Friday 16 December 2016

Bowie, Buxton, Dickens and Minogue, a VERY varied line up...

4th December 2016 - 10th December 2016

Activities :

To say this last week's activities were the definition of variety would probably be an understatement, but then they do say it's the spice of life after all!


So Wednesday the 7th saw us taking in Lazarus at one of the two custom built pop-up venues at the Kings Cross Theatre, our second visit of a planned triple.

The 'temporary' but not so temporary Kings Cross Theatre venues...

The other venue currently houses the immensely fantastic Donmar Warehouse productions of the Harriet Walter led and Phyllida Lloyd directed, all female Shakespeare Trilogy, comprising revivals of Julius Caesar from 2012, Henry IV from 2014 and the latest final production of The Tempest. If you can get along to catch these you really should, they're smart, punchy, modern and hugely accessible productions adapted to a prison setting. The entire cast are great and Harriet Walter brings the whole project an air of gravitas, definite must sees. However these were all pre-Culture Couple blog events so we'd best get back to the week at hand.

We both love Bowie, (our first date was a trip to the 'David Bowie Is...' exhibition at the V & A), so when Lazarus was announced initially for it's original New York run our interest was piqued, unfortunately our holiday to the Big Apple didn't coincide with that run so we missed it, however it's rumoured transfer to London thankfully became reality and instantly topped our list of must do activities.

So much so that we booked three visits... :-)

We first went at the tail end of November to one of the 'preview' performances, and we're blown away.

It's basically a sort of sequel to story of 'The Man Who Fell To Earth', however more so the original novel version than the film adaptation which starred Bowie, and this time is a 'musical' in the loosest terms, scored with Bowie songs, unlike 'TMWFTE' which featured no Bowie music, a strange thing in itself but we digress... It could almost be better described as a choreographed artistic performance, (or performance art?), focusing on Bowie's character Thomas Newton and his isolation and depression which has led to him becoming a recluse and alcoholic following the events of the film/novel and a series of characters his life intersects with both real? and imagined?/dreamt?/ psychologically invented?. It all sounds a lot heavier than it is.

Michael C Hall of Dexter fame plays Newton, and 15 year old Sophia Anne Caruso plays The Girl, both having transferred directly from the New York production, (we saw the fantastic Caruso at the preview performance, however at this performance we saw her excellent stand-in Hannah Rose-Thompson as Caruso has had to take a fortnight's break due to UK child performer rules). Michael Esper also transfers as Valentine and Amy Lennox takes over as Elly.

The show runs for about two hours with no interval and Hall is on stage for the entire time, however his performance is astounding, he is even on stage inhabiting the set and the character for around fifteen minutes prior to the show starting, wandering and setting the atmosphere before laying down in the middle of the stage. The chosen songs span Bowie's entire career, including three new songs written for the show, and the various performer's renditions are all fantastic, (the cast recording album by the original New York cast, is a must buy, the cast being largely the same here means it is a great way to relive the show long after it ends), however Hall's contributions are especially spectacular for his ability to recall Bowie's phrasing and tone, but still maintain the character of Newton in their delivery. Caruso's vocals are also extraordinary in their fragile delivery, Rose-Thompson is no slouch either and her performance is highly commendable especially as she is only inhabiting the role for a relatively short time.

The set design is also great, centre of the stage houses a video screen with the band set behind two large windows at the back of the stage and the foreground of the stage basically becoming Newton's studio apartment which he never leaves, but it also becomes several other locations seamlessly via very clever lighting and projection effects.

The venue itself is quite a bit larger than where it was staged in New York, and is a column free long rectangular auditorium with no columns, so no seat is restricted view in a sense, and the seats are quite high up and upright, with a pretty decent rake to the floor so sight lines from further back are not terrible, obviously the nearer you are the dearer it gets, but that seems to be part for the course nowadays. On our first visit we were sat about two thirds of the way back, however we managed to snag front row centre tickets for this performance, (which were an absolute steal at £15 each, but it was blink and you'll miss it booking experience when they went on sale), which was something else altogether, seeing the actor's faces lent the whole experience an added gravity and once again we were totally absorbed in the atmosphere and narrative, it was really quite remarkable to see these performances so close up.

The show is so perfectly Bowie and fits seamlessly into his body of work, in both tone and content, and much like his career has proven to be both eclectic and divisive, but never mundane.


It closes on the 22nd of January 2017, and is highly recommended if you can get a ticket to one of the remaining shows!

BUG 53

Thursday night saw the next instalment of the Adam Buxton hosted music video showcase BUG 53 at the BFI Southbank.

These are quite unique events which basically take the form of comedian Adam Buxton showing a bunch of new music videos distinguished by their visual flare projected on a cinema screen, which is quite a cool experience as the chance to see these mini-films on such a scale is almost unheard of as nowadays we're so used to watching on phones and tablets, and maybe a laptop, what with the demise of actual music based MTV and The Chart Show.

The videos are also interspersed with viral videos, hilarious video send ups and the pick of the most bizarre and clueless comments by YouTube commentators, all delivered with Buxton's off the wall humour, a particular stand out this time round was Buxton performing a little ditty whose lyrics comprised only the names of balding male entertainers including Moby, Michael Stipe, Bruce Willis and John Malkovich and a comedic addition to some footage from the recent Planet Earth II documentary. Sometimes there is also a guest, usually in the form of a music video director who shows some of their work and chats about their processes and methods.

The countdown to the start of the show comprises a video of Buxton cycling to the BFI...

This month's show included videos by more mainstream acts such as OK Go, The Avalanches, Katie Melua and less well known performers such as Coco Banana, The Furrow Collective and BadBadNotGood, and is a great way to discover some artists that may have passed you by otherwise.

As usual with a BFI showing of anything you can pick up notes on the way in which give a bit of background to the show and the content and a list of what's on which can be helpful afterwards to identify any stuff you liked.

The shows are scheduled roughly every other month and are scheduled over a couple of dates, usually the earlier date includes the interview section, and the later date has an early and late show known as the Director's Cut which includes additional footage, but no interviewee.

At around two hours it a different but welcome night out which we always look forward to, as much for the comedic touches as the videos. This latest edition also included a tribute to the late Greg Lake with footage from an Adam Buxton Christmas special from a couple of years ago with Gaz Coombes and Buxton performing his classic 'I Believe In Father Christmas'.

We'd also highly recommend a BFI membership which is a steal at £40 a year and gives discount off all screenings and priority booking, well worth it for the year round classics and superbly curated film seasons on offer coupled with a comfortable screen without the usual ignorant chatty audience members spoiling things like the multiplexes seem to be rife with nowadays.

'A Christmas Carol' Walking Tour

After a Friday night in we headed out to the City of London proper to a meeting point at Monument Station for the start of a festive excursion in the form of a walking tour of the surviving Victorian streets and alleyways of London which inspired and quite possibly featured in Charles Dicken's class 'A Christmas Carol'.

This was a classic example of how we come across many of our activities in that it popped up as a recommendation on Facebook and sounded interesting and something a bit different so we took the plunge and booked, not really knowing what to expect, but we were glad we did!

The tour was carried out by Hazel from London Guided Walks, which are to be found via a bookings site called Funzing, and we were only the second group to experience this tour which is a brand new addition to their repertoire.

Hazel herself obviously has a passion for the city and all it's history and had clearly done her homework in researching the area and Dicken's literary exploits and real life experiences to create the tour itself.

The tour took in more well known places such as Leadenhall Market and The Royal Exchange, as well as the more hidden alleyways, courtyards and churches now tucked away within the mighty structures which have now engulf the area.

The cobbled roads of Leadenhall Market...

Leadenhall Market Christmas tree...

Interspersed with the historical details of the time and the areas, were also sections of Dicken's prose which painted a picture of the Victorian era in which he lived and inspired his writing, as well as clues which helped to possible locate actual places which although not referred to explicitly by name within the text were the inspiration if not the actual places Dicken's was hoping to portray in his reader's minds.

Another literary reference hidden within London's streets...

One of the few original churches left, overlooked by a much more recent addition to the skyline...

A legendary historical pub which is still trading today...

We both really enjoyed this afternoon out, it lasts about 90 minutes and was at a reasonable walking pace so not too exhausting and Hazel was always engaging and enthusiastic throughout, the group size was only about twenty too so it was also small enough that everyone could hear the talk and not get lost in a crowd.

We'd definitely be interested in another tour of this type, as it made a change seeing parts of the city which you'd never know to visit and experience.

We also got a free Humbug... :-) and

A Kylie Christmas

Our day of festive activities continued with a slightly different take with a trip to the Royal Albert Hall for an event now in it's second year, A Kylie Christmas.

Coinciding with her re-released Christmas album, Kylie Minogue performed two nights of festive favourites and a few of her biggest hits.

One of us is a massive Kylie fan and this was a belated birthday present treat, however we were both looking forward to some Christmas entertainment and it's fair to say this didn't disappoint.

Minogue clearly knows how to put on a proper show, and backed by a full orchestra, choir and band, surrounded by a group of well choreographed dancers and a variety of costume changes she had the whole place celebrating for the whole show.

We had Choir seats which meant we were on the rear of the stage right behind the orchestra, however Kylie made sure she gave all sections of the audience her full attention.

The orchestra and Kylie in her Snow Queen dress...

A sea of phone lights harking back to the days of holding the lighter aloft...

Every seat had a Santa hat on it waiting for us too.

No show of this type would be complete without a couple of guest appearances, in the form of John Grant and Katherine Jenkins, but Minogue was definitely the star of the show, playing for just under two and a half hours mixing older and newer Christmas tunes in with some reworked hits such the 'Locomotion' retooled as a jazzy number, even performing 'Especially For You' with the crowd as her duet partner, (needless to say one of us knew the words, the other not so much), however it was an enjoyable night seeing a proper pop star showing why she's still got it.

The finale...

With Santa hats and Christmas tunes stuck in our heads it's definitely left us feeling more Christmassy!!

That's it for this week, however next week has a unique film screening, a West End revival and career look back with a Hollywood star.

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