instead of £10 (I'd no change). It was mint chocolate chip, by the way, and I was the first to try it that day! To be fair, there were more attractive-looking flavours. But mine was delicious! I had it eaten by the time they said I could finally go in. But there are seats in the lobby, so that's ok. Had a coughing fit during the trailers - luckily, it cleared up just in time.

Right - and so to Filth. Filth is set in Edinburgh, although you'd hardly recognise it from the tourist brochures. It stars James McEvoy as the most obnoxious cop you can imagine. He's racist, homophobic, misogynistic, drug-addicted, a heavy drinker, sleeps around, manipulates people relentlessly, and frequently has strange hallucinations of animals. He's after a promotion, and is prepared to use dirty tricks against everyone that he sees as a rival. And it's hilarious!

For a while. And then it becomes something much cleverer, and more sinister. It's quite depraved - you need a fairly strong stomach for this. I suspect foreign audiences will also need subtitles. That includes English-speaking audiences. And I absolutely loved it. This is a work of rare quality. Recommended - for those with strong constitutions.

In the meantime, before I set out today, I had a look into the future, to see what I might be doing in a few weeks' time. And I came across a play, called The World of Extreme Happiness, playing at The Shed. As the Time Out reviewer remarked, there are so many Chinese plays on at the moment! Indeed, Chimerica - which I saw in June - is having such a good run that they had to have a cast change so that some of the cast could appear in this! (Highly recommended, btw. I see it's top of the Time Out listings now.) Anyway, when I checked to see whether I could get an offer on tickets, I discovered that there is a Time Out offer, only valid until next Wednesday. Well, I hadn't planned on seeing it this week, but under the circumstances.. so I'm going tomorrow. At least I now know my way into The Shed!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Scenes from a Marriage

Made it this time! Despite pushing through the weekend crowds. It's a while since I've been here on the weekend. And, as usual for the St James Theatre, I was upgraded. Really, you'd be mad to book anything but the last row for this theatre - it's never more than half full, you'll always be upgraded. And, you see, the last row is cheaper.. As I've said before, go for an aisle seat. I overheard a man remark, at the interval, how odd it is, for a new theatre, that the seats are so cramped. Alternatively, there are some seats near the front that have unrestricted legroom - but generally, be aware.

Scenes from a Marriage, by Ingmar Bergman, is exactly that. There's a screen behind the stage, on which numbers are displayed to tell us which scene we're on. This occurs while the stage in general is in darkness, which is when scene changes are effected. All the furniture is piled up on either side, and brought on as required.

Most of the action centres around the same couple, taking us through several years of their lives. We meet them when he's 40, she's 37, they have two little girls and are contented with their lot. Well, of course, that doesn't last..

The first act was a bit ho-hum, and, as an elderly lady remarked as she was passing on her way out at the interval, there were several occasions when she knew what was coming next. The second act is worth sticking around for though - it's a hum-dinger. All in all, a good piece, although, for my money, not as good as Fifty Words, which dealt very passionately with the same subject, and which I saw back in June. Mind you, that could be just my preference - this is more cerebral. Lack of passion is one of this couple's problems.

Tomorrow will likely be a film again. Now, having eliminated such gems as a documentary about a year in the life of a family of Transylvanian shepherds (really, my patience has a limit!), the highest rated on my list are two films showing in the middle of the day - one in Hampstead, the other in Piccadilly. Thing is, I have a flat viewing at 3 - and while I'm sure I'd be back for it, still, I wouldn't be able to relax. So that leaves The Machine, which turns out to be the closing gala of the Raindance Festival (hah! Should've known better than to predict I wouldn't be going to anything else in it..) That's on in the evening, and should be fine. Except it costs all of £25.. o well, that's less than today's play..!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Land of our Fathers

..didn't happen. That's the trouble with multi-trip journeys - Tube, then bus. Actually, my timing was perfect - the Tube arrived practically simultaneously with me, there were no delays, for once, and the bus didn't take long to arrive either.

And then we got bogged down in Friday-night traffic. The bus journey took twice as long as it should have, and we were just late enough that it wasn't worth my while. O well. If you do decide to go to Land of our Fathers, you need to book - it is selling out. And you need to leave plenty of time, depending where you're coming from.

And then I got lost looking for the bus stop to come back by. No, it isn't the one just across the road - thanks to the map at that bus stop, though, I figured out where to go. It helped that I saw one of the buses I needed turning down there. Of course, I missed that one, but it wasn't long before the other arrived.

At least Hammersmith Bridge looked pretty, all lit up.

Tomorrow, it's Scenes from a Marriage, at the St James Theatre. Which I can get to straight by Tube, fortunately.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Film: Everyone's Going to Die

Well, Everyone's Going to Die shot up in the IMDB ratings, so was today's must-see. It was showing in the Vue Piccadilly, which I was supposed to go to last Thursday, except then I didn't. Sadly, that meant that I missed the Irish sci-fi film I had been going to see - it only had a limited showing and I didn't have another chance to see it. Both were showing as part of the Raindance Festival of indie film, based at this cinema.

I knew the problem was going to be picking the right exit from Piccadilly Station - after that, it was a short hop down Regent Street. The cinema itself is called the Apollo, which must have been the original name. Anyway, for future reference, no, you don't take either exit marked for Regent Street. You take Exit 3, and take the corridor marked "South Piccadilly". That'll get you where you need to be. Honestly, this place - if it weren't for the maps at the exits, which I studied carefully, although it made me slightly late..

I could never quite remember the name of this film, and was slightly conscious of that as I ordered the ticket. But I got it right. And then had to go down two floors to the cinema proper. The stairs are brightly lit with rather dazzling blue lights, which, although attractive, are something of a hazard. And the whole place was full of Raindance stands, selling catalogues and t-shirts. The cinema itself was a pleasant surprise - all seats are plush, premier-style, with mini tables between. Apparently, all screens in this cinema are the same. And the seats recline. Well, goodee.. and the price, while not cheap, is less than you'd pay in many of the large cinemas round about..

This is a quirky little film, the sort that you come across sometimes on the telly, late at night, and that turn out to be real gems. Basically, it's about two people, a man and woman, in an English seaside town (turns out to be Folkestone). They're both disenchanted with their lives, meet by chance, and develop a connection over a period of 24 hours. It's alternately philosophical and hilarious. Check it out, if you get the chance.

Afterwards, there was a Q+A with the cinematographer, who was sitting in front of me during the showing, and the lead actor. Apparently, he's only a newbie at acting! Aww.. and one of the questions directed at the cinematographer was from his father, also sitting in front of me. We were told we could take a catalogue for free on the way out, but I didn't bother - the festival is over in three days anyway, and I'm unlikely to go to anything else in it.

Speaking of which, I'm off to see Land of Our Fathers tomorrow - it's in one of those theatres above a pub, and I have been there once before, but will have to look it up again. It's been booking out - supposed to be very good. And I'm off to see Scenes from a Marriage on Saturday. Then back to films, by the look of it.. and a continuing flat-hunt!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Film: Blue Jasmine

So finally, after all my blogging about it, I got to see Blue Jasmine tonight, in the Odeon Kensington. It was packed - whether because of the film, or because of Orange Wednesdays, or for some other reason. Anyhow, I didn't mind going to the front, because the screen (#4) is TINY! You really need to be at the front of this cinema, or the screen will be smaller than some tvs..

So, Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a woman whose life is falling apart around her. Alec Baldwin is the scheming husband whose financial shenanigans led her to this mess. (My, isn't his IMDB bio full of it?!) Sally Hawkins, who is actually from London, and whose face is vaguely familiar, plays her sister, with whom she moves in. Bobby Cannavale is the sister's boyfriend, as much a loser as her ex-husband, in Jasmine's eyes. And Peter Sarsgaard plays the new love interest in Jasmine's life.

Well, this is an extremely good film. Thought-provoking, too. Kudos to Cate - that's an Oscar nomination if ever I saw one. Her performance is magnificent, and completely believable as she veers from fragile elegance to drunken despair and back again. And as they say in the reviews, even when she's being obnoxious - criticising her sister's life, for instance - you tend to agree with her on some level. Yes, she's made a mess of things herself - but she's the first to admit it. And she's doing her best.

Actually, one thing I found interesting, thinking about it afterwards, was the extent to which these women's lives are dictated by the men in their lives. Jasmine gets herself into this mess by being completely dependant on her husband, who ends up in prison and leaves her bankrupt. Her sister's only chance for an easy life came when her husband won the lottery - he then invested it all in Jasmine's husband's schemes and lost it all. Neither sister is happy without a man in her life - Jasmine's hopes seem to rest on finding an eligible man with a "substantial" job, while her sister is keen to have a man about the place, as a role model for her sons. Her actions through the film indicate that she is, as Jasmine accuses her at one point, willing to "settle" for what she can get. In men, as well as everything else.

You could also make the point that the only real female independence shown in the film is by Jasmine. I won't give away the plot, but she is the only one to try to take steps, independent of a man, to improve her lot. And she suffers for her independence at every turn.. Excellent film, highly recommended.

Probably a film tomorrow night again - currently top of the list is "Everyone's Going to Die". (!) No, it's not a horror film.. I see the rating for it shot up today. For Friday, I'm going to see Land of Our Fathers - must look up where that is on again - and on Saturday, Scenes from a Marriage. And then back to the ever-increasing film list. I swear, they really did release fewer over the summer!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

The cheapest venue for tickets for The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, in the Duchess Theatre, was, as so often before, Bless their little hearts.. you see, they charge according to the section of the theatre that you book for, but then they leave it up to the theatre to decide where to actually put you. And if it happens that that part of the theatre is undersubscribed, they're likely to upgrade you. And so it came to pass that, this evening, having booked to sit in the rafters, at the back of the dress circle, I found myself instead handed a ticket for an aisle seat in Row D of the stalls. Fourth row from the stage. V nice indeed! And that means that I paid £22 for a ticket that would have cost over £40 from, or perhaps up to £65 from the venue itself. Tip: always book the cheapest ticket that would be acceptable to you. They're also more likely to be upgraded..

Many of the actors double as musicians for the start of the show. Now, this is a gangster play that rapidly morphs into a satire on the rise of Hitler. Written by Brecht in 1941, as they say, it would have been incendiary if it had been performed at the time, but actually didn't receive an airing until 1958. All the characters and scenes are based on actual events - see the Wikipedia article, cited at the top of this blog, for further details.

The play opens with a jazz band, in a speakeasy setting of Chicago of the 1930s. We are introduced to the main characters, and soon launched into the story of Arturo Ui, the gangster who wants to control the cauliflower trade in Chicago. But that's just the start.. Henry Goodman is terrific as the title character, who starts as a figure of fun and becomes something much more sinister. The action propels us to the final scene, which is closer than any of us would like to be to a Nuremberg rally, with an enormous podium, huge banners unfurled at the sides, and heavies stationed strategically around the theatre, clapping at the appropriate moments and intimidating the audience into feeling they should do the same.

And the last lines of the play are stunning. "Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again." I had no problem giving this a standing ovation, and I'm very glad I got to see it. Highly recommended - runs until Dec 7.

Right! Back to a film for tomorrow night - feels like a safer proposition! Blue Jasmine, at last - the new Woody Allen that isn't like a Woody Allen, apparently. A reviewer said that all you have to do to see how good Cate Blanchett is in the part is to imagine anyone else in it. She plays the neurotic character, with Alec Baldwin as her ex-husband and Peter Sarsgaard as the new love in her life. I've booked plays for Friday and Saturday - Land of our Fathers, set in a coal mine, is Friday's. I would've booked it for Thursday, but it was sold out.. and Saturday's is Scenes from a Marriage. 'Tis very annoying - there was a Time Out offer for it, advertised as late as last Saturday, but the offer was sold out today and the cheapest place to get a ticket was from the venue website. Maybe it got a good review in the Friday papers. It's at the St James Theatre, which is the one where I always get an aisle seat because I find the legroom slightly cramped. I always book the back row, and always get moved down towards the front because the place is half empty. We shall see what happens on Saturday..

Film: Prisoners

Went to see Prisoners last night - late-ish, and it's a long film, which is why I didn't have a chance to get the blog in afterwards. Had time to grab a bite at Nando's first - it's getting increasingly uncomfortable though, they're so busy, and when my food finally did arrive, the garlic bread was cold.

Well, whatever has happened to the Odeon Kensington? That's twice in a row now they've had someone standing there, ready to take my ticket! Heavens, they must be sickening for something.. anyway, it was gratifying to get an extra discount last night, for Film Fan Monday. I didn't realise you could get that in-cinema, must remember in future if I'm going to the Odeon on a Monday. Saves a booking fee, and, as usual, has the added advantage that you're not held to it if your plans change. Sadly, it didn't help their attendance, all the same - there weren't half a dozen of us in Screen 1 for this. (I see they've moved Rush down to Screen 2 - interesting decision. Although I don't know what their attendance was like at the weekend.) Anyway, it helped when I wanted to cough, that I wasn't disturbing many people. Nobody was sitting near me - I did as I was supposed to, and sat in the front four rows, which are unreserved. Nobody else did, but all sat in the reserved section. Whether they'd reserved, I don't know. But anyway, I think the front rows are fine.

Prisoners stars Hugh Jackman as the father of a little girl that goes missing, along with her friend, when they go out alone and weren't supposed to. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the investigating officer. It's set in small-town Canada, although there isn't any scenery to speak of. And my, is it bleak! But oh, as you'll read in the reviews, such beauty the cinematography brings to the bleakness! It's beautifully shot. And for lovers of a good thriller, this is a must-see. Such twists and turns to a story, I haven't seen in an age. Bet you don't see it coming! The critics murmur about the other actors not having much of a part to play, but the story is so powerful that there isn't room for much grandstanding. Highly, highly recommended.

Unusually, I'm at a play tonight - Time Out must be sending people to review plays again, there's a whole batch of new ones near the top of the listings. So, I'm going to see The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, by Brecht, at the Duchess Theatre. I've been here once before, and, as I recall, found it hard to find the box office in the crush (it's straight ahead), found the decor plain, and the seating above average for comfort, in the dress circle. Well, played a blinder and, as usual, provided the cheapest tickets. And, with them, you might always be upgraded. Tomorrow night, I'm off to see Blue Jasmine at last - the new Woody Allen film, starring Cate Blanchett as the "Woody Allen" character, full of neuroses.  But apparently, this is an atypical Woody Allen film. Alec Baldwin plays her ex-husband, and Peter Sarsgaard her new love interest. I hear good things..