Friday, 31 October 2014

Film: The Babadook

Time Out wasn't giving me anything scary for tonight - not that I wanted to go to and could get a ticket for, anyway. So I took matters into my own hands for once and said, it's Hallowe'en, I need something scary. With such attractions as I would have gone to booked out, I said I'd go to a film. Top of my list (well, joint 84th, but top of the horror films) was The Babadook. Now, I'd seen the trailer for this and really liked it, and saw a tv review of it last week where the critic raved about it. So I was delighted to see it polling unusually high for a horror film.

It's showing in my local cinema, but tonight only at midnight, for goodness' sake! Cool gimmick, I guess, but I didn't fancy walking down there for midnight, and back about 2am! The next nearest place it's showing is the Vue Shepherd's Bush. I can get the Overground there from home quite easily - it's a five-minute journey, two stops. They had an early evening showing, and my plan was to head home and take the 6.10 to Shepherd's Bush. And then it occurred to me that I've taken that self-same train before, and there's barely breathing room on it. Ugh. I decided to go to the 8.10 showing instead. The advantage of mainstream cinema - multiple showings!

So off I went. I didn't get a seat on the train, but there was plenty of standing room. Shepherd's Bush Overground Station is across the junction from the Vue Shepherd's Bush, so I trotted over and got a ticket without difficulty. They took the voucher I'd got in the Vue Fulham, but didn't give me a replacement, so that'll be a job for me, next time I'm in the Vue. I had to stick to my seat choice for once - this screening was about half full or more. They were a quiet enough crowd, but vexingly, many didn't arrive until the film had already started.

There was a trailer for The Woman in Black: Angel of Death - early to be advertising it, considering it's scheduled for release next year! I haven't seen the original Woman in Black film, since I saw the play - but I hear it's good.

And so to tonight's film. O my, I'm glad I went to this! I liked it immediately. Sometimes you can tell good film-making instantly, by the style of the thing. I liked the camera-work, I liked the direction, I liked the acting. No famous names here - not to me, anyway (it's Australian). The story is of a woman whose husband was killed in a crash while driving her to hospital to give birth to their son. Ever since, she's subliminally blamed her son for the accident, and his birthday is an annual reminder of her loss - so she gets him to celebrate his birthday together with his cousin's, slightly earlier.

Now, possibly as a result of her attitude towards him, the boy - now seven - has behavioural problems, and an obsession with monsters. He has night terrors, and is always clambering into her bed and waking her. Frankly, the kid is as annoying as can be, and you can sympathise with her as she reaches the end of her tether, after a succession of sleepless nights. And then he finds this creepy children's book..

This is terrific psychological horror. Someone remarked that the silly name is putting her off seeing it - but it's the name of a children's book! Similarly, the boogie-man that appears as a result of it (none of this is giving anything away that isn't in the trailer, by the way) is ridiculously cartoonish. Just like in the book. And that's what makes it frightening! The film is very clever, presenting us with the dual possibilities that the book is haunted, and has come to life - or that what we are seeing are the sleep-deprived hallucinations of a woman at the edge. A must-see for anyone interested in horror, and a good watch for those who aren't. Very highly recommended.

I see that Blackheath Fireworks are on tomorrow - London's largest free show. It's that time of the year - I might mosey along..

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Tour: Necropolis: Journey of the Dead

I love Hallowe'en. I love scaring myself with spooky stories and such, and this is the perfect time of year to indulge. So when Necropolis: Journey of the Dead came up for tonight, the eve of Hallowe'en.. there was no question! I booked online, which was cheaper, and indeed essential - they've now completely sold out for their three-night run, and had sold out for tonight a couple of days ago.

I booked for the 7 to 10.30 session - information emailed to me about a day after I booked explained that I could enter any time up to 10pm, that groups would be up to 12 in size, and that the tour would take 20 minutes. I was not allowed to bring a phone, but there would be lockers to leave things in. Oh, and I'd have to sign a disclaimer. This was making me rather nervous already.. I was also sent a map of where to go to be met, and written instructions.

It was nice tonight, not to have to rush for once. I ate first, took my time, and headed out after 9. I had to go to Waterloo Underground (Exit 7). Ironically, after previous District Line trains this week running slow, tonight we were made to wait for a few minutes to "even out the gaps in the service"! Well, I made my way to Waterloo - couldn't see an "Exit 7", but figured I'd exit the underground at least. Still couldn't see an "Exit 7". I decided my best course of action was to head into the rail station proper - I had plenty of time, it was about 9.45. When I got up to the station, I remembered that the directions said that Exit 7 was opposite Platform 7. I could see 5.. so I went up a bit and found 6.. then 7.. and in the middle of the concourse, stairs down with a sign over them that read "Underground Exit 7". Success!

I walked all around, but couldn't see anything to indicate that this was the place. I checked the instructions again - they said to wait at the bottom of the stairs, by the double doors, to be collected. Ah, fair enough. I went down the stairs, and at the bottom, straight ahead, were double doors, with no-entry signs on them and a poster for Necropolis on one. This was the place, then!

I waited for about five minutes, making sure to walk in view of the security camera, in case that was how they'd know I was there. It probably was - the lady who opened the door didn't look surprised to find me there. She had the devil of a job finding my name on the list though - a friendly, chatty lady, she hadn't a good word for the booking department. Indeed, my name wasn't on the printed list, but she was delighted I'd brought my printed ticket (as you're supposed to!) and then found my name on a supplementary, handwritten list on a scrap of paper. Fine! I was ticked off. I'd left my bag behind, figured that was handier, so I could go straight in. I also got a wristband:


She led me to a rather dark flight of stairs. There are several short flights of stairs during this trip, although there's always a wall or rail to steady yourself, so not too bad. Lighting is poor though - probably deliberately. She told me to go through the door at the bottom, just before the light, and follow the voice. Easy to do. This is the waiting area, where people are entertained and get to watch a silent film projected on the wall while they wait.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about what happened, on the off-chance that someone reading this will be going over the next couple of days. Suffice to say that I have seen more professional efforts, but the surroundings are so creepy in themselves that they do most of the work of scaring you. There are so many pitch-black corners, the lighting is generally so bad, and the passageways so narrow that you're always on edge for something to happen. They have various actors - some playing deliberate roles, to describe the history, while others are there to growl and jump at you. Some of it was rather cheesy, but a couple of things were very well done, and unique in my experience. I wouldn't recommend it for the very fat or tall amongst us, because of some of the places you have to squeeze through. Most people should be fine, though.

By the end, we were gasping for air - what with having been chased (mildly - no running required, just trotting) and the musty air down there. I was glad to get to the fresh air of the Tube, would you believe! And I felt grimy for some time afterwards - it is dusty down there, albeit not too much, but you are glad to get out of it. That isn't to say we didn't enjoy it though - we were all giggling as we poured back out into the station again. Some of that was nervous laughter, but we really had a ball! And we spontaneously applauded the guy who'd let us out, even though he'd already disappeared back the way we came. I give the overall experience 6/10 for scare value, 8/10 for entertainment. Funnily enough, I had expected more scares - there were spots on the tour that must have been designed with pop-up ghosts in mind, and I kept expecting them in vain. Still, we did have some.

We weren't the last group of the night, although it was now 10.35. They're not too strict on the rules - my group had 15 people, and our tour must have lasted for 40 minutes, not 20! As I say, now sold out for the remaining two days. But if you are going, you'll have a blast!

Of course, I spent quite a while looking for things to do for Hallowe'en itself. There's plenty on, but some things I wasn't into, others were sold out. I've pretty much decided to go to a film - it's been a while now! Horror, of course, for the day that's in it. Far and away the highest rated horror film is The Babadook, so it's looking like that for the moment.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Concert: Shakespeare: the Kings

I booked Shakespeare: the Kings the very night before I heard about Hard Facade's next gig, also tonight. Hey-ho, the Shakespeare concert sounded good.. and had the advantage of being in Cadogan Hall - way closer.

Bit of deja-vu tonight. Not only would I be meeting Henry V again - he showed up in James I: the Key Will Keep the Lock on Monday night as well - but even the District Line was in on it. On Monday night, the platform indicator said the train would terminate at Mansion House. The train had other ideas - the indicator on the front said it was going to Tower Hill. Shortly down the line, the driver announced that this train was running a bit late (the District Line?! Surely not!!) and would terminate at Mansion House.

Tonight, the platform indicator said the train would terminate at Mansion House. The train had other ideas - the indicator on the front said it was going to Tower Hill. Shortly down the line, the driver announced that this train was running a bit late and would terminate at Mansion House.

Both nights, it got me to where I was going. However, in future, if I'm going past Mansion House, I might choose alternative transport..

Cadogan Hall is lovely and close to Sloane Square station. Just as well, considering the amount of time we spent paused at stations as we meandered to Sloane Square. (Gee, wonder why the train was delayed..?) Just turn right upon exit, and you can see it - it's the building straight ahead, up a side street, with a large clock tower. Also just as well, considering that yesterday's drizzle, which started again about 11am today and didn't stop thereafter, had now turned into a full-blown downpour. As I crossed the road to the hall, I could hear the announcement to "..please take your seats, as tonight's performance is about to commence". Lordy. Mind you, I kept hearing that same recorded announcement as I dashed to the box office, round the lobby of this convoluted building, and up the stairs - the entire concert hall is upstairs. I did have time to take my seat, turn off my phone, take off my coat, and draw breath before the concert started.

My seat was unfortunate, really. I do remember the seating plan showing I'd be at the side of the stage, but I didn't realise that my eyeline would be level with the performers' feet! Anyway, my vantage point allowed me to read the score of the musician nearest me (I was quite close to the stage), so I could read that we were to start with the score of Richard III. Which was nice, considering that I hadn't bought a programme, and nobody bothered to introduce the concert! When the music started, shortly thereafter, I was to find that the percussion section was in precisely the right location to deafen my right ear. Then the monologue started. I hadn't realised there was to be one from Richard III as well..

So, the music was lovely. The percussion was nice and loud.. and the monologue was the opening speech of the play. Delivered by one Simon Russell Beale, as were all the monologues. His delivery was.. actorly. To me, however, it was somewhat lacking in conviction. It's all very well reading something in a booming voice. I could read the phone book in a booming voice. Wouldn't impart any meaning to it though.. Oh, and he's a very loud breather.

The lady sitting outside me had eloped to a better seat just before the show started, and I thought I'd follow her example at the interval. There were quite a few free seats. I had my eye on a row in the centre section, in front of the stage, that seemed to have several. At the interval, I moved to it. Well, it was so much better! I didn't have to turn to see the stage (the seat I booked faces forward, it's just that the stage was extended for this show). I could see so much more from the centre section! This seat had been unoccupied the whole first half. Imagine my dismay when its owner came to reclaim it, explaining that she hadn't been there for the first half! I could've moved further along the row, but didn't, and without a clear knowledge of exactly what seats were free, I ended up back in my own row after the interval. In the aisle, this time, at least.

The second half saw an introduction to the entire show. "We are.." and "this is what we're doing". Honestly. The conductor even explained what the actor was doing there, as if we hadn't noticed. I also noticed that a choir had materialised in the gallery. There had been audience members there during the first half - I wondered what had happened to them. Perhaps they ate them, I cannot say.

So, this bit of the show dealt with Henry V. I've seen neither the play nor any film of this - I don't like its triumphalist tone. Unfortunately, the monologues, more frequent than in the first half, reminded me why I haven't seen it - I just found them arrogant and irritating. They did improve a bit once he'd won the battle, and started preaching peace, as though all this fighting was an annoyance he'd come across, and nothing to do with anything he'd done. Classic bully, really - nice as pie once he gets his way.

I was glad to get my coat on at the end - it was quite cool in the hall, and I wonder whether the heating was even on - or maybe it's a hard room to heat; the ceiling is very high. Anyway, by the time I got out, I was still mildly miffed, and avoided the lady outside, who was distributing fliers. Unfortunately, she chased me down the road and insisted on offering me one. "I missed you!" No dear, there is a reason why I avoided you. It's not like I didn't notice you, you know? Nothing personal, I just prefer to get my information online - I have far too many paper products to wade through.

At least the rain had stopped.

Well, I was delighted, when I exited the Tube at my local station, to see that fog had descended. Nice Hallowe'en weather - and just in time, too! Starts tomorrow for me, with Necropolis; Journey of the Dead. I can show up any time between 7 and 10, apparently.. it's sold out though, so I won't leave it too late, just in case there's a glut..

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Opera: The Marriage of Figaro

I do love The Marriage of Figaro. So getting a ticket for this production was a no-brainer. Cheapest tickets in the Coliseum, as usual, were in the balcony, and for once I noticed a seat towards the front (Row C - C6, to be precise). I'm not usually happy going that far forward - entrance is at the back, and to get to Row C you have to descend a very steep flight of stairs. However, this was to the side, and they do have a railing along the wall. I pored over an online photo, and decided that, although the railing ended a couple of rows before mine, there was a pillar I could use for support and I'd probably manage.

So I booked. Unfortunately, although there have been a ton of offers for this production, I'd missed all of them! There are still offers, I just couldn't get anything cheaper than the official box office. But that does have the advantage that they issue e-tickets, which you can print at home, which saves you queueing at the box office when you get there..

The earlier than usual start time (7pm) was a nuisance, but I left in good time - just as well, as the District Line was up to its old tricks. It was kind of the driver to tell us, as we waited at Earl's Court, that the train on the adjacent platform, headed to the same place, would be leaving first. Just as the doors on that train closed and it pulled off. Later on, the journey was enlivened by a snarling dog, further along our carriage, that seemed to wake up whenever we stopped and people got on and off. I never did see it, but it sounded pissed off.

I've been to the Coliseum often enough lately that I didn't have to check my route from Embankment, and I was soon there and embarking on the long, long climb to the balcony. I generally make it to the second-last flight before I have to pause and gasp for air. There is a lift, but it's quite small and probably restricted to the more disabled than I. Anyhoo, I eventually arrived, panting, at the balcony. My ticket helpfully told me exactly what door to enter by, and what aisle to take. When the railing ran out, I did have a bit of trouble - but people were slow coming in, and I was able to grope my way to my seat without impeding anyone.

For some reason, there were a lot of French people sitting near me. Also notable, as we waited for the show to start, among all the people snapping photos of this gorgeously ornate building on their phones, was the lady in the front row of the balcony, who was sketching the ceiling detail in a notebook she'd brought with her. Not something you often see, and I thought it was lovely.

Well now, I had expected a better view, this far forward! The back rows might be far from the stage, but they have an excellent view; in contrast, the view from the front three rows of the balcony is interrupted by the safety rail. Also, the view from my seat (and those further to the edge) was lacking the near corner of the stage, and several of us were craning to see what was happening at the beginning, which would have to be in that corner! My ticket was not sold as a "restricted view" seat and I will be complaining. Having said that, it was nice to be a bit closer to the ornamentation on the side, for once.

And I could see most of what was happening. There were several free seats, and by the time the show started, all the people to my left (towards the centre) had moved to better seats, leaving the entire row section free to my left! So, at opportune moments, I scooched further in, to get a slightly better view. I ended up three seats further in, and behind the shortest person in the row in front (good planning on my part). She also had the good grace to leave at the interval and not return, which improved my view even more.

The show? Inventive and hilarious! And with that beautiful music, of course. The singing was hypnotic, and they had an ingenious, revolving stage, which allowed them to set up scenes at the back while the opera progressed at the front, then just spin the stage around. There's very little for most of the participants to do - there are only a handful of main parts - but they busied themselves quite entertainingly around the edges. Fantastic direction meant there was always something to watch. The story is one of servants pulling the wool over their masters' eyes, and opportunities for mayhem abound. There are physical gags too, and the whole makes for a very entertaining evening! as people find out things they never knew, and in the end, love finds a way. Of course. Runs until the 23rd, but not every day - only seven performances remain. And yes, the start time does mean a long show - you will probably be slightly stiff by the end. The very straight seat backs in the balcony don't help. But it's worth it.

I was quite dazed with all the stairs I had to negotiate to get back out again, but I made it out alive. And that rain they promised this morning - making its weary way from Scotland, where it's been torrential - arrived as I made my way home - as a light drizzle.

Tomorrow, it's Shakespeare: the Kings, at Cadogan Hall. The City of London Sinfonia performs the scores from the Olivier films of Henry V and Richard III, with readings from Henry V. Stirring stuff - just a pity I have to miss Hard Façade. And, of course, I have Necropolis: Journey of the Dead on Thursday - I see it's now completely sold out for both Thursday and Friday. Still tickets left for Saturday, the last day it runs..

Monday, 27 October 2014

Play: James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock

The more I saw of the James Plays trilogy, the more I liked them. Tickets, however, sold like hot cakes, so of necessity, I saw the other two before tonight's, the first of the set. They tell the story of Kings James I, II, & III of Scots. The productions are terrific - the cheap Travelex tickets might also have had some part to play in their popularity; half the tickets for each show were £15, and those were the tickets I got.

The platform indicator knew more about the train's destination tonight than did the driver - either way, it was going my way, but she thought she was going further. Until the next stop, when she announced a change of destination. Anyhoo, I arrived at the National with time to spare, and promptly wasted it by going up a flight of stairs that didn't get me where I was going. Right floor, yes - but different parts of the same floor do not connect, in this most complicated building, and I had to go all the way down again. I took a lift back up.

So I was queueing for my ticket when the two-minute warning came. Well, not much of a queue tonight at least, - and they never mean those warnings anyway - and I was soon in my seat. Further forward than the last two times, when I was in the very back row - tonight, I was second row from the front of the circle. All seats have a good view here, though.

I was curious, not only to see what it would be like, but also how it linked to the other plays. Certainly, moving back in time, the set was more sparse, the costumes more mediaeval, and generally rougher. They do say that this is the best of the three, and I think they might be right. But then, the story lends itself to it! A king, captured as a boy, grows up with the slightly older future Henry V of England, and fights with him in France, finding himself fighting his countryfolk. Henry's cousin Joan is given to him in marriage - the beautiful girl he saw from his prison room at Windsor, and about whom he wrote poetry, the Kingis Quair.

The two unsuspecting young monarchs are sent to Scotland, as lambs among wolves - James trying to assert his kingly authority against the noble families - cousins of his, indeed - who've been ruling quite well without him for nigh-on 20 years, thank you! There's even a Lady Macbeth character - his aunt, Isabella, who's gotten used to ruling and whose sons are a real danger to James.

I was looking for her.. she's imprisoned at the end of this play, and is still in prison in the next one. I figured she was a carry-over from this one. (Although, in real life, she was released after James I's death.) Other continuity links include Joan, who appears in the start of the second play, and some of whose lines there resonate in this - and mention of the rose garden James intends to plant for her. It's next mentioned in the third play.

In all, this is a dramatic, visceral, powerful historic trilogy. The opening of this first play is particularly stunning, with a dramatic dance performed to the beat of a single drum. The huge sword stuck in the corner provides a sense of continuity for all three plays, and also casts a pall over whatever is happening onstage - a constant reminder of the bloodshed that's never far away. Highly, highly recommended - although tomorrow sees the last performance of this first play, and it's sold out, as is the last performance of the third in the series. There is a matinee of the second play on Wednesday, which has limited availability.

Well, that's those seen then! Tomorrow, I'm off to The Marriage of Figaro (and some lighter subject matter) in the Coliseum. On Wednesday, I'm headed to Cadogan Hall, for Shakespeare: the Kings - so I'll be meeting Henry V again! The London Sinfonia is performing the scores of the Olivier film versions of Henry V and Richard III. With excerpts from Henry V. Stirring stuff. Sorry to be missing Hard Façade that night, though. And on Thursday, I'm off underground - under Waterloo Station, for an "immersive" ghost walk entitled Necropolis: Journey of the Dead.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Opera: Madama Butterfly

I dunno what show it was, where the last seat in Row P of the University Concert Hall was at the edge, and there was a seat behind it. There definitely was one - but Madama Butterfly wasn't it! Possibly we decided against that other show in the end. For this one, we had seats beside each other. Mind you, it took me an age to find the confirmation email..

We decided to eat beforehand, as usual, in the bar of the Castletroy Park Hotel, just across the road. Parking was very busy, but we eventually got a space by the delivery entrance - they have an enormous car park, it turns out. As we passed the main entrance, looking for a space, two doormen waited at either side of a red carpet, with a little rope barrier on either side. They were gone by the time we came back, but sure enough, we walked right into an enormous wedding reception. This is actually par for the course here - a large sign outside proclaims the hotel "Munster's Premier Wedding Venue"! Well, we carefully skirted the bride's train and made our way into the bar..

..It's been a while since we were here, obviously. They've taken down the end wall and knocked through to reception, enlarging the reception area. They've also put up new, black-and-white wallpaper, taken down the traditional ornaments and photos of sporting heroes, and replaced the lights with what look like antler chandeliers. Very nicely done, in fact. However, the place was thronged - mostly with wedding guests wetting their whistles while waiting for the dinner bell - and we despaired of getting a seat, never mind getting served. We were actually on our way out when an elderly lady pointed out that they were about to leave, and we could have their table - we gratefully accepted the offer.

We caught the eye of one of the waiters, and it wasn't too long before we had ordered. We were actually relaxed enough about it - we had come early, and were prepared to cut them some slack, what with the crowds. Our alcove table provided ample scope for people-watching, and weddings are great occasions to analyse fashion trends. There were some very fancy hairdos, and I admired their tidy appearance, given how windy it was outside. We noticed a definite trend towards jewel-coloured, fitted, lace gowns - and indeed, along with other styles, we saw very many lovely dresses. And very many atrocious shoes. I mean, they were stylish and all.. and horrendously high..! Weapons, they resembled.

As for dinner, I had sirloin steak with pepper sauce, my mother had salmon, with sauce on the side. Except it was my sauce that came on the side, not hers. Never mind, it didn't seem to bother her - she's only worried it won't agree with her. We had wine, and for once, had time for dessert - a tangy white chocolate tart for me (with a scoop of constrastingly tangy ice cream), a chocolate and orange mousse for her, accompanied by another scoop of ice cream and one of sorbet. Apart from a string of unchewable fat through my otherwise very tasty steak, it was an excellent meal, and I couldn't really fault the service - although it slackened off after the crowds departed, following the dinner bell.

Of course, we were only minutes from the concert hall, and were there quite early, finding a space quite near the entrance. We were in time to bag the coveted sofas in the bar - I see they've removed two of the four now! They're great people-watching vantage points, right beside the stairs, and with a glass partition so you can spy on all the folks coming in. The patrons were not so fashionable here as at the wedding - and wore much more sensible shoes, might I add. Mind you, much of the fashion was hidden under warm winter coats, and we did see some nice pieces when we got to the auditorium.

For once, they didn't announce when the doors opened - but we moseyed along at ten to, and got in. We had aisle seats. Unfortunately, there was a group of four inside us, two of whom didn't show up until after the interval - and one of them decided she was bored, and left within half an hour of the start of the second act! So lots of up and down to let people past.

I love Madama Butterfly - the music is beautiful. And this was a lovely production, with a dashing Pinkerton - the dastardly American who marries the Japanese Madam Butterfly, but doesn't consider it a real marriage, and deserts her to marry a "proper" American bride. The singing was top notch, and the costumes gorgeous. Count on Ellen Kent to have a good production! The entrance of Madam Butterfly, with her coterie of maidens, all in traditional Japanese dress and singing, brought a tear to the eye. Comedic award of the night goes to Madam Butterfly's son, a toddler plonked on a cushion to the edge of the stage, who took a quiet moment in the production to wave to the harpist, sitting just below him. Whose hands were occupied, but she laughed while harping merrily on.

It was too late to blog last night, and today we headed for the Abbey Tavern again (gee!). We were a bit early - food starts at 12.30 - but we came straight from Mass. I had the turkey this time, which was ok, but a bit dry, and the sauce had a skin on it, so must have been left. The stuffing and ham, and accompanying potato croquettes, were delicious. Oh, and well done to them for their enthusiasm in putting up Hallowe'en decorations, they're great!

For my flight, I was delighted to hear that welcome announcement that the flight is very full, so if anyone wants to check in their hand luggage for free..! I wasn't the only person to make a dash for the gate staff at that point! The flight itself was a little bumpy, made more so by the fact that I got the back row again - but not too bad. And I have to give credit to Heathrow Terminal 2 - the walk to baggage reclaim, especially when not dragging a case, was no distance at all! I was on the Tube 15 minutes after the plane landed - and this despite being literally the last person off the plane, and having to collect a bag!

Tomorrow is the first of the James Plays trilogy, and the last I'll have seen, because of the demand for tickets: the National is showing these, based on the lives of Kings James I, II, & III of Scots. Tomorrow's is James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock, and supposed to be the best of them, so I'm really looking forward to it, as the others were excellent. There are only two more performances of this, and both are now sold out. I was lucky to get the cheap £15 Travelex tickets for all of them.

Tuesday, I'm back to the opera - The Marriage of Figaro, at the Coliseum. Wednesday, I'm going to Shakespeare: the Kings at Cadogan Hall, and Thursday, I'm braving Necropolis; Journey of the Dead, in the tunnels underneath Waterloo Station. With all the talk of extreme haunted house immersive experiences, I'm glad we go through this one in groups..!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Restaurant: The Abbey Tavern

Yeah, yeah, I know - we go to the Abbey Tavern a lot, and I've reviewed it a few times.

Well, notable about today's visit - apart from the fact that all the serving staff seemed to have had their hair done and were looking lovely - was the "sheppard's" (sic) pie special. When I have shepherd's pie, it tends to be the ready-made version from the supermarket. This was far superior - tasty, wholesome, and you could actually taste how good it was for you. Yes, do go for this if it's on the specials board. A bit salty, mind, if that bothers you.

And so the countdown continues. Madama Butterfly tomorrow in the University Concert Hall - we'll probably eat in the Castletroy Park Hotel again (in the bar). Back to London on Sunday. Monday is James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock in the National - I might find out who that woman is that appears in the sequel, and in the promotional picture. Tuesday is The Marriage of Figaro in the Coliseum. Wednesday is Shakespeare: the Kings at Cadogan Hall. And Thursday is Necropolis: Journey of the Dead in the tunnels under Waterloo.

Still nothing definite for Hallowe'en..

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Play: The Man in the Woman's Shoes

Firstly today, I met an old schoolfriend for lunch at the Cozy Cottage Café in Sixmilebridge - a long-overdue meeting! I haven't been to this café before, but had a fair idea where it was, and had no problem finding it. Parking is plentiful on the main street.

It's quite small, as the name implies - but they manage to pack in plenty of tables. Decor is simple - small, bare wooden tables and wooden chairs. It's pleasant, though. One wall houses a flatscreen tv, and the kitchen is at the back. A glass fridge houses tempting desserts. Find a free table and take a seat. The "lite bites" menu is on the tables, the full menu is brought by the server. Service is quick - the small size of the place obviously helps.

The full menu includes the "lite bites" menu and a dinner menu of standard options, served from 12. My friend chose a chicken and mushroom vol-au-vent, I decided on a chicken curry, which I hadn't had in ages. We also had soft drinks, cans of which were brought quickly, along with glasses. The food did take quite a while, but they were busy, and it's generally a sign of freshness.

My friend cleared her plate. I didn't - the curry was initially a bit too hot to eat, and when it lost some temperature, was a bit bland. And the accompanying poppadum was a bit soggy in the middle. Not a great hit - but I'd be willing to try other menu options. The chocolate biscuit cake I had afterwards was much more to my liking! and surprisingly, I managed to finish the large slab I was served. Again, I have to pay tribute to the staff for not hurrying us to finish, given that we were there for nearly two hours, and spent much of the time neither eating nor drinking.

Some hours after I left the 'Bridge, I was off again - to Ennis, this time. My mother and I had booked tickets to The Man in the Woman's Shoes, a one-man comedy show by Mikel Murfi, showing tonight only at Glór. I've seen him before - he's a funny man - and I was looking forward to this. When we went in, we discovered (a) that they haven't done away with the book swap, just moved it - and (b) that the café in the lobby has set up a food cabinet! Upon investigation, we discovered cake. So we decided on a slice of cheesecake for her, another chocolate cake for me. And wine for both.

Well, it took ages to be served. I waited at the till - the guy there walked off without serving me. I noticed another server moving between the tables - we waited until she swerved in our direction, and ordered. Shortly, our cakes were delivered. No drinks, no napkins. When she started making coffees, it became obvious that she'd completely forgotten our wine. Hey-ho, we set to eating our cake. Mine was a bit stale, but I was delighted to find that it had a thick layer of fudge, which satisfactorily masked the stale bits. We both finished our slices..

..and wondered how to get our wine. Our server - apparently the only one working in the whole café - turned out to be a chatty lass, whose attention was frequently diverted to conversations with customers. Customers other than us. My mother finally caught her eye and reminded her of the wine. She apologised profusely and dashed off to get it. From my viewpoint, I could see her make her way to the bar, where she chatted to another staff member. Who turned out to have a bottle of wine, from which she poured two glasses. Progress! And we'd have got it soon after, if our server hadn't been immersed in conversation with a customer on the other side of the bar. We did get our wine eventually. Paying for what we had took a full five minutes, during which I queued at the till and watched in awe as she flitted about. It wasn't her fault, really - as usual, not enough staff. We met an old colleague of my mother's, who sat with us and passed the time pleasantly until we went in.

We had booked two seats on their own, in the tiered section - just a couple of rows up. I actually had terrible trouble booking them - the system seemed to think we'd be leaving a single seat - we didn't - and wouldn't let me book them; I had to book by phone. Interestingly, the row behind us had a single seat free. Wonder how that happened.. We had H31 & H32. I took the one at the end of the row - H32 - and did find I was slightly at an angle, which was a bit uncomfortable. Also, whether I was sitting in an odd position I can't say, but I found the seat itself quite uncomfortable after a while.

However! The show was simply delightful. There's no interval, as you might expect, and it was over within 90 minutes. The title comes from the fact that the character depicted is a cobbler, and breaking in a pair of shoes for a female customer. During the show, his only props onstage are three pairs of shoes. And a shoebox. But he has a rare talent for depicting a scene, by description and by pretty good sound effects, and mimicry of other people's physical characteristics and speech.

The plot is a whimsical tale of his trek into town - in this woman's shoes - where he is to engage in various activities. My, but it does turn into an unusual day for him! as he comments. It's alternately sweet and hilarious. Indeed, I really thought one audience member near us would fall off his seat, as he rolled around in merriment. You could read something more philosophical into the title, but I just enjoyed it as a terrific portrait of rural characters. Touring the country - see the above link for further dates next month. Highly recommended!

Well now. Madama Butterfly at the University Concert Hall next Saturday. My mother likes Row P there - it has an aisle in front, and a rail for your coat: when we checked, there was only one seat left in it! but the seat behind was free. So those are the two we've booked! Then it's back to London - James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock at the National on Monday, The Marriage of Figaro at the Coliseum on Tuesday, Shakespeare: The Kings at Cadogan Hall on Wednesday, and Necropolis: Journey of the Dead in the tunnels under Waterloo Station on Thursday. Today, I finally got confirmation of that, and details of where they meet (Exit 7 of the Underground). Why they're so secretive I don't know, considering you're supposed to be able to buy tickets at the entrance.. I do love that we're meeting indoors though, it'll be fascinating to see whether there's an entrance to the tunnels from there!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Restaurant: The Rowan Tree

I met my friend today where I usually meet her - The Rowan Tree Café, in Ennis.

We usually meet here for good reason. There's plenty of parking - just cross the footbridge from Abbey Street Car Park to the café. €1.30 per hour for parking, with a three-hour maximum. (Oh, and I believe they give 10 minutes grace.. certainly, times are not stringently enforced!)

We had a late lunch, and the place was fairly empty. We chose a corner table - wait to be seated, though. Chairs are deep and comfy. Service is obliging, and comes with a smile. The special was salmon goujons, which she had - I had the chicken and mushroom tagliatelle.

A large jug of water - with ice and lemon - was provided gratis, and we didn't have long to wait for our food. Pasta is filling, of course, which is the only reason I didn't clear my plate, as my friend did. The chicken itself was the highlight of my dish - succulent and delicious!

We finished off our meals with a chocolate (and walnut) brownie each - each of which came topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum, in short. I'm always happy to eat there. And very impressed with the fact that, although we stayed for nearly three hours - long after we'd finished eating - and the room filled up around us, not once did we feel as though staff wanted us to leave.

Tomorrow, I'm meeting another friend for lunch, at the Cozy Cottage Café, in Sixmilebridge. And in the evening, my mother and I are off to Glór, for The Man in the Woman's Shoes, a one-man comedy show. On Saturday, we're headed to the University Concert Hall for Madama Butterfly, and I fly back to London on Sunday.

I had a flurry of booking for next week - on Monday, I'm headed to James I: the Key Will Keep the Lock, at the National. This is the first of the James Plays trilogy, about Kings James I, II, & III of Scots. Unfortunately, it's the last of them I'll have seen! But tickets are selling like hot cakes, as they say, for the trilogy, and this was the only date I could get for this one. I'm really looking forward to it - the others were excellent, and this is supposed to be the best of the bunch. At least I got a cheap Travelex ticket for each!

I booked that weeks ago, but only booked the rest last night. On Tuesday, I'm headed to The Marriage of Figaro, at the Coliseum. I'm in the balcony there, as usual, because that's where the cheapest seats are. However, I'm further forward than usual - I don't normally like to do that, because entry is at the top, at the back, and the stairs are steep, and there are no handrails, except along the walls. And I do have a problem with stairs. However, this seat is near the side, so I should be able to come down along the wall (with the rail), and then there's a pillar I can cling to.. I'm optimistic! And I've always been curious about that section.

On Wednesday, I've booked for Shakespeare: the Kings, at Cadogan Hall. It's nice and close to me, being a short walk from Sloane Square. The only time I was there before was with a free ticket from ShowFilmFirst. This concert sees the performance of the scores from the Olivier films of Henry V and Richard III, with inspirational speeches from Henry V thrown in for good measure! Mind you, while I was searching for ticket deals - I'd missed them, as I had for The Marriage of Figaro - the seat I was trying to book got itself booked by someone else. So I took the seat behind. Sadly, I discovered today that Hard Facade is playing a gig the same night - and I missed their last gig too, last Saturday! Never mind, some day soon..

Finally, on Thursday, Hallowe'en starts early for me, when I go on Necropolis: Journey of the Dead - a ghost walk through the tunnels underneath Waterloo Station. The origin of this walk lies in the true story of the Necropolis Railway, designed to transport cadavers to a large new cemetery far from the city. The London terminus was Waterloo..

Monday, 20 October 2014

Restaurants: Crackpots & The Abbey Tavern

Made it back to Ireland, after a flight on Friday that resembled a ride on a bucking bronco! I suppose I can expect more of that for the rest of the winter - especially with the tail-end of that hurricane lashing us as I speak.

I spent last night visiting my friend in Garretstown. The drive down was interspersed with torrential showers - at least until I got south of Limerick, then it was sunshine and calm conditions all the way! which was a relief, as I was heading to the coast, and it can get.. uncomfortable.. making that drive in bad weather. Anyway, she'd booked a table for us in Crackpots, in Kinsale - I leave it up to her, she knows the area better. And as that's the "Gourmet Capital of Ireland", I was assured of getting a good meal. As usual.

She had booked for 8pm, to give me time to get there - but the person taking the booking asked whether we could come earlier. In the event, we made it for 7.30; it became obvious why the suggestion had been made, when we saw how empty the place was! Well, it was Sunday night..

She sat us in the window, and we perused the menu. This is one of the many eateries in the area that I haven't been to before. As you might expect in this part of the world, fish features heavily, and you can expect it to be fresh. However, I'm not into fish just at the moment, and went for the sirloin instead. I didn't see a starter I fancied (and prices - for starters at least -are higher than most), and we didn't have any. As we waited, and throughout the meal, we were treated to a soundtrack of pop and easy-listening classics - many I haven't heard in ages, and was delighted to hear again.

In short, the prices are justified. That was simply the tastiest steak I've had in a long time. And every part of my main course was stunning, frankly. Oh, I'm jealous of her, having the chance to eat food of that quality all the time! The phrase "taste sensation" would not be an exaggeration here. We went for desserts - natch - both chocolatey: she had the white chocolate parfait, I had the chocolate and orange mousse, which arrived in a little jar, on a platter with a separate small dish of creme brulée, and decorated with small fruit pieces. Both desserts came with a small piece of what looked like pistachio in chocolate. That was the one criticism of our meal really - these little pistachio pieces were as hard as rocks, and inedible. They had four dessert wines, each matched with one of the desserts; sadly, I was driving and didn't feel comfortable having one, and she didn't fancy more wine. But all in all, a really memorable meal.

I came back today (more torrential rain, but slightly fewer showers) and my mother and I went to eat in the Abbey Tavern, our usual haunt. We were there on Saturday night too, and had a lovely meal - I had the lamb, my mother her usual salmon. Tonight was slightly less successful - I had the chicken and ham, which was tasty enough, but the chicken was a bit dry. Not as good as the night before, for sure. Still, overall, the quality is good here, and the service friendly and attentive. The place was pretty empty, as you'd expect on a Monday night. There was a family at the table next to us, however, and the father fancied a curry. There wasn't one on the regular menu, but his wife knew there was one on the takeaway menu, so they asked the server whether he could have it. She was adamant that there was no way the chef would do a takeaway dish for eating on the premises. Ok, I know it's the takeaway menu.. but honestly! Wouldn't it be easy to just add it to the a la carte, charge more if they felt like it? Black mark there, Abbey Tavern.. I might have felt like one, myself!

Not sure whether we'll be eating out tomorrow, but I am supposed to be meeting a friend for coffee the day after, so there might be something to report..

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Film: Gone Girl

Oh, at last! I've been waiting for the film of Gone Girl for over a year - ever since I read the book. This was a book so gripping that I literally couldn't put it down. And the film came out last week - but there's been so much else on..

I really wanted to see it this week, before I go back to Ireland for a week. And tonight, I did! It's nice that the rain held off for my walk to (and from) the cinema - I can hear it raining now, outside. And my, it's - I counted - 11 days since I was even at the cinema. Well, now! There wasn't much of a queue - well, I was early - and since he didn't bother to ask what seat I wanted, I didn't bother to take his choice, and just sat where I wanted. Which caused a moment's consternation when the people actually supposed to be sitting there came in. Well, I just moved in a bit. And then I think the people supposed to be sitting where I now was came in - but sensibly just sat in the row in front. The screen was maybe a third full.

There were a couple of trailers I hadn't seen, for films I have heard of - The Imitation Game had quite a drab trailer, I thought, for a very highly rated film: well, but it is set during wartime. The Drop, on the other hand, had an intriguing trailer, and I'd be interested in seeing it.

And so to the main feature. Now, I mentioned that I adored the book. What do we want of film adaptations of books that we love? That's right, we want them to live up to the book.

This film.. not only follows the plot of the book to the letter (despite rumours that they'd changed the ending, I'm glad they didn't) - but also the spirit. I have never seen an adaptation so faithful to the original - doubtless because the author also wrote this screenplay. Which did I prefer? Probably the book - only because you could put it down (I frequently did) to go "WTF?! WOW!" The major plot twist in the film is signified by the screen going black for a couple of seconds - then our leading lady starts to speak, and you are into the second part of the story. Of course, it would happen equally quickly in the book if you didn't pause, as mentioned above..

Having said that, I think the ideal is to read the book first, then allow sufficient time to elapse, as I did, before seeing the film. Oh, it was terrific to see all of this brought to life! I had forgotten plot elements, and it was great to be reminded of them onscreen.

Gee, I can say very little about this without giving away the plot. Basically, a wife (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, and her husband (Ben Affleck), naturally, becomes the prime suspect. The evidence soon mounts against him, and we're privy to her diary, in which she becomes increasingly paranoid about him. Whom do you believe - the evidence and her words? or his apparent innocence and disbelief? The story switches between both. As you go deeper into this story, it is made apparent that you can never really know anyone.

Apparently, there was some initial displeasure over the casting of Rosamund Pike. Rubbish, she's fantastic in this! Plays it to perfection. I can't even tell you why, for fear of revealing the plot. :-) But it seems that the dissenters quietened when they saw her in the trailer. Also stars Neil Patrick Harris, as an ex of hers whom she accused of stalking her, and who also becomes a suspect. Special mention must go to the woman who plays Ben Affleck's sister - she is perfect in this role!

Film of the year - go see. Or read the book, and get this later on dvd or Blu-Ray. But you must see it.

Well! Off to Ireland tomorrow. Next thing I've booked for is The Man in the Woman's Shoes, a one-man comedy show at Glór, next Thursday..

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Opera: The Girl of the Golden West

I'd never heard of The Girl of the Golden West before, but it's by Puccini, so I figured I'd take a shot. Mind you, the ENO website proved impossible to access - they must have had a lot of business lately! Looking at it now, some of the dates are wrong on the front page.. they have this not starting until next Saturday, and The Marriage of Figaro starting tomorrow, whereas the notice in the Coliseum itself tonight had it starting next Saturday. Don't believe what you read, as they say.. Anyhoo, unable to book via the official website, I booked through TheatrePeople.com instead.

I haven't booked with them before, and what a surprise to get the ticket in the post! Who does that, these days?! So, of course, I was paranoid about losing it. It lashed rain on my way in, and my paper was pretty soaked by the time I got there, dodging brollies all the way. from the station The advantage of having your ticket in advance, of course, is that you don't have to queue for the box office, and I headed straight up the stairs. Now, I'd forgotten that the balcony is the top level here - it isn't the top level in the Opera House, where I've been more recently. And my, do you feel it here.. I felt quite unfit on the ascent, but as I came down at the end, I had to concede that there is a serious amount of stairs to climb in the Coliseum. I even had to take a breather before the last flight. (There is a lift, if the thought of all those stairs fills you with dread. I don't think it's used much, though.)

It helps to know which side you're on, when you do get there, panting for air - there are separate doors for left and right, and the signs don't give seat numbers. After a moment's thought, I remembered I was on the right, and the usher directed me straight down the aisle ahead of me. I had sensibly elected to pick a seat no further forward than third row from the back, where you enter - the stairs are quite steep, and unlike the Opera House, there are no handrails. And I do have a problem with stairs. Third row, I can manage without too much difficulty. As I took my seat, I was reminded how ornate the building is - that's the advantage of a balcony seat, you can see the roof.

The seats don't tip, unusually, and do have very straight backs and armrests. Not as comfortable as those in the level below - the Upper Circle. Still, by far not the worst I've had. As curtain-up time approached, it became apparent that many of the seats would not be filled. In the end, maybe a quarter of the balcony was unoccupied, including most of my row - I scooched over one when the lights went down, to avoid the large head in front of me. And I do find the legroom there ever so slightly snug, so was glad of the chance to extend myself and my belongings in various directions. Especially as this opera has three acts.

Well, this is Puccini's "Western" opera. In short, and as you might expect, it will appeal if you like operas, and like Westerns. Set in California, it tells the story of a small mining community, with hardly any women - apart from the "girl" of the title, Minnie, the only woman in the whole thing is her Native American maid, who has hardly any lines and appears in just one scene. It's the era of the Gold Rush, and Minnie owns a saloon and looks after the miners' gold for them. All the guys fancy her, but she is indifferent to them all - until a stranger comes to town and shakes everything up..

I really didn't know what to expect, coming into this. I feared something a bit laughable - and, indeed, it does seem out-of-sync to have cowboys singing opera. But stick with it, and you soon discover a marvellous score, some really incredible singing, and a plot that wouldn't be out of place in any Western. I had a helluva time - very entertaining. As I say, you kind of have to like both operas and Westerns - if you do, this is a great show to come to! Runs until 1 November, three performances per week. Oh, and booking on the official website seems to be functional again.

It had stopped raining when I eventually made it down all those stairs again, and outside. But the rain found me when I got off the Tube again. I'm guessing it'll follow a pattern, and still be raining tomorrow - when it's looking like a film. And there's really only one film right now at the top of my list, far ahead of all the competitors.. Gone Girl. I loved the book, and am dying to see what hand they've made of the screen version.. then I'm off to Ireland again, unusually - for a whole week, this time! Wonder whether I'll escape the rain..?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Concert: Rolando Villazón

Tonight, I went to a recital by Mexican tenor Rolando Villazón, accompanied by South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza, in the Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre. I booked the last seat available in the side stalls - cheapest seat left in the house!

It's kinda nice, going to the Southbank Centre. This is only the second time I've been here, but I pass it all the time, going to the National or the BFI. So it's that little bit closer, and that little bit less stressful to get to. Also, you access it from one level above ground, so you only have to climb half as far down from, or up to, the bridge - it's right beside it, and there are stairs leading directly between the centre and the bridge.

There's a very 70s feel to the place. I've never been to the Festival Hall before - when I was here last, I was in the adjoining Queen Elizabeth Hall. So I was glad to be a little early. Anyhoo, the box office was easy to find. The queue was a bit confusing, the queue for prepaid ticket collection clashing with the "Press & Guests" queue (much longer!). But I didn't have to wait long, and the guy at the box office, looking at the details on my ticket (Blue Entrance, Door B, Level 4 - how detailed!), gestured over his shoulder, indicating that I should head in the direction behind him, and make for Level 4. I wandered off in that direction, in the large and confusing foyer, and sure enough, came to a flight of stairs with a sign indicating "Blue, Door B". I climbed up about four flights before I came to the right level.

I dithered for a minute, then bought a programme, and made my way in. The side stalls were just to the left of the entrance - four rows, from W to Z (at the back). I was Y. Seating was simple and comfortable. Again, a very 70s feel to the staircase, the seating, the overall design. We were below the boxes, and could see from the identical seating arrangement on the other side of the stage just how they were laid out. I would've liked to get a box.. more expensive, though. As it was, they really should have said that the side stalls have restricted view. Certainly, Rows X and Y have a view restricted by the railing at the edge.

The house was pretty full, but not completely. We had a side view of the stage - unfortunately, the singers came onstage and left the stage from our side, which meant we missed a lot, as they tended to hang around there, when not centre-stage. Too close to the ledge for us to be able to see what they were doing, and we missed a lot of physical jokes.

Well, they gave a bravura performance. I was glad of my programme - I didn't actually recognise most of the operas, let alone the arias, and the programme not only listed both, but gave the lyrics and their English translations. My favourites, naturally, were from the operas I recognised - La Boheme, L' Elisir d' Amore: I also loved the last number, "Sí, Torero Quiero Sé", from El Gato Montés. They were joined by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Which brings me to a bugbear of mine - the singers were consistently drowned out by the orchestra right behind them. This is natural enough - I know they're strong singers, but to compete with all of that lot..! Why, oh why, not mic them up?

The encores went on and on, and the reception was rapturous. They even sang a bit in Pumeza's native language, Xhosa. They're off on a tour of Austria and Germany now.

As I crossed the bridge on my way home, the same busker as usual, at the top of the steps on the south side, gave us his usual saxophone version of Baker Street. Can't say I'm mad about his version, which is unfortunate, as it's one of my all-time favourite songs. Also because, the last several times I've come this way, he's been there, with the same version of the same song.. Speaking of buskers, someone was banging away on what sounded like a tin drum as we stopped in Sloane Square. Very loudly, and he quite unnerved a couple of pensioners sitting near me. Indeed,  we were there for a while - maybe the driver was enjoying it - and the fellow opposite me nearly got off to have words! but then the doors closed and we were off again, safely and quietly. As the drummer sat on his bench on the platform and grinned broadly.

Off to the opera again tomorrow - and another I hadn't heard of: The Girl of the Golden West, by Puccini. Showing at the Coliseum, and I got a seat near the entrance at the back, on consideration of the steep steps without handrails. Bought my ticket from TheatrePeople, and would you believe.. they posted it! Who does that, these days?!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ballet: Manon

After the great review of Manon in Time Out, I had no reservations about seeing it. Time Out also has a great offer of 54% off tickets - book by Wednesday, but there are cheaper than that to be had, and as usual, I booked the cheapest that had an acceptable view. Which put me in Row M of the amphitheatre again - and that's just fine. It's still a level lower than the "Upper Amphitheatre", and is slightly less far to climb. And the view is excellent, unless you mind being so far up. Very handy, the views they provide on the website for every single seat in the place. Mind you, I was slightly perplexed when I discovered they were charging me £3 more than the quoted ticket price - until I realised they'd added that as a "voluntary donation". Huh, cheek. I reduced it and continued.

Of course, I was rushing again - this evening, I was caught up at the office, and then had to race home with groceries that I barely had time to put in the fridge before I was off again! So much for changing into something nice. Ah well. Anyhow, I was lucky with timings; the Piccadilly Line train arrived as I got to the platform - I got on at the end and even got a seat! - and the lift at Covent Garden arrived practically on cue. It was organised a bit better tonight, with staff at underground and ground levels to manage the flow of passengers, and direct us to leave via both doors when we got to the surface.

I was in the rain-bedraggled queue by the time the 10-minute bell sounded, and by the time the 5-minute announcement came, I was en route upstairs. My seat was fine, except for proximity to the person beside me - when the lights dimmed and the seats at the end of my row were still vacant, I scooched over one for space. A lady in the row in front of me had the same idea, and clambered over the back of her seat to sit at the edge of my row. As the performance progressed, I had cause, once more, to lament the mobile phone "culture". WHY, O WHY, do some people - mainly girls, I notice - feel an irresistible urge to check their messages at regular intervals?
  • If you're bored, leave.
  • If you're expecting an urgent message, put it on vibrate, put it somewhere you'll feel it, and forget about it.
  • If you're just obsessed with constantly checking messages - you need help. Fast.
And so to the show. It's ages since I've been to the ballet - and oh, what a treat this was! Time Out had it exactly right. You might want to leave the kids at home - apart from all the rest that's implied, there is a simulated blowjob, for instance. But my, this was a joy to watch! Earthier than your average ballet, nonetheless the costumes were sumptuous, the sets delightful, and both dancing and, indeed, choreography were incredible. The skill that went into each move was tangible. Mind you, the score was so good that I often forgot I was supposed to be concentrating on the dance..

It's quite simply gorgeous to watch. Every so often, the performance was greeted with thunderous applause, sometimes cries of "bravo!". It's a long one - three acts - and I think we were all exhausted by the time the smoke billowed over the stage for the final scene. It's this quality of show, however, that reminds me why I love living here. Plenty of tickets available for the next two nights - some for the 29th. Otherwise, it's sold out. Or you can catch it live in cinemas on Thursday.. Strongly recommended, this is the most enchanting thing I've seen in ages!

Less enchanting was the lashing rain we could see as we left the building. I'd normally take a shortcut through a side door, sidestepping the queue at the cloakroom, but tonight the longer walk outside that would entail wasn't appealing. I had long enough to get drenched, walking back to Leicester Square. Interestingly, as I approached the station, I saw something I saw last week as well - everyone seems to approach the station on the right-hand side of the road! Probably because the sign is larger there - but there's also an entrance on the left, which is much less crowded. You still all meet up inside, of course - and we were glad to get in from the rain. Might have accounted for the good business the busker was doing, all those happy punters - but he was good, playing sax to accompany tracks of pop classics. 

For tomorrow, I just made a last-minute booking for an opera gala, at the Southbank Centre. Cheapest seat left in the place - in a box, to the side. More opera on Wednesday, when I'm off to the Coliseum, to see The Girl of the Golden West, by Puccini - balcony, as before, and a row near the entrance at the back - they don't have the reassuring railings that the opera house does! 

Friday, 10 October 2014

Play: James III: the True Mirror

I was double-booked last night - had a ticket to a double-bill in the Calm Down, Dear feminist festival, at Camden People's Theatre. One ticket to each of Women's Hour and A Girl and a Gun. Then I suddenly found available tickets to James III: the True Mirror, the last of the James Plays trilogy at the National, concerning Kings James I, II, and III, of Scotland. I went to the second of these - James II, naturally! - on Tuesday, and had been despairing of getting tickets to James III. There were also tickets for tonight, but I'm flying to Ireland for the weekend, so that was out of the question.

So I said sod it, I'd rather go to that, and offered the other tickets to the office. Did I have a single taker? No. They went to waste. Tsk. Well, you can lead a horse to water, as they say.. Anyway, I took myself off to the National. The weather was the reverse of the day before, when there was a lovely lunchtime, followed by a miserable evening. Yesterday however, the afternoon was horrible, but the evening - well, not so bad. I'd been worried about crossing the bridge in the rain, but it was ok, in the end.

Having left as soon as humanly possible, I timed it a bit better yesterday, and by the time the bell rang for us to take our seats, I actually had my ticket in hand and was on the correct floor, heading for the theatre door. This time, I was in the same row as on Tuesday (the very back), but round the other side. Directly facing the enormous sword stuck in the stage for these plays, as it happens. Tip: if you are going to this particular play in the trilogy, it pays to arrive early - unlike the second play, this one opens on a lighthearted note, with music and dancing! Starts before the play proper. (Pop music, BTW, but played by a three-piece band wearing kilts, to the side of the stage. The costumes for this play are also modern, with a touch of the old-fashioned about them - more modern than in the second play.)

So, this play concerns James III, and a better argument for republicanism you shall not find! Certainly, on the evidence of this play, he was the most spoiled, petulant, irritating, stubborn, overgrown child you could ever have the misfortune to meet, let alone have run a country. Which, of course, he couldn't be bothered doing. Indeed, he was so infuriating that I couldn't blame the German couple beside me, who left at the interval, muttering "James, Schmames". Which was handy, because in what was, yet again, a packed house, I now had a seat to leave my bag and coat on. As did the lady sitting on the other side of the empty seats - why she didn't move into them for a better view, though, is a mystery to me.

His - and the play's - saving grace was his queen, Margaret of Denmark, who turned out to be a level-headed, intelligent woman, who did much to hold his kingdom together, as it lurched towards the modern age. One character makes it through from the second play - Princess Annabella, sister of James II. Similarly, one character - Isabella - who appears in the second play seems to have been carried through from the first. There were some stage changes between the second and third - around the stage, the walls of bare wooden slats of the second play were now covered in what looked like fleur-de-lis, with white roses to the side - a sign of increasing sophistication, peace, modernity? Interestingly, for the first time, I noticed that the floor faintly looks like a Saltire - that wasn't apparent in the second play, where everything was so much more stark. The sword also appeared to have colours - jewels in the helm - that I hadn't seen in the second play. It'll be interesting to see what differences I can find in the presentation of the first play, whether it'll be even more stark than the second, as we go back in history. I'm seeing James I on the 27th. There is one day - the 25th - when you can see all three together, but unfortunately I'm in Ireland that weekend again.

Well, not long now till I fly back to Ireland for the weekend. On Monday, I'm off to the Opera House again - this time for a ballet: Manon. As Time Out says - "Leave the children at home for this salacious ballet... The late choreographer’s ‘Manon’ has bite. A story of questionable morals – or lack thereof – has all the traits for a rich, dense production full of star-struck lovers, manipulative siblings, hedonistic antics, debauched seduction, shame and murder." And the dancing is supposed to be amazing. Yes, I'm happy to have a look at this. Cheapest tickets available from the opera house website - although Time Out has a terrific offer (must be bought before Wednesday) of a 54% discount on tickets. Still, I'm happy enough to go with a seat in Row M of the amphiteatre, which is the same row I had there last time. Slightly more to the side though.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Play: Pitcairn

I booked for Pitcairn this evening, in the Globe. Unfortunately, after a lovely, sunny lunchtime, it's turned into a miserable evening - wet and windy. And the Globe is open-air. Now, I have a seat, which means I'd be undercover - but my seat is second row from the front. Wind I could cope with, rain I could cope with. Both together is likely to be unpleasant. Plus there's that walk across the bridge.. no, reluctantly, I think I'll stay in.

Tomorrow, of course, I have an embarrassment of choice! I have tickets for the Calm Down, Dear festival double-bill of Women's Hour and A Girl and a Gun, in Camden People's Theatre - but then I saw sudden, last-minute availability for James III: The True Mirror, the sequel to the play I saw last night, James II. These are the second two of the James Plays trilogy at the National, about Kings James I, II, and III of Scotland. And so I booked that, and am looking forward to it. I just wish someone would take the other tickets off my hands! I sent an email around the office today, but no interest. I'll send a reminder tomorrow. Honestly, it's as bad as U2's experience - you can't give things away!

And then, back to Ireland for the weekend..