Thursday, 27 February 2014

Film: The Turtle's Rage

I nearly didn't go to this, this evening. I heard that the secret cinema was, for once, letting us know what film they were showing! and it was the Grand Budapest Hotel, whose trailer is very funny, and which looks very good. Now, this was previewing this week, in the British Film Institute only. So, of course, by the time I came to it, it was sold out. And next week it's only showing on Sunday, when, of course, I'm in Ireland. So this showing was very tempting. But the problem is, they don't tell you where it is until you've booked. And the event timing is supposed to run from 6 - 11pm, which is quite late, and I don't know how long it would take to get back from wherever it is, and I have work in the morning. And the ticket price, including booking fee, is over £57..

So, in short, I went to The Turtle's Rage instead. Showing at Riverside Studios, I certainly knew it would be easy to get to - five minutes by bus, off-peak. It's highly rated on IMDB, and the description, of the daughter of a Palestinian exile seeking to find out more about her father and about Palestine, sounded interesting. The "turtle" of the title is, of course, her father, who disappeared to Palestine when she was 12 and came back some time later, and lived in the basement, not talking to anyone. Retreated into his shell, you might say. So the film is about her attempt to understand what's going on.

I hope she did, because I didn't. The more I think about this film, the less satisfied I am with it. Her father comes across as a crochety old geezer, mad at everyone, even comparing the Germans (they now live in Berlin) with the Israelis. Very gradually, through the film, his reasons for doing what he did - and what he actually did - are revealed to us. Even so, you have to guess a lot. Like, when he and his daughter travel to Gaza to see his sister and he fails to get in, does he eventually succeed? Is that his sister who's interviewed sporadically throughout the film? Who is the older woman? Who are all the other people, probably family members, that we see him with? They are never introduced. Most of the time, I hadn't a clue what was going on. The director doesn't seem to find it necessary to tell us, happy to leave it as an impressionistic mishmash. And as for finding out about the wider Palestinian question, as it says in the summary, I saw no evidence of that whatsoever. This is the second documentary about the Palestinians, made by the child of a Palestinian refugee, now living in Europe, that I've seen this week. The first, A World Not Ours, I found much more satisfying.

Of course, I didn't say any of this in the survey I filled out as I was leaving. :-) But honestly, it is a good film - maybe a 7.5, rather than the 7.9 IMDB has given it - and it was upon reflection that I thought of what was wrong with it. It is interesting. But I prefer the other, as I say.

And so back to Ireland tomorrow, hopefully without the delays I had last time, which led to me spending half the weekend in Heathrow! The storms seem to have died down anyway. I had the devil of a time doing my film list for next week, there were so many new entries - and so many highly ranked! But if I do go to a film on Monday - which seems likely, given that the only seats left for A Taste of Honey are still of the £50 variety - then my choice is likely to be Non-Stop, which is pleasantly highly rated. Stars Liam Neeson as the saviour of a planeful of people who are under terrorist threat. Also stars Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong'o (goodness, she's everywhere all of a sudden!) as flight attendants, and Julianne Moore as a passenger, and therefore potential suspect. Watch this space..

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Film: Plot for Peace

I decided it was wiser to book for Plot for Peace this evening, considering that it was showing as a DocDays presentation at the Curzon Soho, and there was a panel discussion - and they always sell out. Anyway, I certainly knew my way - Tube to Leicester Square, take the Chinatown exit (2), turn left up Little Newport Street, then right, follow the road around and you'll soon see it across the road. As I entered Earl's Court station to start my Tube journey, I saw another of the signs they always have, and that always make me smile. It went something like, "You wonder who looks gorgeous and has a beautiful smile? Look back at the first word you read." Ahh!

Well, this would turn out to be the first of these things I've been to that didn't sell out! Never mind, better safe than sorry. Now. 1989 was a very exciting year, as I remember. I was in school and trying to study, but kept being drawn out to the television, because so many momentous things were happening on the news. The Berlin wall came down, the Communist Bloc imploded, and in South Africa, apartheid was on its last legs. I do seem to remember, at the time, that an anonymous Frenchman was given an award by the South African government. This is the story behind that.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is a French businessman, born in Algeria before independence. When he started to do business in South Africa, it was subject to international sanctions, because of apartheid. As he explains, this presented him with a unique opportunity. He always believed that sanctions were counter-productive, not conducive to dialogue. Anyway, in South Africa, he recognised a society like that which he had experienced in Algeria, pre-independence. He realised that South African society didn't realise how precarious its position was. He knew that apartheid was doomed.

He was also vexed at the complications of doing business between South Africa and its neighbours, because they were always pissing their neighbours off. South Africa controlled Namibia, and backed the UNITA rebels in Angola. With the Cold War raging, South Africa was on the American side, but surrounded by Soviet allies, which it continually sought to undermine. Basically, nobody liked them!

With the civil war raging in Angola, a South African officer, Captain Wynand du Toit, was captured and held by the Angolan authorities. As he tells it in the film, Ollivier realised that the return of this prisoner of war was of prime importance to the South African government. So he set about having a chat with the Angolan leadership. He was very good, as he describes it, at getting to know people and what they needed. The Southern African leaders wouldn't talk to each other, so he spoke to each of them, individually, on the others' behalf, and explained to each of them what made the others tick.

What ensued was quite remarkable. He describes having to negotiate with governments of six Southern African countries. Problem was, you couldn't fly direct from one African country to another, you had to go via Europe and double back! So he realised it would be easier, quicker, and much cheaper, just to hire his own plane, and that is what he did. He also explains how he only had one contact in each country - and once, he was in Angola when the president wasn't there, and he felt so uncomfortable that he decided to leave immediately. But the airport authorities wouldn't give his pilots permission to take off. He told them to do so anyway, so they turned off all the electronic equipment and off they went. The airport authorities advised that they were sending MiGs to shoot them down. So they just flew as fast as they could until they were over international waters..

You couldn't make it up. In the end, hundreds of prisoners of war - including Captain Wynand du Toit - were exchanged. Ollivier was credited with helping to end the war in Angola, and the way was paved for the release of Mandela, and the dismantling of apartheid. Ollivier became the only person to be awarded by both the apartheid government, and the post-apartheid government, when Mandela learned what he had done. This film tells the whole story, with interviews with many principal players, including Ollivier, P. W. Botha, and Chester Crocker, the American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the time. Who, interestingly, kept reminding me of an older Benedict Cumberbatch. Something about the facial expressions. Anyway. Fascinating viewing, grippingly told. Caveat though - pay attention, there's a lot of detail here! This was a preview - apparently, it receives a general cinema release on the 15th, with a dvd release 10 days later.

When the people sitting outside me in the row decided they didn't want to stay for the Q+A, I decided I wouldn't bother either, and left. Enough detail, already! Handy that I was walking back through Chinatown - I was peckish, and just thinking it was a while since I'd had a Chinese. As I passed Wan Chai Corner (rightmost on this handy map), it looked ok, and I ate there. The service was the most efficient I've had in ages. Wine was a little nondescript, but the spring rolls were tasty enough, and the beef Szechuan and rice were terrific! Recommended. And as I came home through Earl's Court, I saw they still had an old sign there - "If you notice people staring at you, they are probably taking notes on your glamour and beauty." Or words to that effect. Ahh again!

Tomorrow night is looking like, ahem, The Turtle's Rage. Showing in Riverside Studios, it's a documentary - about Palestinians again, though, rather than turtles.. And then it's back to Ireland for the weekend.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Film: Spite Marriage

I dropped a lot in terms of IMDB ratings today - Spite Marriage is only rated at 7.2! But that was the highest rated showing today that I hadn't seen, and might be interested in seeing. So I had booked a ticket - the last of the cheap Tuesday tickets - and was heading for the British Film Institute for 6.30.

Unfortunate, then, that it had to be this evening that a work meeting was arranged for last thing! Anyway, the boss was obligingly conscious of the time, and we still finished in time for me to get there. I rushed to West Kensington Station, and headed downstairs onto the platform, glad, as usual, that the train wasn't arriving as I was coming down. What was there was a girl, who squealed, just as I arrived on the platform, "Ooh! A mouse! A baby mouse!" I must testify that I did not see said mouse, but have seen others in my travels. I'm happy she was happy.

We arrived at Earl's Court in tandem with another train, across the platform, heading in the same direction. An obliging announcer advised us that the next train to leave would be the one going to Barking from Platform 2. After a moment's consideration that yes, that was the other platform, a number of us legged it across. Surprising that not everyone  - at least those standing - did, really - I have known severe delays at this station. Well, up to them. (I suppose the fact that it is ALWAYS the other train that leaves first would be an example of Murphy's Law.) Another plus was that I got a seat on this one.

And so I emerged at Embankment, and up the steps to the bridge. Interesting thing happened. As you leave the station towards the bridge, there are a few steps down to the street, then a lot of steps up to the bridge. I happened to be behind a lady who seemed, as we left the station, to be deliberately holding the rail. She seemed quite young. Then, when we were about halfway up the steps to the bridge, her pace slowed. I noticed her quite deliberately planting both feet on each step. And I thought - wow, someone just like me! Fear of stairs. Don't mock, it can be terrifying. That's quite a long flight of stairs, and there are gaps between the steps, through which you can see. That's not easy - it's just that I've  gotten used to it. Kudos to her, she made it up eventually, and I was happy to hang back and give her the space to do so.

Made the cinema just in time, and took my seat. The place wasn't near full - even the sold-out cheap seats! This was Buster Keaton's last silent film - they've been showing a lot of his films lately. And they had a fellow over the side to provide live musical accompaniment.

Essentially, the plot has Buster worshipping an actress, who suddenly proposes to him. What he doesn't realise is she's only doing it out of spite because her boyfriend dumped her. The scene of their wedding night, where she passes out from drink and he's trying to get her into bed, is comic legend, and was recreated in Roman Holiday, with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Some comic chaos ensues, and there are some moments that will always tickle the funny bone.

Tomorrow, it's looking like a documentary - Plot for Peace, about South Africa. It deals with the behind-the-scenes moves that pre-empted the fall of apartheid. Thing is, it's running only at the Curzon Soho, with a panel discussion. One night only. It's still not showing any signs of booking out, but from experience, I know there tend to be last-minute runs for these things, so I'll probably book tomorrow.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Film: Only Lovers Left Alive

I was in two minds about whether to go out tonight - not feeling the best. Boy, am I glad I did! It was an easy night - Only Lovers Left Alive in the local cinema, a 15-minute walk, not starting until 8.30. So I had time to eat at home beforehand, and strolled out just after 8. I finally managed, too, to find the shortest route there! Quite a maze of streets. He didn't bother to ask me what seat I wanted, but the cinema was practically empty, so you could pretty much sit where you liked. And he gave me a voucher - with no date on it. When I questioned him, he said it didn't matter. Well, we'll see.

Now, this is a vampire film, starring Tilda Swinton as one of the vampires, which I think is a fine piece of casting. The director is Jim Jarmusch, who also directed and co-wrote Broken Flowers a few years back, where Bill Murray goes in search of his long-lost son. So anyway, back to the vampires. Tilda is married, and has been for ages now, to Tom Hiddleston, whom we last saw as Loki in Thor: the Dark World. And a cooler couple you have never seen. I guarantee you this. Vampires, of course, have always been cool, and this pair are cool to the nth degree. Interestingly, they tend to live apart - he's a reclusive rock star in a deserted Detroit neighbourhood, who collects rare guitars and avoids publicity. She hangs out in Tangiers, with her pal Christopher Marlowe (yes, that one, he's also a vampire), played by John Hurt.

They're highly cultured folks, they've had centuries to absorb the best of civilisation. Mind you, the thesis of this film is that it's all created by vampires anyway - we have Marlowe, who claims to have given all his plays to Shakespeare, and Tom claims to have written something for Schubert, I think it was. So they have little time for humanity, whom they call "zombies". Mind you, as the film opens, the angst of it all is getting to poor Tom, and Tilda has to hop on a (night-time) flight to go save him from himself. Still, he finds he has plenty to distract him when her annoying little sister (Mia Wasikowska) comes to stay and does more than just deplete his entire blood collection..

So, do they pull it off? Is it any good? Yes, it's marvellous! The coolness feels real, never gets irritating. There are plenty of gently humorous moments along the way. But if I were a vampire, I would kill to be as cool as these guys. The soundtrack rocks. And I absolutely loved the ending! O yeah. If you ever admired the cool crowd, go see this film and sigh in envy..

Tomorrow, I've booked to see Spite Marriage. Showing at the British Film Institute, it's Buster Keaton's last silent film, I believe, and they're giving it live musical accompaniment. Might be the opposite of cool, but there's nothing like variety!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Film: A World Not Ours

Hello from the twilight zone! It's taking a little longer than usual to type this, as we're still in the dark, with no sign of the landlord. But we're surviving, with laptops and plug-in lamps. It's just the overhead lights that are gone - must be a blown fuse, but we don't know where the fusebox is. Ah well.

I don't know when I'll get to a play again - there have been quite a few on, but generally they're sold out by the time I get to them. Fortunately, the same cannot be said of (most) films, and today's was A World Not Ours, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Quickest way tends to be via Piccadilly Circus, and after checking that there were no planned engineering works today in the city centre, I flattered myself that I remembered the way without having to recheck the route. Heh. Well, nearly. To be fair, I got the correct exit from the Tube - Lower Regent Street and Eros - and, had I continued forward from that exit, I'd have been fine. Instead, for some reason, I decided to turn right, and found myself lost. But I retraced my steps after a couple of minutes, and found myself heading in the right direction again, still in time for the film.

Now, this film is directed by someone who is technically a Palestinian refugee. However, it opens with him having trouble with the guards at the entrance to the camp he's making the film about, because his Palestinian refugee ID expired many years ago, and only refugees can enter the camp. You see, his father got the chance to emigrate to Denmark, and immediately took it. He now lives in London. But he did spend part of his childhood in this camp, and as he says at the end, he supposes that the making of this film is his attempt at finding somewhere he belongs, somewhere he's from. Interestingly, part of the film shows him accompanying his Jewish classmates on a trip to Israel. His family were all so excited, because he was the first from the family to go back there - but, as he says, he didn't feel he belonged. Although he did take a detour to visit those of his relatives who were still there.

His friends could never understand, he says, why he chose to spend his holidays in this camp. And you have to sympathise with them. It's claustrophobic and squalid. This is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. It's 70,000 people living in 1.5 square km. He has a real affection for the place, and describes how he used to come back here for the World Cup, which invigorated the camp. But things changed after the celebrations following the 2006 World Cup, when the Israelis bombed the camp: and when this film was made, in 2010, the atmosphere was different. There was simply less enthusiasm.

We meet his friend, who's a member of Fatah. Not out of any Palestinian nationalism, mind - he just needs a job! And, you see, the Lebanese government won't let Palestinian refugees work in Lebanon. Regardless of qualifications. So whatcha gonna do? He needs money, he's not getting anything for free.. Finally, he gets sick of Fatah and quits. Tells everyone he's got work elsewhere, but he's actually smuggled overland into Greece. He's captured trying to walk to Germany (he did get as far as Serbia).. after a short time, he and his fellow Palestinians, with whom he's been sleeping rough on the streets of Athens, are deported. Back to the camp.

God help the refugees of this world. It seems that no-one else is doing much. Quoted a couple of times during the film are the words of Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister. You see, in order for the dispossessed Israeli diaspora to be given a home in Palestine, another diaspora had to be created. Of the people who were living there beforehand. Of whom he said - "The old will die, and the young will forget". Except it's hard to forget, if you're crammed into one of these settlements, and forbidden to do anything else.

This camp struck me as being a breeding ground for not only terrorism, but for mental instability - witness the story of one of the filmmaker's relatives, who lost it after his beloved brother was shot by Israeli soldiers. And the camp has been in existence now for more than 65 years. You'd think someone would have come up with a solution by now. If they cared. I keep thinking of 12 Years a Slave, and how everyone is describing it as such an important film, how educational it is. This is every bit as important, and the events it describes are happening right now.

Continuing the cinematic theme, tomorrow's film should be a bit more lightweight. I'm thinking of seeing Only Lovers Left Alive, the vampire romance with Tilda Swinton. Yes, I can appreciate that casting.. and on Tuesday, I've booked to see Spite Marriage in the British Film Institute. It was Buster Keaton's last silent film, I believe. Why booked, you might ask, especially as there were still plenty of tickets available? Well, they have these cheap tickets on Tuesdays, see.. and there was only one of those left! PS I remember complaining a while back about a double request for donations on their website. See, when you selected your ticket, they suggested a donation of 10% of the ticket price. Ok, fine. Then they added a booking fee. Then they suggested another donation, which pissed me off so much that I removed the donation I'd already agreed to. I see they've removed the 10% donation suggestion. I mustn't have been the only aggrieved customer..!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Film: Highway

With my theatrical options limited, it was to be a film again today, and an Indian film, Highway, came top of the list, going by IMDB ratings. The closest place showing it is the Vue Shepherds Bush, to which it's a quick hop on the Overground. It has four showings a day, so it just depended on when I was ready. The first was too early, but I figured that I'd be up in time for the second.

Then it occurred to me to check for planned engineering works, which take place every weekend. I looked at the map of disruptions on the TFL website, for a quick overview. O no! The Overground line from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction, running through Shepherds Bush, was listed! I thought to read the detailed information.. phew! Turns out the whole thing is closed tomorrow, but today, only closed north of Shepherds Bush, which was as far as I needed to go. :-) It's as though they tailored it to me..

Knowing that Overground trains only tend to run every 15 minutes, I knew to leave in plenty of time for the station, despite the train journey itself only being five minutes long - I hadn't checked the timetable. As luck would have it, my train pulled in as I was coming down the steps to the platform, and I was in Shepherds Bush in no time. You can see the cinema as you leave the station, it's just across the road. The film was showing in screen 1, and I chose a seat with the aisle in front, so I'd have as much legroom as I needed. The screen was practically empty.

Now, this film is a rarity. No offence intended to the Indian nation, but I'm not used to Indian films being as good as their IMDB rating. I guess they're a tad over-enthusiastic about rating them - or maybe I'm missing something. This, however, is terrific. Although mind you, I know I'm biased - it's largely set in the foothills of the Himalayas, and I'm crazy about mountains, the higher the better. They don't get higher than these. It was, indeed, filmed in northern India.

So, the story is a simple one. A young girl from a rich family in Delhi is about to get married, but honestly, all the lavish preparations are stifling her. Desperate for escape, she arranges for her fiancé to meet her for a clandestine, night-time drive. He's upset that they don't have bodyguards, but she is adamant. Anyway, stopping at a petrol station, they stumble upon a robbery, and she is taken hostage. The kidnappers spirit her away. She starts off scared, trying to escape however she can - but then something odd happens, and she finds herself not wanting to be rescued. All of a sudden, she has the freedom she craves, and finds herself warming to her silent, surly kidnapper..

I loved it. It's a romance, and rather sweet, and you've got all that stunning scenery to occupy you. And it's very well done. Nothing at all twee about this, the acting is great - you can believe the transition in her. And he is also rather good to look at. I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Went to Nando's afterwards, and availed of the free 1/4 chicken I'd earned on my rewards card. And a slice of their most delectable choc-a-lot cake, with the money I'd saved. Really, they do the best around! And someone who sat next to me as I was leaving asked me whether that was what I had had, and whether it was good, as she was thinking about it herself. And I told her it was.

Curiously, the guy who'd sat there before her had had two plates of food before him. He ate one, and asked for a bag for the rest. I guess he was stood up..! He did look quite glum.

And now I'm writing this in the dark, because something's happened to the lights, although not the electricity in general. Probably a fuse, but we don't know where to look, and neither does the letting agent. The landlord is supposed to be paying a visit, but at this stage I'm not sure when. What the hey! Plenty of light from the laptop.

Tomorrow's film is looking like A World Not Ours, a documentary detailing three generations of a family living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. Showing in the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Should be interesting.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Acrobatics: Circa + Debussy

I was so pleased to get to see something this evening that wasn't a film. Not that I don't love films, but I do prefer a balance. So, when I came across Circa + Debussy, I booked a ticket straight away. Running at the Barbican, last show tomorrow, it's priced at £16, £23, and £30. Since all the £16 seats I clicked on, on the seating plan, were said to have a restricted view, I went for the next price level up, finding a ticket at £23 that didn't say it had a restricted view.

I spent some time today researching, again, how to get there, given that it's all the way on the other side of town. I've been a few times, but with large gaps between visits, so it's always worth a check. Google Maps suggested two routes - District Line to either Cannon Street or Edgeware Road, and another Tube from there. Trains to both stations pass through my local station, West Brompton, so I decided to make a decision based on whichever came first - I've gone both ways before. In the event, as I crossed the bridge to the eastbound platform, an Edgeware Road train was just pulling in, and I just made it! so that's the route I took. (Oh, and the platform indicator was working for once!)

Mind you, I was worried. The District Line was on its usual go-slow - we were at least five minutes in Earl's Court, and almost as long at a subsequent station - but we made decent time in the end, and I arrived on the Edgeware Road platform just a minute before a train arrived to take me into town, and to Barbican station. I made the Barbican Centre with minutes to spare.

I must be getting used to the Barbican - it wasn't as complicated as I remember. I knew I was heading for the theatre, and immediately saw the sign for the box office for the hall and theatre (I had to pick up my ticket). Pre-paid tickets for the theatre to the left, hall to the right. Interestingly, while I was getting my ticket, I noticed that the other person behind the counter seemed quite preoccupied with giving someone directions over the phone. "Under the overpass.." I suppose they had come to Barbican station, expecting to see signs for the Barbican. True, it's not obvious, and you might expect it to be. In fact, you have to basically cross the road and go "under the overpass", as he said. At the end, Barbican cinemas 2 & 3 are on your left, and the rest - cinema 1, the hall, the theatre, and whatever else - just around the corner on your right. You'll see the sign at the entrance.

The lady who got me my ticket obligingly informed me that I was to just head over to the right. Sure enough, there was the theatre entrance. I have been to the Barbican Theatre before, but only once, and it's been a while. I had to climb two levels, but the stairs here are quite forgiving. Unlike other places I could mention. When I got to the Upper Circle, an usher showed me to my row and I excused myself past the people who had got there already. I was in the front row at this level, and was glad to get to my seat, noting, as I did, that I was actually a couple of minutes late - but, as with everything else, they didn't start on time, so that was ok.

Seats at this theatre are very comfortable, with uniformly good legroom. There was also a safety rail, that, while reassuring, nonetheless did cut right across my view of the stage. It's a narrow rail, but still, it was annoying - you had to lean forward to see the stage without a bar across it. So much for a non-restricted view. Last time I was here, I was in the stalls. I do recall a review of this theatre that remarked that, for a new theatre, there was an enormous number of restricted-view seats. I guess it's a reflection of how cramped the upper levels are - I had a look around at my level, and noted that people in the back row might have an extremely restricted view, as a result of the overhang from the level above us!

Anyway, the show duly started. (As a side note, I needn't have worried about missing it - people, at least in the level above us, were still being let in quite late.) Basically, we have the Australian circus group, Circa, accompanied by the Debussy String Quartet. I cannot write a better review than the one I've linked to in the show link at the beginning of this article. Every time I see an acrobatic show these days, I am stunned at the lengths they go to, how they push the boundaries. This is no exception. I frequently gasped out loud - and the audience as a whole ooh-ed and aah-ed at various points. There is such a progression of incredible displays of prowess - with few stops for applause - that by the time you get the chance to show your appreciation, you're bursting with it!

In the midst of all this, we have four non-athletic-looking musicians. Actually, for the first part of the show, they move around the acrobats. The acrobatic moves are intelligent and imaginative, and perfectly choreographed to the music (which, by the way, is Shostakovich, not Debussy!). The performance breaks at the breaks between pieces. Then, for one piece, one by one, four chairs are brought onstage - one for each musician. They are led to them with their eyes closed, then they are blindfolded, and play while acrobats twirl and swoop among them.  Not that they get away that easily - witness the musician who's led out of his chair, still playing and still blindfolded, and performs various tricks with one of the acrobats, playing his violin all the time! Now, that takes concentration..

They well deserved the cheering ovation they got at the end! What a pity the show finishes tomorrow (Saturday) - but I suspect the poor acrobats would be worn out by any more. I am glad I got to see it! Go see, if you're in town tomorrow evening. You will not be disappointed, I promise. I came home the same way, and didn't even have to change platform this time, in Edgeware Road.

For tomorrow.. well, I could go see A Taste of Honey, at the National Theatre - but the only tickets left are £50, and I'm not that mad about it. I had a look for tickets for The Hotel Plays, another set of three short plays by Tennessee Williams, but they're completely sold out for tomorrow. Which leads me back to film again. Top of the list is an Indian thriller, Highway, about a young girl who is kidnapped and develops a relationship with her kidnappers. Seems, from the trailer, to have some terrific scenery, so that should be worth a look. Several showings - we'll see how early I get up!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Film: Common People

Common People has been showing, for individual nights, for a while now. It's highly rated on IMDB - 8.5 - so has been high on my list to see for all that time, but I never have managed to see it. It always sold out. So it was with some relief that, just yesterday, I saw there were still tickets for tonight's performance, at Clapham Picturehouse. Six, to be precise. I booked one. Sure enough, they were all gone when I checked today, out of curiosity, and I heard tonight that Sunday's performance is sold out as well. It is showing next Thursday - if anyone wants to see it, I recommend booking in haste!

Looking up how to get there, it became apparent that I'd have to leave straight from work. And the easiest way to get there was Tube and then the 137 bus from Sloane Square. Coming back, from the bus stop I had to use, I had the option of three different buses - two of which went via Clapham Junction, where I could get the Overground - and one of which was the return journey, 137 and then Tube.

We had a work meeting this evening that overran, and I was afraid of not making it, especially given that a bus journey was involved, and considering rush hour traffic. But do you know, my luck was in! The Tube doors were closing as I came down the stairs, but the driver saw me and opened them again. I knew from Google Maps Streetview that, from Sloane Square station, I should go straight ahead and take the next left onto Lower Sloane Street - which was easy - and the stop was just there. And as I approached it, so did my bus! Well now, that's timing. Neither Tube nor bus was crowded, and traffic wasn't too bad. I needn't have worried. (Where had everyone gone?!) And ahh, they light up the Chelsea bridge, just as they do the Hammersmith one! That's nice, I didn't know that - never been on this one before.

I had some excitement when we finally got to Clapham Common, where I was to get off. Somewhere. You see, Google said to get off at Clapham Common stop, and with London buses having this convenient practice of both displaying, on an LED, and announcing, the stop name, all I had to do was pay attention. Just as well I reassured myself that yes, the stop name was exactly that - Clapham Common. Because there was Cedars Road / Clapham Common North Side. Then there was Clapham Common Old Town. Then there was Clapham Common Station! And, had I got off at either of the first two, I'd have had quite a walk.

As it happened, as we were turning towards Clapham Common Station stop, we passed the Alexandra pub. And that gave me a clue, because this was the pub outside which I was to get a bus back - I'd noted it as a landmark. Which meant, from my memory of the map, that we were coming up the wrong side of the common - sure enough, I'd seen diversion signs. I'd better get off, especially since I knew I wasn't far from my destination. So I did, and was glad when I saw that the road we should have come up was closed for roadworks. Nothing about that on Google..

Anyway, I knew from the map to head off with the Alexandra on my right, and I was looking for a Londis to turn left by. Very soon, I came upon it, and the cinema was right around the corner. 10 minutes early, excellent!

There's a bar, but it was crowded and I wasn't pushed. Unsurprising, given that the show was sold out. Handily, all four screens are entered from the lobby, and each door has the film name written above it in chalk, so it's easy to find where to go. They were starting to go in, so in I went and took my seat. Interesting seat fabric, kind of fluffy. Very comfortable. I was also impressed to see a big pile of booster cushions, for junior viewers.

I haven't been to a Picturehouse before, so don't know if this is typical, but I imagine it mainly is. I like that you can bring in wine, I like that the ads beforehand, which were mainly for Picturehouse promotions, showed many offers - Silver Screen, for the over-60s, which is free - the Slackers Club, which I've heard of before, which is for students - and many different clubs for kids and their parents. I do believe they've thought about their customer base!

So, this is a low-budget film, with no backing, which is why it's only showing one night at a time. The directors/producers - one of whom also wrote it - appeared beforehand to explain a bit about the film, and how they couldn't do a Q+A, as they had been doing, because it was eating up the cinema's time. But they'd be available in the bar afterwards!

The whole thing was filmed in Tooting Common. Apparently, the co-directors live right beside it, and were inspired, first by a poster for a missing parrot, and then a poster thanking the people who had found her. And they thought - hey, that's unusual. You see lots of missing pet posters, but hardly ever any like that. So they made a film out of it. The parrot is a loose thread that ties together some disparate stories.

The actors are professionals, although not very well known. And sometimes this film is extremely twee. But you know what? It's very sweet. And at times, laugh-out-loud funny. I enjoyed it - you would too. Go see, if you have a chance.

Coming home, I noted that the name of the stop was Clapham Common Station, not Clapham Common, as on Google. And yes, it was the same stop. Anyway, it turned out that the 137 was the next bus to pass by, and so my return journey was a repeat of my outbound, pretty much. With fewer stops.

Tomorrow night - guess what? I got a ticket to something that is not a film! (Drum roll please!) I'm going to Circa + Debussy at the Barbican. Basically, it's an acrobatic performance, to the music of Debussy, performed by a string quartet in the background. Sounds intriguing! Anyway, it ends on Saturday, and there are three price bands, which didn't really correspond to levels - £16, £23, and £30. All the £16 tickets seem to have restricted views, so I went for a £23 ticket. The best without a restricted view was in the Upper Circle, which is third of the four levels. Well, at least I'm not right at the top, as usual. And I'm in the front. Anyway, I'm sure it'll be fine.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Film: Jack Strong

Well now, another surprise! I was planning on seeing The Crash Reel tonight, but then it occurred to me that I'd better check out the trailer, not being a big fan of snowboarding, myself. Sure enough, I had zero interest. So that's now been permanently removed from my film list. Which left the highest-rated - according to IMDB - film I could find showing tonight as something called Jack Strong.

Now, when I decided this was ok to go see, I didn't check out the above link to the film. I just went with the bare-bones description on IMDB - a Polish Cold War spy thriller. Rated at 7.9 (now dropped to 7.8, I see). That was enough to spark my interest. When I checked where it was showing, I discovered it was only showing in Cineworld - and only in five of them, at that! - Hammersmith was the closest. Now, I found that curious - when I first moved to London, that was my closest cinema, but I hardly ever went there because the selection was so bad. And they are one of only five cinemas screening this! Odd..

Quickest way there was to get the bus, which goes from just up the road from my place, and runs right past the cinema - so that's what I did. I was actually first on, the bus having only just left the garage. My, the nostalgia at being back there again! I was a little early, so had time for a quick run to the toilet beforehand - where they have nattily named the stalls after film stars. I visited the Meryl Streep. ;-)

I detected many Polish accents, from what I could tell. As I waited for the film to start, it occurred to me - of course, every time I walked up there, I passed many Polish-themed shops, and there's a Polish theatre just up the road. There must be a large Polish community locally - no wonder they screened this!

And so to the film. Set mainly in Poland, and starring mainly Polish actors - none of whom is familiar to me - it does, however, have one familiar face - Patrick Wilson, of all people, who plays the CIA handler responsible for the Polish spy who is the film's hero. He'll be familiar to anyone who's seen The Conjuring, or the Insidious films, where he does battle with ghosts and demons. He also appeared in Prometheus, and Morning Glory, where he played the boyfriend of an intensely irritating Rachel McAdams. I walked out of that film. I wasn't the only one. Not his fault. Anyway, in this one, he gets to show off his Polish-speaking skills! Who knew..

So - the title refers to the codename of a real-life senior Polish military official, who, sick of the Soviet occupation of his country, smuggled military secrets to the CIA during the 1970s, until the net started to close in on him. To give any more of the plot away would be truly criminal. I will say, however, that this is as tense a thriller as I've seen in a long time, and so good that I am stunned that I saw and heard absolutely no advertising for it. I mean, I was gripping the arms of my seat. I was watching through my fingers. I was gasping and uttering expletives and exclamations.

A good Cold War thriller will be very tense, and this has all the classic elements. Military uniforms, spy cameras hidden in cigarette lighters. In a pre-internet and pre-mobile age, this spy must communicate on a sort of mini-typewriter with a broadcasting capability - a high-tech new invention. Which keeps losing signal - plus ca change! Most of the action takes place in Warsaw, and everywhere we see in the Eastern bloc has snow on the ground. Permanently, even though the film spans about 10 years. The spy himself is quite pleasant to the eye (was in real life, too). And the film includes what must be the slowest car chase I've ever seen on screen, the cars skidding on slush. Which is also one of the most exciting I've ever seen.

Really highly recommended, for those into thrillers. Go see!

For tomorrow, I finally managed to get a ticket to Common People, which has been continuously sold out when it's been shown. This week, it's showing tomorrow only, and I got one of the last six seats at Clapham Picturehouse, the only cinema showing it. I just checked now, and there's exactly one seat left. Move fast, if you want to see it! Also showing there next Sunday and Thursday..

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Film: Her

Well, what a nice short film title. :-) Rarely does one so short appear. Anyway, I trotted along to my local cinema yesterday evening to see Her. Bought my ticket, and was asked whether I had any vouchers. No, I said. She gave me one along with my ticket, which was when I remembered the Vue voucher scheme, where you get a £1.50 voucher when you buy a ticket. Pity, because I did have one from the last time I was there. It's only valid until Thursday. And when I checked the voucher she'd given me this time, there was no date stamp on it, which means it's not valid! Bah humbug.. In other news, the seat she gave me was near the end of an empty row, so, with a practically empty cinema, - there were about six of us, in quite a large screen - I blithely moved myself to the middle. So there!

Some trailers I hadn't seen before, and we're into the film. An interesting point occurred to me as I was watching the certificate at the start of the film - the grammatical anomalies arising from this film's title. In other words, "Her has been approved for distribution." And so on. Well, I found it interesting.

So, this is a film set in the near future - in other words, utilising technology that we don't yet quite have, but which isn't inconceivable in terms of what already exists. Many things are familiar from it - an OS that acts like a human, earpieces and tiny webcams, crowds of people moving around in their own little worlds, talking into, or listening to, electronic devices. Videogames that incorporate full body movements. Lights that come on automatically when you enter a room. Artificial images projected onto elevator walls. Sound familiar?

So what this film - directed by Spike Jonze, who also plays the voice of the foul-mouthed videogame character - does isn't really blind us with science. Instead, it explores some little considered, but interesting, possibilities relating to the nature of our interactions with all this technology. So we have Joaquin Phoenix, who works for a company called - ahem - Beautiful Handwritten Letters.com. As the name implies, the employees of this company write letters for people that, I guess, are too busy to do it themselves, or don't feel themselves competent. When I say write - nobody even types anymore, they just dictate to the computer, which types it up for them, in a handwriting-style font. Now, given that they share an office, even though they do tend to keep their voices low, it does occur to me that this must be very distracting for everyone. Anyway.

Poor Joaquin is lonely. He's a sensitive soul - which makes him good at his job - and he's in the process of splitting from his wife, Rooney Mara. He's depressed, because he knows all these affectionate letters he writes are for other people. His attempts at dating - a blind date with Olivia Wilde and a sexy phone call with Kristen Wiig - crash and burn. At some point, he decides to plump for this innovative new OS - called OS1 - that promises to be sensitive to his needs. In common with many users, the first thing he does when he gets it out of the box is throw away the manual. And, as seems to be the norm in this reality - I don't remember any of the computers even having keyboards - he chats to the computer to set it up. Some options are presented to him - he chooses a female OS - and we're off. It's voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

Quickly, she adapts to his personality, and becomes the only person he can talk to about his problems. She's the perfect woman, apart from not having physical form. His wife ain't impressed at him "dating his laptop", but otherwise people are supportive, including his neighbour, Amy Adams, who turns out to have a best buddy relationship with her own OS.

Those are the basics. Then we're free to explore the many implications. Such as, how does a sentient OS deal with its own enormous capacity to learn and grow? How does it deal with the fact that it doesn't have a body, unlike the people with whom it interacts? How do you have a non-physical romantic relationship? What happens when people, in general, disconnect from each other in favour of technology?

Many of the answers presented in this film will surprise you. I laughed out loud several times - it is quite funny, especially if you imagine yourself having a relationship with your own OS. Mainly, I came at this from the perspective of a sci-fi fan - and there are many interesting suggestions here - but it also has some important points to make about the nature of relationships, and what keeps them going. Very interesting film, I liked it. Particularly for what Scarlett and the other OSs end up doing. Go see and find out what that is!

In the Guildford office today, so I won't bother going out tonight, I'll be too tired. For tomorrow night, given that a shocking number of plays are sold out these days, I'm looking at a picture again - specifically, The Crash Reel, a documentary about childhood friends who become sporting rivals, continuing even when one of them is nearly killed. It's been doing the rounds for a while, and is currently showing in a pub cinema, the Montpelier.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Play: Ghost Stories

I've had Ghost Stories booked for months - I had time over Christmas to think about such things, you see! Found a terrific deal with lastminute.com - one of their meal + show deals. Cheapest tickets - at the time, anyway, although I think I've seen some deals since - were about £35. This deal, however, for £37.50, guaranteed you a top-price (£39) ticket to the show, plus a two-course meal at Ruby Blue, just down the road! Yes please..

I was a bit worried when the tube strikes were announced, but they weren't as severe as feared, and in the event, tonight's was called off anyway. I left in plenty of time to catch a Tube to Leicester Square, the nearest for both restaurant and theatre. I knew, from Google Maps Streetview, where Ruby Blue was - basically, turn right at the Haagen-Dazs place. Same street as the Prince Charles cinema, actually. I was early (what a luxury!), so mooched around for a while, reading the Standard I picked up upon exiting the Tube station.

I headed over at about 10 to 6 - my booking was for 6. The nice chap at the door, with the headphones, simply asked whether I wanted the bar or restaurant. You go upstairs for both - turn left for the bar, straight ahead for the restaurant. It's not hard to tell them apart - even at that hour, the bar was pulsing with psychedelic multi-coloured light beams.

This place is entirely too cool for what it is. Well, I suppose there are those who like that. Not to my taste, really. Now, it's fine, I just think it goes a bit overboard. Anyway, the waiter was really friendly, chatty, personable. I don't know how many times over the next hour and a half he called me "darling". I even got a "doll-face" at the end! Well now, I don't mind that at all.

The restaurant was nearly empty when I arrived - I took a table at the far end of the long room, so I could get a look at the place. Décor was nice, lighting subdued. I was sat beside a white baby grand piano, which, mercifully, didn't have anyone playing it at the time. As he checked for my name on the way in, I saw a whole load of lastminute.com bookings - he mentioned there were some toptable ones as well. I think they constituted the whole of the early evening's takings. Anyway, the lastminute.com menu is a reduced one, from which I chose garlic bread as a starter. The mains were restricted to four - vegetarian curry, burger, ribs, or chicken fajitas. I had the burger. Good wine list, and he informed me that it was Happy Hour! so 40% off wines. Except champagne.

The wine was nice. Of the garlic bread, I got two pieces, one of which lacked any garlic, by the taste (non-existent). The other was quite nice. The burger was ho-hum - with way too much onion - but the chips were perfect. It still wasn't even 7, and the show didn't even start until 8, so I thought I'd have a dessert, and ordered a brownie. Now, the lastminute.com deal only covers two courses, so I had to pay for this - but fair enough. (Wine isn't covered either.) I got to choose off the full menu this time, which has much more choice. I thought it was taking a long time - sure enough, he had to come back and take my order again, whatever he did with the first.. It arrived shortly after - two pieces of piping hot brownie, quite delicious, with a (small) scoop of what tasted like Haagen-Dazs. I swear, I thought I'd never get through it! Give them that, they don't skimp on portions.

And off I headed, at 7.20, for the Arts Theatre. It's a short walk from Leicester Square - just head back towards the Tube, cross the road (past the rickshaw driver honking for attention), straight ahead and first left. And I entered a crammed lobby, the whole place decorated in horror style, all black and red, with police tape. I pushed my way to the box office and collected my ticket from a couple of ladies wearing black t-shirts with "Ghost Stories" logos in red. This show is big on merchandising - there's a list of goods and prices on the way down to the auditorium / toilets. Now, lastminute.com doesn't give out seat numbers in advance, it's up to the venue - but I have always had excellent seats from them, and this was no exception. I was in E10 in the stalls, five rows from the front, which is about right, and right bang slap in the middle.

With time to kill, I decided to go to the toilet. Now, I really have to recommend, if you're seeing this show, that you go to the toilet beforehand. No, it has nothing to do with any frights you might get - but the toilets are right beside the auditorium, and the backing track that's played before the show is piped in there as well. That's something I haven't come across before - going to the loo to a soundtrack of moans, drips, clanking, and that weird bass they play for horror films. It really enlivens the experience. Pity about the non-functioning hand dryers, though..

When the doors opened, I was one of the first in. And then I sat. O Lordy, they need to improve their seating stock! Those springs gave an awful creak as I settled in, and there's no lower back support. Anyway, it was fine.

Now, despite the name, this is not one of London's posher theatres. Tonight, it was even scruffier than I remembered, although that probably had much to do with the production. The show itself takes the form of a lecture, by a professor of parapsychology, on the phenomenon of ghost stories, why we want to believe in them, and alternative explanations. No, don't get bored.. it's very interesting, and peppered with photos of supernatural phenomena. Or are they? (I found the wedding photo really interesting. The whole audience, including me, gasped at something the "professor" pointed out. Go see the show to see what I mean.)

He goes on to describe three ghost stories that were told to him by the people that experienced them. Or rather, the subjects themselves act out the story. These contain a large element of humour, but they're very well done. The special effects are excellent.

And then there's a fourth. And I have to say that this one really sent a shiver down my spine, and developed in me a sense of unease that persisted all the way home. And part of it was trickery, and I can define exactly why they managed to unnerve me (but I won't) - but part of it was just excellently scripted horror, the best I've seen on stage, and better than much I've seen on screen. Terrifically acted, brilliantly directed. And for that fourth story, I say - if you like to be scared, go see this.

As they take their bows, just like in The Mousetrap, an actor comes to the front to ask the audience not to reveal the secret. And I won't. But what was really nice was, this being the first night, the writers were waiting in the lobby as we left, handing out special badges to us all!

 
 
Now, you can buy Ghost Stories badges at other performances, but they won't be special Opening Night badges. So there! Oh, I had a terrific night.. one of my best since I moved here. Hey, and on the Tube home, the lady sitting opposite me had exactly the same boots on that I did! Fancy - I've never seen them on anyone else.
 
So, back to Ireland tomorrow. And power has been restored to my mother's house, so I might have a relaxing weekend after all! Monday, so far, is looking like a film, and more specifically, Her, which is rating very highly on IMDB. Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his OS, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Also stars Amy Adams and Rooney Mara. And then I'm in Guildford again on Tuesday..

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Film: August: Osage County

Ah well, you see, if it isn't booked, you can't depend on it! I was supposed to be going to The Cement Garden this evening, in the vaults. But then I thought to check how long the show runs for - 100 minutes, as it happens - and while looking for that, I came across the helpful information that the seating is on backless benches. But you're welcome to bring a cushion.

Hmm.

Firstly, a cushion would get sodden if we had weather like we had at lunchtime. Secondly, and more to the point, there's no back to these things. And I have a weak back, and couldn't stand to sit - so to speak - without back support for 100 minutes. So that was that. I went to the pictures instead.

Top of the list was August: Osage County. My, but I had a time finding a cinema locally that was showing it at a time I could manage. I eventually lighted on the Coronet, Notting Hill. I left straight from work, with the intention of taking the Tube straight to Notting Hill Gate, and it's a short walk to the left from there. Unfortunately, the District Line played its usual tricks - we were left forever waiting for a train in that direction at Earls Court, and when it did eventually arrive, it took over five minutes to leave! I arrived in Notting Hill a few minutes after the film was due to start.

Next problem was how to leave the station. I never realised there were four exits! So a bit of mental gymnastics was required. First - North side or South side? My memory of the map said south. Next - in the direction of Kensington Palace, or not?! Kensington Palace was towards town, I reckoned - so I'd take the other exit. Do you know, it turned out to be exactly the right one! Fancy that..

I made my way to the box office and asked for a ticket. He took so long.. had to check his watch a few times, as I thought to myself - What's it to you if I'm late? He finally muttered something about "three minutes", and I made my way through the labyrinthine corridors of this old building (at least it's well signposted).

Turned out he meant the film had been on for three minutes - there were no trailers! Other weird thing was the seat - they were tip seats, but in their fully down position actually slope downwards! So the trick is to lean backwards a bit. Anyway, I don't think I missed anything essential. There's a huge cast of stars in this. Essentially, Sam Shepard is married to Meryl Streep, who's got cancer and is heavily medicated, and high all the time. They have three daughters - Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis. (Ooh, I just noticed the similarity in names. Freaky!) Julia is married to, but separated from, Ewan McGregor, and they have a daughter, Abigail Breslin. Juliette is engaged to Demot Mulroney. (Julianne is the one that stayed home.) Chris Cooper plays Meryl's brother-in-law, and Benedict Cumberbatch (who, in this film, shows he can sing!) plays his and his wife's slightly mentally challenged son.

In the opening scene, Sam is hiring a maid. Shortly thereafter, he vanishes, and shortly after that again, turns up dead. Don't worry, that isn't really giving anything away. The real shocks come with the various cans of worms that are opened when the family gather together for the funeral!

You might be thinking that this is a schmaltzy, girly film. Don't. The script absolutely sparkles - it'd have to be based on a play. And it gets really nasty in parts. In others, terrific fun. The secrets that are revealed are incendiary. No sacred cows in this - everything is tackled. With a very black sense of humour. This is high quality - strongly recommended.

Tomorrow night's plans shouldn't change, barring accident, fire or flood, as they say. Ghost Stories at the Arts Theatre, preceded by dinner at Ruby Blue. Looking forward to it, it's been booked for a long time! And then back to Ireland for the weekend, and Lord knows what I'll find there, as Storm Darwin battered the county with a vengeance today, and power is out in 260,000 homes across the country. Including my mother's. And trees down all over. Let's hope it calms down by Friday, eh?

Dance: 1980

I spent some time researching how to get back from Sadler's Wells last night, from the show I had booked, because of the tube strike. Only to have the strike called off in the afternoon! Still, I needed to do a bit of research - it's been a while, and it is something of a trek. Tube to Holborn and a bus, essentially.

I picked up a Metro in Earls Court on my outward journey - this sustained me on the long trip to Holborn, and I finished it just before we pulled in. Then I picked up a Standard on my way out of the station - good timing! The direct bus from there to Sadler's Wells is just across the other side of High Holborn - under the overhead walkway, and the bus stop is on the other side of the road. The 341. Mind you, they unnerved me with their talk of temporary stops and diversions. Luckily, this happens to be one of the places in London where internet actually works on my phone, and I could check when the next bus was due. 6 minutes, lovely. And I knew it only takes about 7 minutes to the theatre. Still didn't help when I had no sooner got on the bus than it was announced that the destination had changed! But, fortunately, it still stopped right outside the theatre - Sadler's Wells might be a bit far from the Tube, but it's well served by buses.

The lobby was chaotic. I had to fight my way through to the box office to collect my ticket, and then queue forever to pick up a programme! Note - the programmes are cheaper if prebooked, and when you get your ticket, a programme voucher is tacked onto the end. I'd forgotten that - that's what the vendor needs to give you a programme. Anyway, programme in hand, I started upstairs, just as the five-minute call was made. Sadler's Wells is notable for being one of those venues that has lots of stairs, and I'd gone for the cheapest seat I could get - as usual - which was right at the top of the house. When I finally arrived, panting, at the top, and entered the auditorium, I had to climb again, to get to the back row. FYI The full railings stop after you pass the stairwell, but they do have those bars between rows, every couple of steps, that you can hold onto - just as well, because it's quite steep. Everywhere should have them - they're suitable for all venues. After all that climbing, the seats are comfortable, you'll be glad to hear.

The show was sold out, by the look of it - certainly the second circle, where I was. I only got a seat - and a cheap one at that - because I booked so early. There were a lot of twenty-somethings - from the conversation I overheard at the interval, I think a lot of them were studying it as part of their course.

As well they might. This piece, 1980, despite running in a dance venue, couldn't really be described as dance! Composed by the late choreographer, Pina Bausch, it's more dance theatre - or performance art. So, there's some dancing - but more people doing silly things, reciting, singing.. I actually think we were at something of an advantage, being so high up. I imagine this is how the choreographer saw it. You see, there are so many people on stage, doing so many different things, that you really have to be at a distance to gain some perspective.

The basic theme is adults' regression to childhood. And it makes for a hilarious evening. We have people in evening gowns playing chase, and hide-and-seek. We have people dressing and undressing each other like dolls. Mind you, the advantage to being close to the stage is that you might be served tea - a couple of the performers leave the stage during the evening, offering tea. I did like the way they snaked into the audience as well, parading through the aisles - and there's something hypnotic about their repetitive movements.

On a more serious note, there is social commentary too. Witness, in the second act, the "beauty pageant" display, which is rendered ridiculous by the behaviour of the contestants, and what they're required to do and say. Read into all this what you will - I just enjoyed it as a spectacle. And enjoy it I did! The lady beside me thought it was all a bit too avant-garde, and didn't engage her. As she said, she's sure it says something very important about the human condition, but..! Me, I liked it. I had fun. Yes, you could be profound about it - but I prefer to leave that to the students, who doubtless had to go off and write an essay on it.

To be fair, the lady beside me did have a point, in that it is very long, and whatever point they're making could doubtless be made more succintly. Indeed, at 3.5 hours, it was very long, and we all got very stiff. Legroom is ok for a regular-length show, but we were struggling by the end. And with such a packed house, there wasn't much wriggle room.. Runs until Sunday (no tickets available tomorrow). Very limited availability after tonight, and in general, only £50 & £60 tickets still to be had. But if you want something different, you will not do better than this!

Tonight, it looks like The Cement Garden, running in a pop-up theatre in the vaults under Waterloo Station, as part of the Vaults Festival. Located under the station, on the evocatively named Leake Street, Google Maps is my friend in getting there! I'll try to leave in good time, especially as it'll be dark. Tomorrow night is something else I booked over Christmas - I'm going to see Ghost Stories, in the Arts Theatre, on a meal and show deal I got with http://www.lastminute.com/. It's the opening night - should be fun. The deal is, I get a two-course meal at 6pm in Ruby Blue, in Leicester Square - not far from the theatre. The show is at 8. And the combined price is only £2 more than the cheapest ticket I could have got for the show! I'll take that.. The deal is currently running from 4 March to 22 May. The show itself is currently booking until 24 May.

And then it's back to Ireland for a quiet weekend!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Play: Punishment without Revenge

When I saw the photos for Punishment without Revenge, I was hooked. I'm a sucker for pieces in Renaissance garb, such as this. So there was really no question of not going to it. Google Maps reminded me that the handiest way to get to the Arcola - which is right the other side of London, and which I haven't been in a while - is by Overground; I could get a direct train from West Brompton to Dalston Kingsland, just up the road from the theatre. They were less confident that this was the handiest route back, and wanted to direct me via the centre, and to go by Tube - but that would be more expensive, so I decided to return the same way. I did make sure to check the timetables - the Overground is notorious for having awkward ones.

It was going to take 47 minutes, so I had to leave quite early. The last train they said would get me there in time was to pass through West Brompton at 6.37. The one before was at 6.20, which I would have liked to have got, but had to Skype my mother first. I made it in good time for the 6.37, which arrived at 6.39, as we were shivering on the platform. Tonight, as usual, was bitterly cold.

The train was packed, but I got a seat at the very next stop - conveniently, as there were 15 more to go! I'd picked up a Standard before leaving, and that occupied me for most of the journey - that, and people-watching. But I started to get worried that I wouldn't make it in time - with so many people, we were delayed at every stop, with dozens of people getting on and off. People were so crammed in at different parts of the train that the driver kept having to ask them to please not all get on at the same set of doors.. to please move along the carriages.. at one point, he pleaded, "Please - and we can all get home faster and watch Emmerdale!"

We arrived in Dalston Kingsland at 7.25 - five minutes to showtime. I knew my way, from Google Maps Streetview, and knew it wasn't far. I also knew to still look for the blue hoardings to guide me - the same hoardings that are on Streetview, and that have been there every time I've visited! A handy landmark. I dashed in the theatre door, and to the box office. Asked whether I could buy a ticket, and handed her my card. She grimaced. "You don't have cash?" "If I had, I'd give it to you.." The card machine was broken, so she had to make an online booking for me - I got it when I checked my email, later. I had to tell her my address, while all the time she was getting increasingly more irate messages on the walkie-talkie from the lady at the auditorium entrance, who wanted to know if I was coming, because they really had to start. (And I bet the woman who left a ticket for her husband, who was trying to find parking - and he himself - were worried about being late! They got in before I did.) I was still settling myself, gratefully, when the show started.

So, this was written by a chap called Lope de Vega in 1631. It's part of the Arcola's Spanish Golden Age season, which ends this week. Now, it's not Shakespeare, but it is a witty and engaging play about the illegitimate son, and heir, of the Duke of Ferrara (and isn't it funny how this Spaniard, like Shakespeare, felt compelled to write about Italians?), who falls for his father's young and beautiful new bride. Things turn very dark in the second act..

This is a translation to English of a nearly 400-year-old text, and it has a few slightly clunky moments. But only very few. There are some very funny moments, and a terrific ending. Personally, I was continually distracted by the gorgeous costumes, particularly the ladies'. Full-length period gowns, veils, gorgeous costume jewellery. A very minimalist set, just a ducal throne really. I had a great time. Recommended, but only runs until Friday.

And tomorrow, I'm off to see 1980, a dance piece by Pina Bausch, at Sadler's Wells, which will involve some fun getting home, with the tube strike back on. Especially since it's a 3.5-hour show! At least two buses, it's looking like..

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Film: Hunger (2008)

Despite having most of the day to make it to the Institute of Contemporary Arts for today's showing of Hunger, I was still in a rush, and still slightly late. Well, see, I got to booking fights back to Ireland - I always book in advance to try to get a better price - and with flight prices expensive around Easter, I said I'd better keep going.. so ended up leaving a bit later than intended.

No Tube problems this evening - might have had something to do with me not travelling on the District Line! Anyway, the lady at the box office - when she got through with her conversation with her colleague - reassured me that I was in plenty of time, there were 15 minutes of trailers. A very different policy from that of the British Film Institute!

I didn't see Hunger when it was first released. Steve McQueen's first directorial feature - 12 Years a Slave is only his third! - is a powerful and shocking piece. (Shame was the one in the middle. All star Michael Fassbender - I guess each director has a favourite actor.) 2/3 years between each. If he continues at this pace, we can expect something else powerful from him next year, or the year after.

And boy, he doesn't like pleasant subjects, now does he? Slavery, sex addiction - and in Hunger, the 1981 hunger strikes in the Maze prison, Belfast. The story, basically, is that Republican prisoners had special status, as part of an agreement with the British government, up to 1976, when the government decided to end it. This essentially meant that they did not have to wear uniforms, or perform prison duties. It was essentially equivalent to POW status under the Geneva convention.

The prisoners didn't take kindly to the ending of this arrangement. As we see in the film, they refused to wear uniforms. The protest later escalated to the "dirty protest". Unable to leave their cells because of riots and beatings, the prisoners could not slop out, and instead smeared their excrement over their cell walls and poured the urine under the door, into the hall. The government still intransigent, the prisoners, led by Bobby Sands, decided to go on hunger strike.

Michael Fassbender plays Bobby Sands - we also have Frank McCusker as the governor, and Liam Cunningham as Father Moran. And a more powerful piece you will be hard pressed to find. Not one bit is exaggerated - yes, it was that bad. I remember seeing the pictures. Hard to imagine living in that stench, never mind going on hunger strike. The fear of the prison officers is also shown. The prison guard who has to check under his car every day for a car bomb. The riot officer who is reduced to tears, hiding around the corner, when his colleagues are beating the naked prisoners, to try to subdue them so they can be washed. Not an easy film to watch.

But a very, very powerful one. Much of it is completely silent. Bobby Sands' gradual deterioration and death could be filmed in an over emotional way. It isn't - it's very quiet, and all the more moving for it. Little is said, but we can see his weakening, the sores on his body. His hearing and sight deteriorate. And then he's gone, and we're informed that the British government, after the end of the hunger strike, subsequently, quietly, implemented all the prisoners' demands - just not acknowledging their "special status".

For my money, this is a better film than 12 Years a Slave - not to say that that wasn't good, but it lacks the simple power of this. Funny how it was completely ignored by the Oscars. But then, we all know the Oscars are all about politics, eh? American slavery = good topic. Will probably win most awards just for that. Irish hunger strikers = not good topic. Too much **** on the walls. Ignored. Hey-ho, it's their party..

Overheard in the ladies' afterwards - two young English women discussing the film. "You know that scene in the middle, with the priest?" Ah yes, I thought - the one where Sands' political ideology is explained, the expository scene that sets up the rest of the film.. "I couldn't understand a word!"

:-) True, they didn't compromise on the accent. No subtitles.

Ironically, the one thing I wanted to do afterwards was eat, but the first two supermarkets I tried were closed! Well, my personal hunger was eventually sated..

For tomorrow, there's an interesting-sounding play on in the Arcola, in Dalston Junction, of all places! It's an age since I've been there - but at least the tube strike won't start back up until Tuesday. Anyway, this play - Punishment without Revenge - is part of their Spanish Golden Age season. Written in 1631, lots of drama as a stepson and stepmother fall for each other in Renaissance Italy. Yes please! And on Tuesday, at last, something I booked back in December - 1980, a piece by Pina Bausch, at Sadlers Wells. Looks good, but strange enough that I prebooked a programme, so I might be able to figure our what it's about. As I shall have to figure out my transport options again, coming back..