Saturday, 31 May 2014

Play: Wolf Hall

Let me state my case at the outset: I'm heavily biased in favour of historical drama. Love it. Love the costumes, love historical power plays. In fact, I'm very glad that I let Time Out decide, in general, what I'm to see, because, left up to me, I'd be at this sort of thing ALL the time. And variety is the spice of life.

Which doesn't stop me being thrilled when Time Out suggests something like Wolf Hall, based on the Booker-prize-winning novel about Thomas Cromwell, by Hilary Mantel. Now, I tried the book, but honestly, found it impenetrable. Maybe I was too busy to concentrate properly, but all the Thomases were confusing - indeed, there are a lot in this story, and there's even a joke about it, when one Thomas enters a room in which there are four more. He nods greeting to them. "Thomas", "Thomas", "Thomas", "Thomas". Popular name. But I figured it'd be easier to tell them apart if you could see them..

The problem was in getting a ticket for today. I searched the internet, but the only website that had availability for today was key2theatre.co.uk. But hallelujah that someone had! And, for this show, I didn't mind so much paying over face value. The seat they offered me was excellent - dead centre, six rows from the stage. Also, tickets were collectible from the box office - no worrying about them arriving in the post. I had little hesitation in booking, and spent the rest of the week looking forward to today!

It's unfortunate that this weekend's planned engineering works affected the District Line - it meant a slight detour for the Aldwych Theatre, where Wolf Hall is playing. TFL suggested the Piccadilly Line to Holborn - I researched the whole journey as soon as I heard the District Line was out of commission. It was also awkward that I was to see Hard Façade last night, which was a late one, and that the ticket I got for Wolf Hall was to the matinee.. but anyway. So, I forced myself out of bed today, had time for a banana, and headed off.

Doubtless on account of the fact that you couldn't get the District Line to take you as far as town today, the Piccadilly Line was crammed. At least it doesn't stop at Gloucester Road these days, which meant a slightly quicker journey for those of us going further. I could've got off at Covent Garden - it's the same distance away and the stop comes before Holborn - but the fact that only half the lifts are working there means it takes an age to get out of the station - longer than it does to go one stop further and get off at Holborn. Which I did, turning left onto Kingsway. And had a beautiful, sunny walk, although temperatures still haven't recovered to the levels of two weeks ago.

Turn right at the bottom of the road, and after a bit, you come to the Aldwych Theatre, and are immediately assailed by super-sized photos of actors in gorgeous Tudor costume. Go to the entrance, and you are immediately overawed by the sheer swarm of people. The box office is to the right, and they had no problem finding my ticket. (Yay!) BTW, as I moved towards my entrance, I opened the envelope, to discover that, with the ticket, was a little map showing all the West End Theatres. Cute! Think I'll keep that as a souvenir.

Staircases at the sides of the lobby lead to the upper levels, but entrance to the stalls is down the middle. As the great mass of people moved slowly through the lobby, the one-minute(!) warning was announced. Huh? Is my watch slow?! When I got to the guy who tore my ticket, his hands were shaking as he did so, and he tore the wrong bit - of course, it had receipts attached, as they do. Poor lad must have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people. Anyway, I finally made it into the stalls..

It's a long time since I came to a show as packed as this! I couldn't see a free seat, and what I could see of the upper levels, and the boxes, were full too. When I eventually pushed through the crowd to my row, there were, indeed, two free seats, right in the middle. O dear. So I excused myself past 10 people, and took one of the empty seats. The other stayed empty for the entire performance - I guess they hadn't been able to sell a seat on its own. My seat, BTW, was gorgeously plush and comfy, with decent legroom - but you do expect that, for a premium stalls seat. People around me were reading programmes - I vowed to get one at the interval. And I do believe they were fibbing about the one-minute start - it was about another 10 before the lights went down.

The stage was completely empty - but you know, in those days, they really didn't have much furniture. What the rich folk had was heavy, oaken furniture, generally beautifully carved, and extremely expensive, and they wouldn't have had much of it - just what was necessary. Anyway, it made the frequent scene changes all the easier. The production is handled by the Royal Shakespeare Company - reading the programme, I discovered this was their base up to 1960, when they moved to the Barbican. So you're guaranteed gorgeous, authentic costumes. The king's were very fancy, the other men's very eye-catching, with the more important lords having more elaborate costumes. The ladies' costumes were a glory of sweeping skirts, bodices, and long veils that trailed from the back and flowed as they moved. The play opens with a ball at the palace - a wonderful way to display the costumes, and give us an idea of the sheer number of characters we'll be seeing.

Despite the fact that a number of actors portraying minor characters portray a number each, there are a lot of actors. Still, having read a substantial portion of the book, even though it was a while ago, I realised that the book had been somewhat condensed. For instance, there's a suggestion in the book of a relationship between Thomas Cromwell and his sister-in-law - she's not even mentioned in the play. Goodness knows, there's enough going on as it is! (Oh, and oops! That's not Jeremy Irons playing him - although Lord knows, he's the spit of him! It's actually Ben Miles.)

The acting is predictably superb. The laughs play better than they read - the first half of the play, in particular, is full of one-liners; it becomes darker towards the end. The action flits from one scene to the next - you frequently have Tom Cromwell stalking out of one scene, only to whip around, at the edge of the stage, to see a completely different group of actors that have come in behind him, complete with furniture that's been whisked in with them, and find himself immediately in a completely different scene. Fireplaces are ably represented by rows of flame jets, positioned in the stage floor at different points. Otherwise, the limited amount of furniture is highly portable.

Lighting is expertly used to convey a mood, and there was one scene in particular that moved me to tears in seconds, just by simple tricks of lighting and staging. At intervals, it rains and snows on stage, in turn. Ah, they can do what they like! Well, they are the experts.

The play runs from 1527 to 1535. Henry VIII is on the English throne, he's been married for 20 years or so to Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess. From several pregnancies, she just has one surviving child - a sickly daughter, Mary. He's desperate for a son - in those days, a female heir was unthinkable, and he's afraid that the kingdom will be torn apart after he dies. Catherine is now too old to have more children. Enter Anne Boleyn, an ambitious young woman from a social-climbing family, who's as feisty here as she was famously portrayed in the tv series, The Tudors. Henry wants to prove that he and Catherine were never lawfully married, so that he can marry Anne. Catherine was previously married to his brother, and there's a passage in the bible forbidding marriage to your brother's widow. However, the pope at the time gave permission, and the present pope is under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor - Catherine's nephew.

What's a horny king to do?! Enter the crafty and conniving Thomas Cromwell, a brilliant lawyer and one of nature's survivors. As others fall around him, his star rises, until he is the king's principal advisor. Mind you, as the king becomes ever more autocratic, is that the safest situation to be in? The sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, is also playing.. I would dearly love to see it, let's see what Time Out Says! In a beautiful piece of stagecraft, in the very last scene of Wolf Hall, the spotlight shines, just for a second, at centre stage, on a demure figure dressed in white.. Jane Seymour, one of Anne's maids-of-honour: a foretaste of what is to come. Terrific stuff, I highly recommend this. Both play until the 6th September - and Hilary is currently working on the third in the series..

I treated myself to an overpriced, but very delicious, Haagen-Dazs Belgian chocolate ice cream, as well as a programme, at the interval, but was still hungry, of course, by the time we exited the theatre, at 5. I felt like eating out, and hadn't seen anything on Kingsway that caught my eye. However, I knew there were plenty of places on the way to Leicester Square - I walked that way on Thursday. I passed many a place I would have been happy to eat in, but decided I'd rather continue to Carluccio's, at the corner of Garrick Street and King Street. Seeing the crowds, I was dubious about getting a table, but was seated immediately. I ordered from the set menu, which was very nice, and ordered a spectacularly good sauvignon blanc and a somewhat indifferent chocolate cake separately, as well as a side order of rosemary potatoes, which were tasty, if rather salty. Service was remarkably efficient, especially considering the crowds, and unfailingly friendly. The only thing that really bothered me was the fact that the price listed on the menu didn't include VAT. I don't recall whether that was mentioned on the menu, but I only noticed it when the bill came. It rankles somewhat, having to pay 25% more than you expected. It's a practice I came across when I lived for a while in Canada, and I can only imagine that they're catering for an American clientele here - certainly, the people at the tables either side of me sounded American, as did my waiter - but it is NOT how things are generally done here, and I don't like it. But that's not to take from what was, otherwise, a good meal. Afterwards, I took the Tube home from Leicester Square, just up the road. Even got a seat, after one stop. When I got to Earl's Court, there was a train on the platform that would've taken me one stop closer to home, but there were such crowds on it that I said I'd rather walk from there.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Tricycle Arts Centre - it's been a while! I booked a ticket for the opening gala film of the London Asian Film Festival, which is screening there - the film in question is the European premiere of Lakshmi, a drama about child trafficking, based on a true story. Looks good - includes a Q+A with the director. I'd normally take the Overground there, but unfortunately it's fallen victim to planned engineering works too, so I have to plan a route via the Tube. And then it's off to Guildford on Monday..

Friday, 30 May 2014

Concert: Hard Facade

Sadly, I missed Hard Facade's last gig - I was in Ireland. Tonight's gig, I bought a ticket for at the same time as their gig last month. The ticket has been safely snuggled in my desk drawer ever since, and tonight it got its moment in the sun. Unfortunately, what with me going to Guildford next Monday, and needing my laptop, I had to take it home this evening. The last thing I wanted to do was lug it all the way to Brick Lane - so I decided to nip home with it after work.

Now, "nipping" home isn't exactly accurate - it takes about 20 minutes. And by the time I got there, with that blasted heavy bag, the last thing I wanted to do was "nip" back to the office, where the evening was starting with drinks. So I texted a couple of people to ask them to let me know when they were leaving. It was much more sensible to head from my local station, two minutes' walk away, where I could get a direct train to Aldgate East. I figured, if I left for the station at the same time they did, we'd all get to Aldgate East at about the same time.

Well, that was a great theory. Someone said he'd text me - fine. I did some things, I waited. Any minute, I thought. I nipped out to buy a bottle of wine, so I wouldn't be the only one not drinking. Finally I noticed the time - it was nearly 7, and we were supposed to eat before heading to the venue! And our lads were on at 8.30..! And it was in the East End, for goodness' sake!

I figured they'd forgotten about me, and already gone. So, miffed, I headed off myself. The train destination was Tower Hill, one stop short, but I decided to take it and change. After I got on, the destination was changed to Mansion House - shorter again. Never mind, I was headed in the right direction. And then.. as we were coming into Sloane Square, I got a text. "They haven't left the Warwick yet!" (That's the pub across from the office.) Ah, so I wasn't abandoned and forgotten. Well, that was something. I told them I'd wait at Aldgate East.

The driver urged us to disembark at Blackfriars if we were continuing past Mansion House, so I did. The train coming after us was more packed, but it was only a few more stops. When I finally reached Aldgate East, I wasn't sure which exit to take, but plumped for the closer one (towards the front of the train), which turned out to be correct. I eventually saw the sign for the exit for Brick Lane, and knew where I was. I texted the others to let me know when they arrived. Got a text back telling me they were in South Kensington - half an hour away - and we'd head straight to the venue, it being late. Food was no longer an option - not a proper meal, anyway.

Well, there was a KFC a couple of doors away, and it looked like the best option for a quick food fix - so I grabbed a bite there. I don't mind telling you, it was pretty bad - so far, the only really good KFC I've had in London was in Hammersmith, and I don't make a habit of eating there anymore, this was an emergency. But it filled a spot.

It must have been while I was in there that the others arrived, because they were on their way to Brick Lane by the time they called me. I caught up with them, and off we trotted. I haven't been here before, but I wouldn't mind coming back - its reputation as a curry centre seems well deserved, certainly from the sheer number of curry houses we passed. And many had representatives out front, imploring passers-by to come and sample their wares. "You don't know what you're missing!" One of our party found this a bit disturbing, but I've had worse, as a tourist abroad. Still, it was reminiscent of that. Someone else in our group was thrilled to see a restaurant with a banner associating itself with Masterchef! And.. then there was another, with a similar banner. And then there was one trumpeting that it was recommended by Tripadvisor. And over there was one she'd heard was good..

What a pity we couldn't try any of them, eh? Eventually, we met Nabeel, who's in the band, and we knew we were in the right spot. The Vibe is an interesting venue, and I'd love to come here again. You can't miss it, it's on the left as you come from the Tube station. Just turn up Osborn Street, which turns into Brick Lane, and keep going, till you come across a courtyard, with a railing facing the street. Which turned out to be full of street food vendors! Tarnation, I could've skipped KFC. Anyhow, we had some time to explore before our band was on.

There's an old building, where the bar itself is located. This is advertised by a neon sign by the door. Two doors - one for entry, one for exit - and someone at each to guide you the right way. The toilet was welcome, for me - and there's an attendant, with a tip saucer, who'll provide you with handwash, hairspray, bodyspray.. the red light is a bit disconcerting, though. The bar was crowded, and includes a tv projector screen.

Outside, there were three different food stalls, and quite a few wooden benches to eat at. The concert venue itself is accessed through a modern extension - go through the doors, into what was an overheated lobby, what with the glass roof panels. The venue is up a broad flight of stairs, at the top of which was seated a fellow with a cash box, who was taking note of which band we'd come to see, and marking our hands with ink for re-entry. Enter a sparse room, with a bar on the left, a stage on the right, and sofas dotted around the edges. There was only one barman, who was doing his best and not doing very well - I waited ages. Finally, I ordered a wine - this is the only bar I've been to where they automatically assumed I wanted a bottle! Then he unwrapped the special, wine-glass-shaped, plastic containers. Then he decided something was wrong with them, and gave me a regular plastic container instead. Oh, and don't bother with the pinot grigio here - it's insipid.

Our band had been tuning up while all this was going on, and duly began their set - with a ballad. I really like this song, but I'm not generally a fan of starting on a low note. But it soon picked up. It struck me, as I watched, and tried to clap while holding a flimsy plastic container of wine - which isn't easy, believe me - how much their stagecraft has improved. They're developing their own style now. They have some improvements to make - as one of our group remarked, having watched the other, more experienced bands this evening, Hard Façade has a terrific talent for songwriting - more so than the other bands - but could just do with some of their stage technique. The lead singer could project himself a little more, there could be a bit more coordination among the guitarists.

For me, as usual, I found Hard Façade to have something more interesting than the other bands - a more unconventional sound. I just keep having this feeling that the others can be boxed more easily. That unusual quality is a great thing! and, as I mentioned before, their stage technique is improving. I did get the impression tonight that the stage was a bit too cramped for them - and I can see them on a larger stage, I think they could do it justice.

I believe they're going to be concentrating on recording for a while. It's no bad thing to have something recorded, something people can take away with them. Neither is it a bad thing to get constructive criticism - it shows people are interested! and it shows that the band is worth taking the time to think about. We'll all be interested to see what they do next.

On a bum note, no sign of Valeria tonight, who's been so dedicated in taking photos at past gigs! Pity.. would've been great to see her again.

We stayed for the rest of the acts, the last act playing "one more", "one more", as the venue staff were trying to dismantle the set around them. The bar downstairs was open late, and we might have stayed later, but, well, the Tube isn't 24-hour just yet! Martin and I, who live on the same Tube line, took one that got us as far as Earl's Court, from which I walked, but he had to wait for another train. Hope it came eventually..!

You know, I'd better get to bed. Not only am I slightly exhausted, but I have a matinee tomorrow - Wolf Hall, at 2, and the District Line ain't running (scheduled engineering works). So it's a hike back to Earl's Court, Piccadilly Line to Holborn, walk from there. And I do not intend to miss it - considering how keen I am on the subject matter, and how hard it was to get a ticket for tomorrow. And, indeed, what a good seat I have! I'm also confident of a good performance, what with the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Jeremy Irons, handling it. On Sunday, seeing how fast the tickets are selling, I thought I'd better book one for myself, to see the European premiere of Lakshmi, a film about child trafficking, showing as the opening gala production of the London Asian Film Festival, at the Tricycle cinema. And on Monday, as I mentioned, that ferociously heavy laptop bag and I are going to Guildford..

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Play: Bakersfield Mist

I really wasn't expecting, until last thing last night, to go to Bakersfield Mist tonight. But, you see, I let Time Out inspire me - and someone there must have finally seen this and liked it, and posted a review, because finally, there was the listing. I figure that's how they do it, and why the listings keep changing; I suppose that anything that's reviewed is listed higher. So I booked a ticket. There have been various deals for this show, but they all seem to involve top-price seats. I just wanted the cheapest deal I could get - as usual - so I booked with the show website, for the very back row, which is the only row with third-price tickets. I've been to the Duchess Theatre a couple of times before, and I know there isn't a bad seat in the house, so the back row was fine.

Of the options that Google Maps presented to me, I decided on the Piccadilly Line. However, I noticed a glitch - they had me disembark at Leicester Square, whereas I could see from the map that Covent Garden (which wasn't marked on the map, BTW!) was closer. So I reported it - bet they won't do anything. Anyway, I noted the walking route between Leicester Square and the theatre, for the return journey - Covent Garden is exit only for most of the year, as they replace the lifts.

The queue at the two working lifts was horrendous again. Some brave souls undertake the stairs - which the signs specifically warn you not to do except in case of emergency; it's 15 floors! Anyway, despite the crush, I made it out in five minutes. And although it's not that warm, it was a lovely, balmy evening. It's quite a while since I was in "Theatreland", as it says on the road signs around here, and it's always a shock to see just how close all the theatres are to each other - all those shows you see advertised, most of which are right around the corner, or across the road, from each other. Or a short walk away. Anyway, I was at the theatre in about five minutes, without rushing.

This is also one of the smaller theatres hereabouts, which is handy when it means fewer stairs to climb! And so I made my way right up to the very back row, where the first several seats were occupied, so I figured I was inside them and excused myself past them. When I finally got to the empty seats, I checked the seat number - and discovered mine was one of the occupied seats! Counting back, who had taken my seat but the fat lump of a man that could hardly be bothered to stand to let me pass. Well anyway, there was nobody in the centre - although it did eventually fill - and upon sitting, it occurred to me that this was a better seat - more central! Since all the seats past me were eventually taken, I must have ended up in his seat. So he gave up his seat, which was better - for what? So he didn't have to walk so far in?! Did he get tired and just plonk himself in the nearest available seat?! Fine, I ended up with the better deal. And there was nobody for two rows in front of me, so I had a terrific view.

So, this is a two-person play, advertised as 85 minutes but more like 75, without interval. Kathleen Turner - and I'd forgotten how deep her voice is! - plays a lady living in a trailer park, and desperate to prove that the painting she bought in a junk shop for $3 is actually a long-lost Jackson Pollock. Ian McDiarmid plays the hapless, and very English, art expert whom she's enlisted to verify that the painting is authentic.

It's a bravura performance. The suspension of disbelief required to believe that the stage is the living room of her trailer is a bit much - it's a bit large, is all, and the only other minor criticism I have is that he gets a bit too drunk a bit too quickly. Other than that, I really enjoyed it, and the performances are cracking. V enjoyable performance - recommended. Runs until 30 August.

With no interval, it was still daylight when we came out, and it was lovely to walk back past all the restaurants (nearly every building here that isn't a theatre is a restaurant or pub). Many have outdoor seating, and the pub crowds spilled out onto the pavement on this balmy evening. It's handy to go to things close to home, but it is great to get into town from time to time.

Speaking of which, I'll be doing a fair bit of travelling tomorrow, when I head to The Vibe on Brick Lane, to see Hard Façade in action again. And roll on Saturday, when I'll be heading to the Aldwych Theatre - just around the corner from the Duchess - for the matinee of Wolf Hall, based on the Booker-Prize-winning book by Hilary Mantel, staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and starring Jeremy Irons as Thomas Cromwell. O goodee, Tudor fiction! :-)

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Play: This May Hurt a Bit

No typhoons stopped me going to This May Hurt a Bit, tonight at the St. James Theatre. Despite a rainy morning, it was quite fine for the rest of the day - ironic, considering that yesterday was when I was supposed to go to the Open Air theatre, and it poured rain. Ah well. Interesting how, on their website, they try to present the unpredictability of the weather as an attraction. Hmm.

Well, I sauntered off in plenty of time this evening (unusually). Despite the unpredictability of my Debenhams trousers, which, equally unpredictably, popped their last button just as I was due to leave - it was sew it back on, or make a quick change. A change was made. Interestingly, my top - also from Debenhams - has also lost a button. But not all of them, so not such an issue!

I arrived just as a train into town was pulling in. Of course, the platform indicator got it wrong again, but both where it thought, and where the train thought, that the train was going, would've got me where I wanted to go. So that was fine. In fact, I was so early that when we arrived at Earl's Court, and the driver told us the other train would be leaving first, I didn't even bother going over to it. The train stopped and started so many times, mind you, that I actually got nauseous. Typical District Line.. I was glad to arrive at Victoria, across from which I see they still have the giant photo of a pussycat:



And then it's a short trot, straight ahead, until you get to the Buckingham Palace gift shop, hang a right, and it's just past the hoarding. Awful lot of construction going on around Victoria just now.

I was one of the first into the theatre. Aisle seat as usual here, although for this production the front row is good, as the stage is at floor level, so as much legroom as you could want, as long as the actors don't trip over you. And all the seats are at the same price. I still cannot believe, though, how - snug - the legroom is in general.

So, this is a comedy about the NHS. Don't go expecting some mindless slapstick though - this is clever, and surprisingly political. The first character to appear is Clement Attlee, who founded the NHS in 1949. The second is Winston Churchill, for goodness' sake! Throughout the first half, we're exposed to facts, figures, stereotypes. What you learn is actually frightening - and I don't know that much about the NHS. Oh, and Maggie, who did so much to destroy the NHS, appears at stages throughout, like a bad smell. She appears as a budgie in the second act. :-) The second act itself is much more humorous, following a family's journey through the NHS, and featuring a star turn from the Grim Reaper!

Oh yes, this comes highly recommended. Some people in it that I vaguely recognised, too. Runs until the 21st. If you have any interest in the NHS, this is a show you should see. It was pretty packed tonight, but not completely, so tickets shouldn't be a problem.

Tomorrow, quite unexpectedly, Bakersfield Mist came up, and I just booked it. Playing at the Duchess Theatre, it stars Kathleen Turner as someone trying to get a good price for what she believes to be a valuable antique painting that she owns. I hear mixed reviews of the play, good reviews of her. Hard Façade is playing on Friday, at the Vibe on Brick Lane. And I'm very excited about Saturday - managed to score a ticket for the matinee of Wolf Hall, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with Jeremy Irons, at the Aldwych Theatre. This is based on a Booker Prize-winning book by Hilary Mantel, about Thomas Cromwell. I tried the book, but honestly found it rather impenetrable - too many Thomases. I fancy the stage version will be easier to follow! and I do love my history. Tickets are pretty hard to get - I paid not that much over the odds for a premium ticket, with key2theatre.co.uk. That was the only site with availability this week - generally, they don't have anything before August.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Rain stops play!

Well, actually, it probably won't. But it's been at it all afternoon, and I was out a short while ago and it was coming down uncomfortably heavily. So they can keep their open air theatre - I'm staying in! It was a lot sunnier - and warmer - when I decided on this.

Tomorrow is indoors.. I'm seeing This May Hurt a Bit, at the St. James Theatre. Which is a comedy about the NHS. Interestingly, all their seats are the same price for this. So I booked an aisle seat - for this is the theatre where that's an advantage - further down than normal. I can't see the weather putting me off this one. Unless there's a typhoon, maybe..

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Restaurants: Dragon Palace & Los Molinos

It was Valeriya's last day at the office today, and my, did she have a send-off! Aside from the in-office presentation, we had both a leaving lunch and a leaving dinner.

For both, I had a similar style of menu, in that I had dim sum for lunch and our dinner venue was a tapas restaurant. So, in each case, a selection of small dishes. My, what a well fed day, though! We lunched at the Dragon Palace, where we've been so often before, and where my considered opinion holds that the dim sum is preferable to the a la carte. I ordered four dishes, including a new one - char siu dumplings, which turned out to be gorgeous. Sadly, I wasn't able to finish my custard buns - which, with the erratic service, arrived much later than the rest of the food - but others were happy to do it for me! Some were left waiting a long time for their food - notably those who'd ordered from the a la carte. I do recommend the dim sum, certainly at lunch, for that reason. But, all in all, what I had was truly excellent.

After a food-filled afternoon, with many goodies available in the office for general consumption, and some drinks after work in the local, we headed (eventually) for a meal in Los Molinos. We'd rung ahead, and they had a table ready for us downstairs. In my defence, I've never been here before, and I wanted to try a range of dishes - so the fact that I couldn't finish any of them shouldn't come as a surprise. Next time, I'll know to order two - three at max. The delicias de pollo (chicken fillets, in breadcrumbs, with ham and cheese) were lovely, as were the ham croquettes, and I was sorry not to do justice to the tortilla, which I love. But the stand-out, for me, were the stuffed mushrooms, which were superb. Again, pity I couldn't eat more. Ah well. Service was friendly and helpful throughout - recommended. And afterwards we wended our several ways home.

Off to Ireland tomorrow.. and have booked a cheap ticket for All My Sons at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre for Tuesday. Let's hope the thunder showers expend their energy by then, eh?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Play: Donkey Heart

I intended to go to Donkey Heart, I really did. But since it's on in Islington, and I have lots to do this evening, and I'm tired, and I couldn't give a monkey's (or a donkey's!) about it, frankly - I didn't go.

Talk of drinks tomorrow evening for a colleague's last day - if time allows, I might go to a film. Then I'm back in Ireland for a long weekend, which it is here, if not there. On Tuesday, however, I have booked to see All My Sons, at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park. So we'll be hoping for fine weather then, eh?

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Play: The Testament of Mary

I think I've done my duty by the cinema for the moment, eh? So I was delighted, tonight, to get a fairly good seat to The Testament of Mary, playing in the Barbican. The cheapest ticket price in the house would buy you a seat front and centre.. of the gallery (the top level). Which is fine, this is a decent theatre.

Of course, it's a trek to get there from where I am. I rocked up to West Brompton station, intending to get a Tube to Edgeware Road and change there to any eastbound train - they all go through Barbican. I was delighted to see that the board indicated that the next train was for Edgeware Road. Mind you, there was quite a delay. Naturally, when the train eventually arrived, it was for Upminster (different line entirely). Par for the course, here. Seems they no longer even bother to mention the faulty indicator boards, I suppose they assume you'll know. So I quickly switched to Plan B - hop on that train for one stop, to Earl's Court, then take the Piccadilly Line, which cuts across town rather than heading in a circle around it. That'd zip me to King's Cross, from where I could pick up any eastbound train to Barbican, two stops away.

I had great fun tourist-dodging at Earl's Court. My, but it's vexing when a whole group of confused tourists stand right in front of you as you're in a hurry. Anyway, thankfully, I got a seat on the Piccadilly Line train - I had a long journey to make, sitting was preferable. I had my book to read, and got a substantial portion of it read by the time I had to change again, and within no time after that I had disembarked and was trotting down Beech Street. I knew my way until I was inside the Barbican, which I don't go to that often, and which always confuses me. But I found the ticket office, downstairs, without trouble, and she let me recite the last four digits of my payment card to her rather than dig for it. Which was handy. Then I had to gallop back upstairs again, seeing as I was in the top level of the theatre. I was breathless by the time I got to my row - only to find that a lot of the seats had sold this afternoon, and where the seating plan had shown empty seats when I booked, there was now a whole heap of people to excuse myself past. O well.

There was a rucksack on my seat, which he had to move before I could sit. I also found myself between two guys who have that unfortunate habit of breathing heavily, so for the entire performance I was listening to one or other of them breathe noisily through his nose. Also, I was a little cramped for legroom. Never mind, there was a bit of a ledge to leave my book on, and it would take more than that to distract me from this excellent play!

The first thing you should know is that it's based on a Booker Prize-nominated novella by Colm Tóibín. He's always terrific, and you know this is going to be a good play. The second thing is that it's acted by the irrepressible Fiona Shaw, so you know it's going to be well acted. Guaranteed a good night, in fact.

When I got in, there was a whole host of audience members on stage. It turns out that the play starts with her in a glass case, surrounded by candles, in the traditional Marian image (for this play is about Mary, mother of Jesus), and audience members are invited to come and adore her. I guess this is more for people in the stalls. Then the cage lifts, and she becomes more human, more ordinary. Except for the massive bird of prey she carries around for a while - that's explained as the story progresses.

It's reminiscent of The Life of Brian, in a way - with Jesus' mother incredulous at the attention he's getting, disbelieving of his miracles, describing his followers as a group of misfits, casting her eyes to the ceiling when recalling their sayings, and remarking that "whenever two men get together, there's bound to be foolishness". The first part of the play - it runs for 80 minutes, without interval - is hilarious, and Fiona Shaw's facial expressions are enough to reduce the house to laughter. Even if you're too high to see them properly, you go get a good idea what's going on. Later, she describes the crucifixion with shocking vividness, aided by sound effects and her minimal props. Describes how she was hijacked by his followers, prevailed upon to be a witness to events. But she's disparaging of the "new world order" his death is supposed to usher in, and her last words are "if he died for this, it wasn't worth it".

A memorable piece, and a fantastic piece of theatre, you absolutely should see this if you get the chance. Only runs till Sunday though, so hurry!

It took the people either side of me forever to leave, as they were discussing the play. At length. But o my, it was good to finally stretch!

Tomorrow is another play - I'm off to the Red Lion pub in Islington to see Donkey Heart. Thursday, I'm not sure about - yet another colleague is leaving, that's her last day, and there's talk of drinks. So I may not go to anything that night - we shall see. Anyway, then I'm back to Ireland for the long weekend - not that it's a long weekend in Ireland, but what the hey!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Film: Godzilla

Well, well, well. It finally came around to Godzilla! It had to happen - its IMDB rating kept falling, but not fast enough, and there was nothing higher rated showing today that I had any interest in. On the plus side, it was showing in my local cinema, and not until 8.20 - which meant that I could walk there, and could enjoy the sunshine beforehand.

I went via the cemetery..


I read my book for a while there, conscious that closing time was at 8. I planned to leave by the South Gate - turn right on Fulham Broadway and you're at the cinema in 10 mins (walking briskly). When it was time to leave, I headed down the main avenue - only to discover that it finished in a dead end at a wall! You could turn left or right.. I turned right, less worried about being locked in when I saw other people there. When I saw they were all headed in the opposite direction, and with closing time nearly upon us, I figured they knew which way to go, and turned that way myself. Sure enough, I soon found the gate, just as a van rolled up to it, announcing loudly through the megaphone that it was closing time. So, if you're headed south through the cemetery, turn left at the dead end for the exit.

Walking along the main road, I passed the football stadium. We sometimes see the crowds pass on match days, but they don't bother us much. In due course, I came to the cinema. I had resolved, if they asked me tonight whether I had a voucher, to explain to them something of how I'm quite a regular customer, but haven't been offered a voucher in ages! Sure enough, she asked, and I told her how I haven't had a voucher in ages. It worked - she gave me two! :-)

The lady who took my ticket seemed to think the showing was 3D. I'm glad it wasn't - I'd have asked for a refund. 3D gives me a headache. I usually ignore whatever seat I'm given and just sit wherever, for these non-busy performances. This time though, given the size of the screen, I decided to sit where I was supposed to, which was further back than I normally go. I was pleased with my decision when the film began. It idly occurred to me that I could have taken a VIP seat, but my bare legs would just have stuck to the leather.

After a string of trailers - for films the majority of which I wouldn't see except if strapped in place with my eyes forced open, a la Clockwork Orange (not an auspicious start) - the feature began. This was my first Godzilla film, but of course I'd heard the name and knew the basic premise, of a giant Japanese lizard laying waste to cities. In this incarnation, we start with an incident at a Japanese nuclear power plant in 1999. Head honcho at the plant is Bryan Cranston, whom I know as Malcom's father from Malcolm in the Middle. He's terrible in this. Really. Laughably bad. He's married to Juliette Binoche, of all people. (Spoiler) She doesn't last long. Anyway, fast forward 15 years and his little boy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, is all grown up and has become an army bomb disposal technician (who knew that would come in useful fighting monsters?!), and is equally terrible in this film. (And he doesn't even get to defuse any bombs!) Tragically, they have several scenes together. He's married to Elizabeth Olsen and they have a little boy of their own. Dad, though, has this unfortunate habit of getting arrested, because he keeps trying to go back to their old house for his data, and it's in a quarantine zone. But, you see, he's sure they're hiding something..

Other names to watch out for are Ken Watanabe, who now has Bryan's old job (kind of), his side-kick, Sally Hawkins, and David Strathairn, who plays the military head of the anti-monster operation. But all the humans are pretty much just an annoyance in this - the wives less so, but then they are on screen less. Fortunately, after a while the monsters appear, and then it's just a rollercoaster to the finish! The monsters are spectacular. Yes, you see, there's more than one - seems Godzilla was always there, something akin to Neptune or the like - but the humans playing around with atomic substances have woken a couple of creatures that feed on radioactivity. Fancy! And one of them flies! And they are all terrific. The MUTOs, as they're called (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), seem to have taken a leaf from the Alien design books, and although Godzilla himself is as big and clunky as ever, he's surprisingly lithe.

I have to say, the effects are predictably superb, and all fight sequences are excellently directed. It's great fun to play Spot-the-Famous-Monument-That-Was-Just-Destroyed! And as we approach the breathtaking finale, it becomes positively epic, with a soundtrack that I'm sure was taken from 2001: A Space Odyssey. 10/10 to the set designers, the effects people, everyone involved with monsters, and the director. The film would have been pretty perfect if they'd only left the actors out of it.

If I'm going to a film tomorrow, top of the list is another Japanese shocker - Battle Royale, set in a class of 14-year-olds who, under a new government missive, are ordered to kill each other. It certainly looks interesting. Only thing is, it's in the Prince Charles, at 6.30 - I'd have to go straight into town from work. No sun for me. We'll see how I feel..

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Films: Walkabout & Wake in Fright

Despite the glorious weather today, I took a train journey of 50 mins duration each way, to sit in the Rio, watching their Beyond Civilisation double bill, set in the Australian outback. Well, if I hadn't been that keen, I wouldn't have bothered - but these films - Walkabout (1971) and Wake in Fright - sounded excellent. Besides, I'd have been bored, just sitting in the sun for the afternoon..

I was lucky, firstly, that the Overground runs direct from just up the road from me, at West Brompton station, to Dalston Kingsland, just down the road from the Rio, as it happens. Not only is it handy not to have to change, but the Overground is cheaper than the Tube - particularly since I'd have to go through Zone 1 to get to the other side of town. Secondly, I was lucky, because not only were there no Tube trains running through West Brompton today, but neither were there Overground trains for much of the line (planned engineering works take place at weekends, to minimise disruption). Anyhow, I took my book with me - rather excellent, The Last Queen - I do recommend it - and between the outward and return journeys I got a lot of it read. The fare turned out to be £1.50 each way - rather good value for a 50-minute journey! I'd forgotten about the cheap fares on Sundays. I knew from Google Maps to turn left from the station, and within a few steps the cinema was actually in sight! Easy-peasy.

I'd been early enough to get the train before the one I needed to get - which is great, except that the cinema wasn't open yet when I got to it! So I hung around, trying to look as though I wasn't waiting for the doors to open.. there was a notice saying that it would open at 1.15, it was about 1.10 at this point (by my watch). They eventually opened at about 1.20. There's a café in the lobby, where you can buy your ticket if there's no-one in the ticket office. Handy, that café - I took advantage of the fact that they sold ice cream.. There only seems to be one screen, and the whole place is a bit scruffy, but the staff were friendly, and I liked it.

Stairs led to the balcony, but I knew from the website that that was closed today, and the guy who sold me my tickets (for both films, two for the price of one) and ice cream also told me where the entrance to the stalls was. I was, of course, the first in, and it took so long for anyone to join me that I seriously wondered whether I'd be the only one there! I wasn't, of course. Rather cramped toilets were located on either side of the screen. Nice comfy seats  - although a bit bum-numbing after a double-bill - and nice plush red curtains covering the screen, that opened when the film was due to start and drew closed after the credits finished. Oh, and another nice touch - no ads! So I didn't mind that each film started a bit later than advertised.

The first was Walkabout (1971) - a highly visual and quite moving piece that tells the tale of a teenage Jenny Agutter and her little brother, whose father is obviously having problems that aren't divulged. Anyway, he drives them into the outback for a picnic, then starts taking potshots at them. When he can't catch them, he torches the car and shoots himself. Which would be bad enough, except now the kids are alone in the desert, with no idea which way to go, and no decent provisions. They're in a bad way by the time they come across an Aboriginal lad on walkabout - the traditional initiation ceremony whereby a teenage boy heads off into the wilderness on his own, forced to fend for himself. He helps them.. and as he leads them back to the world they know, the film becomes a metaphor for the conflict between his world and the "civilised" one, of crowds, traffic, cities.. A memorable piece, the more so because I've always been fascinated by the outback - the idea of a vast expanse of desert, with, to paraphrase Bill Bryson, more things in it that can kill you than anywhere else on the planet.

We had a short break before the second film - Wake in Fright. Now there's a promising title! (Also known as Outback.) Also made in 1971, this is a slightly more conventional story, but no less striking. A young teacher - Gary Bond - faces the same problem as so many - the difficulty in finding a post. As he explains at one point in the film, he studied history and literature - but if your parents are nobody, what can you do but teach? The only way he could get a job was to become a bonded teacher with the Department of Education, which bond he has to work off - which means he has to work wherever they tell him. So he ends up in the back end of beyond, teaching what, I'm not quite sure, from the evidence of the opening scene, which has the class staring at him in silent boredom until he says they can go. How well behaved they were in those days..!

Well, if the first film was about the conflict between modern civilisation and the traditional way of life, you could say that this film was about the conflict between an idea of civilisation - or sophistication - and the hard-drinking, lowbrow, society of the miners of the outback. In the first film, civilisation pretty much won - in this one, it's not such a clear victor. This guy starts out as a tortured intellectual, thinking himself better than those around him, feeling he deserves greater things. He overnights in a rough mining town on his way on holiday - and after he comes into contact with the locals, including the slightly manic, alcoholic, local doctor, Donald Pleasence, things are never quite the same again as he's drawn ever more into their world. Memorable, truly.

I swung by the cemetery for a while on the way home..

 
 
Tomorrow's film is looking like, ahem, Godzilla again. That is, of course, providing that its IMDB rating doesn't slip again.. and providing that I'd rather do that than just head to the cemetery again!

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Film: The Wind Rises

Yes! Finally finished my film list early this afternoon. So now I know what's on for the week, and have a rough idea of their rating on IMDB. Top of the list for today was Breadcrumb Trail, but that had two problems.. (1) By this stage I wouldn't make it in time, and (2) I wasn't interested anyway. It's about a band I've never heard of. So that was ok. Instead, I went to the second on the list - The Wind Rises. There's a lot of Japanese animated film out at the moment, most of which I avoid - I'm not interested in anime, thanks, or children's film, generally. However, I made an exception for this - an Oscar-nominated fictionalised biopic of the engineer who designed the Japanese fighter planes during WWII.

The nearest place it was showing was in Cineworld Fulham - I could choose from four showings today, two of which were in Japanese with English subtitles, the other two of which were dubbed in English. Didn't matter to me, so I chose the 6pm showing, which meant I didn't have to rush. It happened to be dubbed. It's been gloriously warm, and I had a lovely, leisurely walk to the cinema. I never realised Old Brompton Road was so fragrant - it's very leafy, and you pass some gardens. The warm weather obviously suits it! Anyway, I arrived early, and had to mooch around the lobby a bit before they finished cleaning and let me in.

I'd heard good things about how beautiful this film was. That's undeniable. The story of a little Japanese boy, frustrated in his dream to be a pilot, because he had poor eyesight, who instead had the idea of becoming an aeronautical engineer. It's absolutely enchanting, and beautifully told. He ultimately realises that his planes are going to be used for military purposes, but it doesn't deter him - his aim is to build beautiful flying machines, which he does. The latter part of the film had me in literally floods of tears - it's not often that happens. I wasn't the only one either, I heard plenty of sniffling around me. It's so charming, this film.. it's a rare pleasure to see something like this. I'm terrible with voices, and was surprised to see so many famous names on the cast list at the end - Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role, Emily Blunt as his wife, Werner Herzog as the German he befriends, Jennifer Grey as his boss's wife, William H. Macy as his father-in-law, Elijah Wood as Sone (I don't remember who that is, and can't seem to get any information on him, sorry). Truly a film not to miss, if you get the chance.

I'm very excited about tomorrow's offering. Top of the list was Advanced Style, a documentary about elderly New Yorkers with eccentric styles. But I wasn't so interested in that, and searched on. Godzilla continues its inexorable decline, and is currently tying with Walkabout, showing at the Rio. The latter is a highly visual film about a little boy and his sister (Jenny Agutter) lost in the Outback. Not only does it look good, but it's showing in a double-bill called Beyond Civilisation with another film, made in the same year, set in the Outback, called Wake in Fright - a dark drama starring Donald Pleasence. Two for the price of one, and both sound excellent! It's a long journey out there, but I think it's worth it..

Friday, 16 May 2014

Musical: The Pajama Game

Well, it wasn't as though I couldn't have gone to the cinema yesterday evening - I only stayed for one post-work drink. But Godzilla had slipped in ratings again, and the highest rated film now (according to IMDB) was The Voysey Inheritance, an Edwardian tv drama with Jeremy Irons. Now, had that been showing locally, I'd have loved to see it - but as it was, I'd have had to go by Tube to the BFI, and it was far too nice an evening for that. So I just bought something to eat and went home.

Tonight though, I'd already booked a ticket for The Pajama Game, showing in the Shaftesbury Theatre. So, despite another beautiful day, that was where I was headed - it was ironic that it was also the evening I got stuck into something at work, and stayed there so long that I had to rush straight from the office into town. As I was finishing up, I hurriedly checked where exactly this theatre is - I don't get there very often - and discovered that the nearest Tube stop was Covent Garden. Holborn was about as close, but one stop further on the line - so I quickly memorised the walk from Covent Garden, and made a dash for it.

Sadly, I didn't get a seat until two stops before Covent Garden, but at any rate I spent the journey worrying that I wouldn't get there in time. I gratefully disembarked at Covent Garden, only to discover a huge crush of people at the lifts - this is one of the stations where you're better off taking the lift; the alternative is the staircase, which, as they tell you on the sign, is the equivalent of 15 storeys. Unfortunately, two of the four lifts were out of order - hence the crush. And when our lift did come, we crammed into it like sardines.

Street level came as a relief. Then I had to dodge a whole crowd of rickshaws, which are popular around here. It was only afterwards that it occurred to me I could have hired one to take me to the theatre - never mind. The way, after checking on Google Maps Streetview, was easy to find, if not actually easy to walk, with huge crowds of people spilling out of the pubs and hogging the pavements. And by now I was slightly late. Still, I made it to the theatre under five minutes late - they quickly found my ticket and hurriedly scanned it, then led me through a warren of passageways, downstairs to the stalls. The usher explained that she couldn't lead me to my seat, in Row E, now that the performance had started, because the actors come in through a door there! So I took an aisle seat further back. Might have stayed there too - it was fine, except for the large head in front of me - the rake in the stalls isn't very steep.

The show had just started - I missed just a couple of lines, I think. It's a simple story - set in a pyjama factory in the 1950s, where the workers are dissatisfied with their pay. Others in the industry are getting a 7.5c an hour pay rise, and these workers want the same, but the boss isn't budging. Romance blossoms between the female head of the grievance committee - played by Doris Day in the film - and the new factory superintendent.

Well, it's your classic, feelgood, escapist, Broadway musical. There are plenty of musical numbers, the production values are excellent. The singing and dancing is top-notch, and the fact that the actors come and go through a door to the side is a nice touch, especially as they sometimes hang around there, bringing the play up close and personal. I cannot fault it - the only thing that jarred a little was that the lead actress was a bit older than you might expect. But she was terrific.

I moved at the interval. My new seat seemed to have more legroom, seemed to be more comfortable, and certainly had a better view - five rows from the front, more central to the row, and with a much better view of what is a very ornate theatre:


I was hungry, having come straight from work, and thought to buy an ice cream from the chap selling them. I was browsing the flavours when the woman beside me, who had just chosen two, was told that they would cost £7.20! These are typically small tubs, but most places only have the cheek to charge £2 for them, not £3.60. I decided against it, and reflected, as I returned to my seat, what an expensive venue this could be - aside from the ice cream, the ticket prices through their more modern website - the one linked to from Time Out - are terrible value. Shop around - it's hard not to find them for less, and 3rd party ticket vendors are very popular for London shows.

Well, but I enjoyed the night. I had a much more immersive experience in Row E, and was glad to be there for the showy numbers of the second half. Coming home, I went a different way - I had remembered, on the way in, that Covent Garden is exit only for several months because of engineering works, so I couldn't go back that way. Holborn it was, which I remembered was straight up High Holborn. I passed a Nando's on the way, but wasn't hungry enough for a big meal - instead, I discovered a Sainsbury's across the road from the station, where I bought something to eat at home. I needed wine, but thought I wouldn't be able to get it, it being after 10. I had forgotten that the cut-off time here for selling alcohol isn't until 11 (whee!). My, dragging the shopping across the city was a pain, though - although I had a stroke of luck in Earl's Court, where the train to take me one stop closer was at the platform when I got there, thus saving me five minutes' more walk.

Tomorrow looks like a film again, but it's too late, and I'm too tired, to go through them. I've done the As.. I'll continue tomorrow.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Film: Next Goal Wins

Ah, it's great to feel better again, after a bout of the flu! Not quite cured, but I have much more energy, and there was no problem going out tonight. Just as well I hadn't anything booked for the past two nights.. Anyway, the film at the top of my list for tonight - which I would have seen on either of the last two nights, had I been able - was Next Goal Wins. It's a football film, which I would never normally consider, but I'd seen the trailer and thought it looked good.

Well, along with my health, the weather took a turn for the better today, and it was gloriously sunny and warm. I thought about getting my new book from the Amazon locker and heading to the cemetery, but I knew I wouldn't have time to do that and eat before the film - and I was hungry when I got back from work and wanted to eat straightaway. And by the time I'd eaten, the cemetery was closed anyway, so that was that.

After a very pleasant stroll to the shopping centre where the cinema is located (my, it's good to be out and about!), I decided to head for the locker first - it's in the same complex. This was a new experience for me - I haven't used an Amazon locker before, but it was the only way to get free delivery without taking out a subscription to Amazon Prime, which I don't see the need for. I had received a confirmation email with instructions about where the locker was - at the blue wall leading to the car park beside the Sainsbury's. Well, I knew where the Sainsbury's was.. then saw the sign for the car park, and sure enough, just through that door was the locker. I input the code from the email - I'd printed it out to have the barcode as well, but I couldn't see the scanner - and after a pause of a couple of seconds to verify the code, I heard a twang to my left. Sure enough, a door had popped open and there was my package! Couldn't have been easier. A very handy means of collection, if there's one near you - especially for things too large to fit through a letterbox, if there won't be anyone home! The opening hours are much better than the post office..

Well, then the cinema was just upstairs. The person at the till asked me whether I had a voucher, which I didn't - they hadn't given me one last time - and then proceeded to not give me a voucher this time either! Dear me, have they run out of them? What do I have to do to get another? Anyway, I was assigned a seat, but the cinema was practically empty, so I just took one I liked the location of.

This is a documentary about the soccer team of American Samoa - officially worst in the world, after their 31-0 defeat to Australia in 2001. The film starts with some footage of that match, and praise for the goalkeeper, who, it was acknowledged, did a terrific job in the face of overwhelming odds. Frankly, he was a one-man team - he had no defenders to help keep the ball away from the goal. Afterwards, he retired from football and went to live in Seattle.

We get to see a lot of the island's culture, its warm-hearted people, and o my, what spectacular scenery! It'd make you want to book that South Sea holiday this very minute.. Anyway, back to the football. All this losing was getting to the locals, of course, and finally, they hired a Dutch coach to whip them into shape for the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup. They didn't like all his strict coaching methods, though, and he was appalled at the low standard of football he found there. Still, they had heart, and did as they were told - and the moment when they score their first goal against another country (who must have got a shock!) is really moving. As it is when they win their first ever match.

I don't watch football, typically, and interestingly, during the week, I spoke to a couple of guys who are very keen on it but had no interest in watching a film about it. They'd rather be watching it for real. Ok, fair enough. Me, I still have no interest in football, but this is a moving film about overcoming obstacles - such as the fact that the team includes the world's first transgender player in an official match. She's interviewed a lot for the film, jokes about hiring a ballgown and getting some shoes for the premiere. Apparently they're a lot more accommodating of what they call "the third gender" in American Samoa, and it's lovely to see. Oh, and the team aren't officially the worst in the world any more! Play on, folks..

Tomorrow, there are drinks after work, but I should be able to make the next film on my list - the new production of Godzilla, which isn't on until 8.20. We'll see. Mind you, despite its high rating, it's been plummeting fast. Still rated far above the others on my list though. Should be fun, although I'm not seeing it in 3D - that gives me a headache. On Friday, I'm finally going to something non-film-related! I booked a ticket for the musical, The Pajama Game, at the Shaftesbury Theatre. NB: if booking tickets for this show, DO NOT book through the Time Out website, or their link to the theatre - http://www.shaftesburytheatre.com/. Oh, it's the correct site all right - but it has the most expensive tickets of any I tried. You should not be paying more than £45 for a good seat in the stalls for this show. It's interesting to note that the theatre does have two websites - the first I link to here has a booking link that puts you through to a cheap ticket vendor. The second link connects to a more modern website, with more expensive tickets. Caveat emptor! Anyway, after much humming and hawing, I chose a seat that seemed reasonable, with decent legroom and a good view - row E in the stalls. Should be close enough!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Film: Black Christmas (1974)

I mightn't have bothered to blog about Black Christmas, which I watched on YouTube tonight because I have a touch of flu and didn't want to go out - but it's so good I just had to!

I do like my horror films, but I wasn't having much luck with finding decent (free) ones on my YouTube list, so instead I consulted Time Out's list of 100 all-time great horror films. I've seen a lot of them, and there are many others I wouldn't be interested in - I watched The Changeling before, on this list's recommendation, and enjoyed it - a classic haunted house / murder mystery with George C. Scott Well, I had to go down much further tonight, but at #64 I came across Black Christmas.

Made in 1974, it stars Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey as members of a sorority house. It's coming up to the Christmas holiday, most have left already to go home to their families, there are only a few left. And an unexpected guest, who starts to pick them off, one by one. That's not to mention the obscene and unsettling phone calls. John Saxon is the investigating detective.

So far, so much as usual. Creaky floorboards - check. Big old house with lots of hiding places - check. Boyfriends as suspects - check. But stick with this, horror fans, for the ending - which is a masterpiece of suspense. Also noteworthy, as they point out in reviews, is the camera angle from the killer's point of view - something we're used to now, but they weren't then. Quite a superior quality of film. Check it out! if you're into that kind of thing.

Roll on the end of this flu - but it has been interesting, doing a trawl of YouTube..

flu :-(

For anyone who might be wondering where I was yesterday, I stayed home. As I'm doing tonight. Because I have a touch of the flu. :-(

My plan is still to see Next Goal Wins, whenever this infection has enough of me! Certainly, I need to head in that direction on Thursday at the latest, to collect my book, The Last Queen, from the Amazon locker. So, wish me luck for tomorrow!

In the meantime, I'm occupying myself with films on YouTube. Last night, it was Night of the Demon, made in 1957 and showing its age in the quality of the print. Still, a good film. Essential watching for those who need to know how to deal with a cult of demon worshippers!

Tonight? That's what I'm about to find out. I have a whole list of them, because whenever I come across a title showing in London that hasn't been on before, particularly an old title, I check first to see whether it's on YouTube and I can save myself the money. Which, of course, is the bright side of having to stay in.. just think of all the money I'm saving!

'Bye for now.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Pub Grub: Teach uí Bhriain

I did indeed manage to get up in time today, and before I left for the airport, we went for lunch at Teach uí Bhriain, for a change.

Managed to get parking, if not exactly in front of the door, then one space up from it. They were serving the Sunday lunch, which meant we couldn't necessarily get our usuals - however, she did agree to source some garlic bread for us (they do a lovely version here). My stomach was a bit queasy, and I didn't fancy anything too heavy, but the turkey escalopes with a citrus crust in a red wine jus sounded nice. My mother's salmon wasn't on the menu, sadly, so she had cod, sauce on the side - as usual.

In brief, the garlic bread was scrumptious, the turkey was extremely tasty - two pieces, and I downed both. The accompanying sauce was terrific - their sauces usually are. The cod was bland, apparently, as cod is wont to be - the sauce would doubtless have helped, but my mother has a delicate stomach and avoids sauces in general. She picked at the mash and vegetables that came with the main courses, and I avoided them entirely - my turkey was accompanied by a quantity of mash anyway, and the side orders of mash and veg that they provide are not their string point. We skipped dessert - not that it's not good here, but it's huge, I had to be in time for the airport, and I was being careful of my stomach anyway. What I had sustained me right through to late evening, as it was.

Still making out my film list.. I'm down to the Ms now! Won't know what I'm going to tomorrow till that's finished, but it's bedtime and I have work in the morning. So, night all!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Concert: Christy Moore

Christy Moore gives a terrific performance, and a show including him is always a treat. So when we discovered, last December, that he was playing Glór in Ennis this weekend, I counted the weeks left to see whether I was due to be in Ireland that weekend. (I come back every second week.) Sure enough, I was supposed to be here, so I gleefully booked us two tickets.

Mind you, I hadn't reckoned on the timing of Easter, which threw out my schedule (I wanted to be here that weekend). That meant I was here last weekend, which was two weeks after Easter.. but of course, with the tickets already booked for this weekend, I came back again. Worth the trouble, and the extra fare.

Today's schedule was much like the one we had last time we went to Glór, except that we didn't have it on the list to go to the pharmacy, or get petrol (luckily, as it was lashing rain on the way there). So - a visit to my uncle, then straight to The Poet's Corner to get a bite to eat, it being convenient for the cathedral, where we could get Mass, then on to Glór. Parked on the road between the cathedral and the Old Ground Hotel again, as the Poet's Corner is the pub of that hotel.

Despite us arriving half an hour earlier than last week, when we had had no trouble getting a table, it was completely full this evening. We blamed the fact that there were obviously First Communions afoot, what with little girls running about in long white dresses. Well, every table was occupied, but a kindly, elderly American lady at the table by the door, beside which we were standing, invited us to join her, and we did. She was having what looked like a Bailey's, and waiting for her husband. Chattily, she informed us that it was their second time - they'd been 10 years ago and loved it. Last time they were on a tour that started in Dublin - this time, they decided to fly to Shannon and take a tour from there. Pity about the weather, of course - cold and wet - but they were enjoying it. They're off to do the Ring of Kerry tomorrow, and good luck to them - they won't see much if there isn't a dramatic improvement! Well, but you don't come here for the weather.

Anyhow, they were having their dinner in the restaurant, but we ordered ours in the pub - the usual, chicken kiev for me, plaice for my mother (a half portion this time - for some strange reason, they usually give two full-size pieces of plaice, which I defy most people to eat!). We had plenty of time for dessert, which was good, as service was necessarily slower, with the crowds. I had a delicious Bailey's cheesecake, she had a raspberry mousse. And while eating, we had plenty of time to observe, and comment on, Communion fashions, and how that group of fashionable young ladies at the bar must be crippled in those sky-high, clunky-looking, shoes.

We made our way carefully across the road for Mass - it was quite windy by now. The service had been hijacked by the Eucharistic Adoration group, which was canvassing for new members, and whose representative gave a sermon of approximately 10 minutes about the advantages of it. They were handing out forms to be filled in with your details (if interested), and unwisely included pens with them. Wonder how many pens they got back..

We arrived in good time at Glór, and parked as near the entrance as possible. It was a short, but unpleasant, walk in. The lobby was already pretty full - tonight's and last night's concerts were sold out, I believe. I collected our tickets, then dropped off some books at their handy leave-a-book shelves, where we picked up a couple last week. We didn't fancy pushing through the crowd at the bar for a drink, but soon it was time to go in anyway. We were told we were in the centre of the row, and could enter the auditorium by either door, but the usher at the first door tried to send us round to the second door. This made no sense, and my mother just walked on ahead. I duly followed.

We were six rows from the stage. Mind you, with Glór so full these days, you don't get an idea in advance of exactly where that is - they've managed to cram about six extra rows in there. Still, it was a good seat. Legroom is good at Glór, and the seats quite comfortable. The two seats in front of me stayed empty until the third song - they turned up late. The seat beside my mother, however, was the only one that we could see that stayed empty for the entire show - maybe they had difficulty in selling this one single seat. Mind you, I was surprised to see people being sat onstage, at the side! I think they were personal guests of Christy's - he did mention that his brother-in-law was there tonight, among others. They mustn't have had anywhere else to put them. Behind us were two sets of middle-aged American couples - one guy got chatting to the local chap beside him, explaining that they came over every year, and four years ago bought a cottage in Corofin.

And so to the show. I'm used to seeing him either alone, or partnered with Declan Sinnott - but tonight, he had a four-piece traditional band with him. This allowed him to intersperse his playlist with a few traditional numbers, which went down a storm. As did most of his own numbers. My mother had to glare at the aforementioned American before he stopped kicking her seat as he jiggled his leg to the music. And we clapped, and we sang along. And Christy employed his standard audience management techniques - slowing the tempo of a song if we had started to sing or clap along and he'd rather we were quiet. Not that he had to do too much of that - we were very attentive, for which he praised us, near the end. With his enormous back catalogue, you'd forgive him for forgetting the words to one - Duffy's Cut. "Fuck", as he remarked. And sang with his eyes shut, generally, as usual - only once having to wipe the sweat from his brow.. performing live takes an awful toll on him and he doesn't typically tour abroad any more. He lifted the roof off the place with Lisdoonvarna - obligatory for a Clare audience. When they left the stage, we thunderously demanded an encore, which he obliged with, and was rewarded with a standing ovation. If you like this kind of music, do not pass up an opportunity to see this guy. Legendary. Worth the bumpy landing yesterday.

I needed the toilet afterwards, and while I stood in the long queue, was rewarded with a cd of Irish trad playing in the lobby. Anyway, the delay gave the car park time to clear, and we drove home in weather that can best be described as filthy. For anyone not familiar with Irish weather, by this I mean with thundering rain and strong winds. Not for the fainthearted. The black cat was delighted when we arrived and let her in. She was the only one brave enough to come out in that weather.

My mother's making noises about going to O' Brien's for lunch tomorrow before I go back - depends what time I crawl out of bed. For Monday, it's looking like a film, but I have to finish rating what's out before I decide..