Monday 14 August 2017

A modern classic of the theatre, some theatrical Hitchcock action and a touch of the Renaissance...

7th August - 13th August 2017

A theatre heavy week this one with a smattering of Renaissance art, although a little further afield with most of this week's adventures being further afield than London, so on wards and upwards we go...

Angels In America - Part Two - Perestroika

On Tuesday night we returned to the National Theatre for the concluding half of modern classic Angels In America, the second half being a four hour behemoth, bringing the total for both parts to a whopping seven and a half hours, although don't let that put you off.

Picking up from where part one left off, it continues to stories of our main protagonist Prior, (Andrew Garfield in career best form), continuing with his haunting hallucinations of the angel, interwoven further with the initially unrelated continuing stories of Belize his friend and nurse, (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in a more expanded part here, and absolutely superb throughout), Nathan Lane's sleazy lawyer Roy Cohn, Joseph and Harper Pitt, (Russell Tovey and a sensational Denise Gough), Prior's ex-boyfriend turned Joseph's lover Louis played by James McArdle, Joseph's mother Hannah, (the fantastic Susan Brown, who also plays the spectral Ethel Rosenberg), and the titular Angel played by Amanda Lawrence, (an amazing piece of design with shadowy figures operating the steampunk-esque wings).

Tony Kushner's sprawling epic has been rightfully acclaimed as a modern classic of theatre, an indisputable claim given how mesmerising the entire saga has been, coupled with imaginative but simple staging and flawless performances from all concerned, a tall order having to be rehearsed and ready for both parts as they run together, alternating over different nights.

The continuation of the exploration of themes such as sexuality, mental health, religion, desire and discrimination are further explored, but these only scrape the surface of the themes that the play delves into, evoking starkly the atmosphere of fear and lack of understanding during the AIDS crisis of the eighties, and it's wide reaching consequences as a result of the ignorance and panic that ensued.

This instalment takes a far more existential approach, however was never less than an exhilarating piece of theatre which will linger long in the memory.

It's due to finish on the 19th of August.

North By Northwest

On Saturday we took a short trip to Bath to catch the closing night of another piece of exciting theatre, however this time with more of an action packed tongue in cheek effort.

Being great admirers of Alfred Hitchcock the opportunity to see an adaptation on the stage was irresistible, especially as we had enjoyed a previous effort in 'The 39 Steps' immensely so had high hopes for this too.

It didn't disappoint.

The entire play is presented on a simple plain set comprising a grid like back wall, evoking the Saul Bass opening graphics from the film, which made up a whole wall of a screen which provided the back drop to the scenes.

However the backdrops were not just pictures or static graphical scenery, but were actually live animated backings being produced by the cast with the aid of a small camera, blue/red screens and a variety of props, miniatures and other practical effects at the sides of stage whilst the main action took place centre stage.

Train rides, the infamous crop duster scene, close ups of vital clues and most imaginatively the Mount Rushmore finale were all recreated with a variety of creative approaches and made the show something truly special to witness.

Jonathan Watton acquits himself well in the shadow of Cary Grant and Olivia Fines is also well cast as the surrogate Eva Marie Saint, both lofty shoes to fill which they do with aplomb with deft comic timing and plenty of enthusiasm.

The ensemble around them inhabit the many roles very well, quite like the aforementioned 'The 39 Steps', the fast paced humour never descending into farce and keeping on the right side of thrilling.

As Hitchcock fans we loved it, however prior knowledge of the material is not essential, although the crop duster scene alone is one of those scenes which people are acutely aware of despite having never seen the film.

Hopefully this production will transfer to the West End as it'd be great to catch it again, and if it does don't miss it!

Raphael - The Drawings

On Sunday on our way home from Bath we took a detour to Oxford to visit the latest exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum showcasing a large collection of drawings by Raphael, many of which were equally as dramatic as our theatre excursions though in a wholly different way.

The works in the show are all sketches and drawings carried out by Raphael either as studies for larger paintings or etchings, or glimpses at Raphael's practice sketches to perfect different elements of his work, whether it be faces, bodies, hands or everyday objects such as fabrics.

The show is separated into three main timescales and then broken down into particular groups of studies of certain motifs, themes of more specifically anatomical features.

The first section focuses on Raphael's various works exploring the nature of the mother and the child, specifically The Virgin Mother and baby, also including works depicting various approaches to children.

There is also a look at his works depicting male nudes and warriors in battle, also mainly nudes in response to his contemporaries' work such as Michelangelo and DaVinci.

The skill and deftness of hand evident in these works is something to truly behold, even the less polished drawings which still bear the marks of the metal point stylus used or the rougher outline marks used to scale and position the subjects have a natural ethereal quality to them which coupled with the fact that these were created over five hundred years ago is truly astonishing.

The works continue with a section devoted to various studies which culminated in his work 'The Slaughter Of The Innocents', the completed etching also on show to show the evolution from idea to completion.

The gallery given over to the works of religious figures which were all ideas and suggestions for commissioned decoration of rooms at the Vatican show the evolution of his craft barely a decade on, however the works just get better and better. The perfectionist within Raphael is clearly evident just be seeing the number of works where he has work shopped, perfecting the draping of fabrics alone.

The final room shows some of his later works before his premature death at the age of thirty seven.

The fact that these are works seldom seen, let alone together and in this quantity is reason enough to catch the show which is on until the 3rd of September.

Next week sees some California surf inspired rock, some classic Shakespeare and an action classic on the big screen. Until then, get inspired...

Friday 11 August 2017

A music legend, some drinking, some theatre and some comedy...

31st July - 6th August 2017

Music, comedy, Shakespeare and a musical based on parliamentary hearings, doesn't get more varied than that...

Brian Wilson

On Tuesday night we headed West to Hammersmith to catch Brian Wilson on the final leg of his Pet Sounds world tour.

We caught the show twice last year at the London Palladium and the Together The People Festival in Brighton so knew we were in for a good show, and once again we weren't disappointed, the show had even had some new tunes added to change it up a little.

There's been much eyebrow raising about Wilson's participation in these tours as after years of mental health issues and now being in his mid-seventies his voice has understandably weakened and he's not running about the stage spryly anymore, however these shows have an assembled band which accurately and astonishingly interpret the masterpiece that is 'Pet Sounds' as well as other Beach Boys classics the best you'll ever hear them, all anchored by Wilson's stately presence.

The band also comprises Beach Boy Al Jardine and his son Matt Jardine who does a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the iconic Beach Boys harmonies, and former Beach Boy Blondie Chaplin.

The show comprises three sections, the first is a collection of hits and some deeper cuts, including 'I Get Around', 'Shut Down' and the like, then after a short break moves on to a complete play through of 'Pet Sounds' and ends with another selection of hits ending the show on the crest of a wave, (surfing pun intended).

Having a band comprising such talented musicians, playing guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, woodwind, and all able to sing harmonies means the amazing scope of the original work is recreated flawlessly.

However there's something tellingly poignant hearing Wilson singing such beautiful and achingly youthful naive songs in his now slightly fractured tones, 'God Only Knows' and 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)' in particular, and show closer 'Love And Mercy' just reinforces Wilson's genius as a musician and composer.

The full set list was:

California Girls
Dance, Dance, Dance
I Get Around
Shut Down
Little Deuce Coupe
Little Honda
In My Room
Surfer Girl
Salt Lake City
Let The Wind Blow
I'd Love Just Once To See You
Aren't You Glad
California Saga : California
Don't Worry Baby
Let Him Run Wild
Feel Flows
Wild Honey
Sail On, Sailor
Wouldn't It Be Nice
You Still Believe In Me
That's Not Me
Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
I'm Waiting For The Day
Let's Go Away For Awhile
Sloop John B
God Only Knows
I Know There's An Answer
Here Today
I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
Pet Sounds
Caroline, No

Good Vibrations
Help Me, Rhonda
Barbara Ann
Surfin' U.S.A.
Fun, Fun, Fun
Love And Mercy

Shit-Faced Shakespeare : Much Ado About Nothing

A Late addition to Thursday night, (as we had a later show to go to so thought we'd fill the time), at the Leicester Square Theatre was a show with an interesting premise, Shakespeare performed by a group of actors, one of whom is drunk...

The show starts by our compere for the evening revealing the alcohol consumed by that evening's drunkard, in this case nine bottles of Corona, and an outline of the rules...

Three audience members are charged with certain tasks, one with a gong, one with a horn and one with a bucket. Those with the gong or horn were allowed to use it once in any instance that they felt the drunk was getting sober and needed another drink, you can guess why the bucket was there...

The host also informed us she would intervene if there was any danger to the drunk or the show needed getting back on track as you would imagine it's difficult enough to remember and perform Shakespeare whilst sober, so it was liable to go off on a tangent at times.

Needless to say the inebriated member was glaringly obvious and her struggles, and mini victories with the lines were very funny. The various instances of bad language were to be expected and the sober cast members around her trying to keep the play moving did an admirable job of persevering and ad-libbing when required.

Thankfully the bucket didn't come into play!

The show won't be for everyone, however at just over an hour it was a very entertaining show and should bear repeated visits as a different member gets drunk each time, if you like a good laugh and like Shakespeare it's worth catching.

Dara O'Briain - Work In Progress

So after Shakespeare we headed over to the Soho Theatre for a late show of Dara O'Briain performing a work in progress show for material to form his next tour.

We've been to several shows before of this ilk by Frank Skinner, David Baddiel Ricky Gervais and Micky Flanagan so know what to expect, warts and all, usually involving referring to notes and polishing routines, however these shows also tend to be more personal and afford to opportunity to hear lots of material which doesn't always make the final cut.

As ever O'Briain's comedy is as smart as you'd expect, touching on his roles as host of Stargazing Live and Go 8 Bit, with a particularly funny routine regarding technology in his house.

He also had a very funny section about ailments and visiting the doctor with minor symptoms.

Tickets for these sorts of shows are also a bargain at around ten to fifteen pounds and afford the opportunity to see them in small venues too.

From the material showcased here the final show should be really funny, keep your eyes peeled as venues such as this have work in progress shows often for a variety of comedians and they're always worth catching.


On Saturday we caught the matinee performance of a new musical at the Donmar Warehouse based on the parliamentary hearings concerning the high profile collapse of charity Kids Company.

Not a subject that you would think lends itself to the musical format, (actually plays more like an operetta of sorts), however it's a clever way of presenting the facts of the subject and it's lean run time of eighty minutes with no interval meant that it kept our attention.

The setup consists the two people in charge of Kids Company, Alan Yentob and Camila Batmanghelidjh attending a parliamentary hearing to ascertain why the charity collapsed financially, carried out by a variety of MPs charged with discovering and reporting the failings to stop something similar happening in future.

The cast were all well chosen, as each MP is introduced we see the real MPs on screens and the likeness is superb, as are the two Kids Company representatives.

Cameras face the pair and this feed is shown on screens at the back of the stage above the panel of MPs, however at times all the cast members get up and move about the stage, sometimes also taking on the personas of witnesses to deliver actual testimony.

Alexander Hanson as the chair of the committee chair Bernard Jenkin is particularly effective, as was Sandra Marvin, unrecognisable as Batmanghelidjh.

Whatever your opinion on the scandal, this production only seeks to prevent the event as documented, which in itself highlights quite clearly where the failings lied with the venture.

However as a piece of innovative musical theatre it's very well written and performed and certainly worth catching to illustrate just how the medium can still surprise.

That's it for this week, next week sees the conclusion of a two part play from earlier this year and a theatrical treatment of a Hitchcock classic, until then, get inspired...

Thursday 3 August 2017

A bumper fortnight with a bit of everything, music, classic cinema, theatre and a healthy dose of Science Fiction...

17th July - 30th July 2017

This is a double week due to circumstances beyond our control interfering with last week's post, (illness if we're honest), however we're back so without further ado...

Girl From The North Country

So on Tuesday night we headed over to The Old Vic for one of the first previews of a new play by playwright Conor McPherson and featuring songs by Bob Dylan, although this is not a musical, the songs punctuate scenarios or transition between scenes.

Apparently Dylan's representatives contacted McPherson to request he write a play to feature his music and left him free reign from there, and the result is quite simply superb.

The songs themselves are re-arranged from Dylan's original compositions, sometimes several songs are combined in soulful, gospel tinged arrangements which really fits the characters and mood of the piece, with the instruments and singing performed by the various cast members.

The plot concerns a small guesthouse in America run by Nick Liane, (Ciaran Hinds), who lives there with his wife Elizabeth, (Shirley Henderson), who is suffering from increasingly sever dementia their son Gene, (Sam Reid), and their adopted daughter Marianne, (Sheila Atim), which houses a variety of lodgers and passing guests.

The guests range from an amateur boxer/escaped convict Joe, (Arinze Kene), sly bible salesman/self proclaimed preacher Reverend Marlowe, (Michael Schaeffer), a husband and wife with a learning disabled son (Stanley Townsend, Bronagh Gallagher and Jack Shalloo), and Mrs Nielsen, (Debbie Kurup), who is in love with Nick but their freedom is hamstrung by his guilt to caring for his wife.

There are also a couple of local characters, Dr Walker, (Ron Cook), and a local businessman Mr Perry, (Jim Norton), who frequent the establishment to for various reasons.

The guesthouse is in dire financial difficulty and the secrets within everyone's lives prevents them being free to live their lives without being saddled with guilt, regret or despair, which all comes to a head on Thanksgiving night via several events.

This may have been a preview but was staged superbly and acting impeccably throughout, whilst the songs were seamlessly incorporated into the drama to stunning effect.

This really is truly effective and affecting piece of theatre and the familiarity of some of the music used to such effect works tremendously, a definite must see, it's on until the 7th of October.

Nick Heyward

A late addition to Wednesday night was to see British pop star turned singer/songwriter, (don't let that term put you off), Nick Heyward.

This was the second opportunity to catch Heyward's return to performing and releasing new material, having caught his recent performance at The Water Rats which was filmed for Vintage TV.

In support of his imminent new album 'Woodland Echoes' Heyward seems to be relishing this opportunity to get back to performing new material, whilst also reinvigorating the hits that made him a household name in the 80s.

Backed with a superb band, the Haircut 100 hits 'Love Plus One' and 'Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)' sounded fresh but familiar, as did his early solo material such as 'Blue Hat For A Blue Day'.

The latter solo material from the 90s and encompassing his latest efforts is where the show really took off and Heyward showed he's a hugely underrated songwriter, often overlooked in favour of more 'revered' artist such as Paul Weller, but certainly just as talented and a fine purveyor of very British but well crafted music.

New tracks 'Baby Blue Sky', 'Perfect Sunday Sun', 'Love Is The Key By The Sea' and 'The Stars' sat alongside favourites such as 'Kite' and 'Caravan' comfortably.

The new album has been garnering great reviews and from what we've heard live is shaping up to be a belter in the vein of 'Tangled' and 'From Monday To Sunday'.

If you get the opportunity to catch a show you won't regret it.


On Saturday we headed over to Mercato Metropolitano a street food market near Elephant & Castle which is now also home to the Backyard Cinema, a theme cinema which has different seasons and looks as it's backdrop to a relaxed cinema viewing experience.

The current theme is Miami Beach, which basically means you get to watch films on very comfortable bean bags seats in a beach environment with the opportunity to switch to flip flops and feel the sand between your toes whilst partaking in holiday beach style beverages and snacks.

Of the variety of films on offer we opted for Grease, something with a bit of a fun atmosphere and a summery disposition.

The presentation of the venue was really well done, soft fine sand and large comfortable single seat beanbags were arranged in rows, whilst the screen is set into a mocked up lifeguards hut at the front of the room. The bar is situated at the back serving cocktails, snacks and a variety of other alcoholic and soft drinks.

The film presentation was also well done, starting with a montage of 80s style Miami themed trailers, adverts and clips from TV shows, there was also a mirror ball overhead and a lighting system which came into effect for the final number in the film and added to the atmosphere allowing the audience to be a little more relaxed than a standard cinema and sing-a-long a little too.

Everyone already knows the film so I won't review that, you know what you're getting on that front.

For a different cinema experience and the opportunity to try to pretty good food options too it's well worth a visit, we're interested to see what the next theme will be.


On Monday Mr C continued on the rather nerdy quest to take in all of Alfred Hitchcock's filmography on the big screen, this time it was Hitch's only Oscar winning picture, 'Rebecca' from 1940.

Starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, the film is based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier, author of another story Hitchcock later filmed, 'The Birds'.

It concerns a young woman who meets, falls in love with and eventually marries a rich English landowner, 'Maxim' De Winter, (Laurence Olivier), and moves with him into his large mansion Manderley, however he and the subsequently her become haunted by the lingering influence of his widow, the Rebecca of the title.

This is what would now be referred to as a psychological thriller, however such dramatic genres were not the norm in the 40s.

This was Hitchcock's first Hollywood picture under his deal with David O Selznick, a high powered producer of 'Gone With The Wind' fame, and as such the external touches of an influence, clearly not Hitchcock, is evident, however it still bears many of his hallmark flourishes and proves to be a satisfying production.

The themes of obsession and guilt and the dreamlike atmosphere would be revisited by Hitchcock in later films such as 'Spellbound' and even more successfully in 'Vertigo', which is not to say that this cannot be considered a landmark Hitchcock film.

The skill of cinematography and performances, along with composition and pacing are a masterclass of a director bringing his wealth of experience in the film industry to that point to the table, but marrying it with his desire to bring his films and visions to a larger audience via the Hollywood system.

The opportunity afforded by the BFI, amongst other less mainstream cinemas, to catch these classics on the big screen really shouldn't be missed and this is a prime example of golden age Hollywood film making at it's height. The artistry of Hitchcock almost demands to be seen on the big screen so if you get an opportunity to catch any of his work in this way, do so!

So that's twenty five features down, and two shorts, the challenge continues...

Into The Unknown : A Journey Through Science Fiction

We took the opportunity on Sunday to catch the blockbuster exhibition Into The Unknown at the Barbican before it closes on the 1st of September.

This exhibition covers Science Fiction and it's evolution in popular culture from it's early roots in literature via Jules Verne's classic books, right up to the latest films and TV, taking in all eras along the way.

The breadth and scope could have been a little too broad, however the separation into different aspects of the genre keeps the show focused and not overwhelming.

Starting with original manuscripts and models illustrating the visions of the early pioneers of such works the exhibition swiftly moves on to the early physical manifestation of characters and worlds, most notably through the seminal work of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen.

The opportunity to see original maquettes from classics such as 'The Valley Of Gwangi' and 'Earth Vs The Flying Saucers' was truly a treat.

Props from more recent offerings are also on show including items from 'Star Wars', 'Stargate', 'Alien' and 'Interstellar' to name but a few, and include models, masks and costumes.

There's also the rare opportunity to see a prop from a legendary unmade film, Jodorowsky's 'Dune', in the form of a metal chair designed by Alien designer HR Giger, (check out the fantastic documentary about the almost realised project, cunningly titled 'Jodorowsky's Dune').

The final section of the exhibition proper concerns the evolution of robots within films and TV, and includes full size props from 'I, Robot', 'Interstellar' and 'Ex-Machina' amongst others.

There are also additional areas of the exhibition showcasing several short films and artistic installations inspired by the genre, however the main exhibition is the real draw here and is essential, even if you've only a passing interest in Science Fiction, it closes on the 1st of September so be quick!

Soylent Green

As part of the exhibition the Barbican are showing classic Science Fiction films at their cinemas on Sundays to get patrons in the mood.

As we were going to the exhibition I thought I'd programme us in for some classic dystopian Chuck Heston goodness in the form of Soylent Green, part of what is unofficially referred to in some circles as his dystopian Sci-Fi quadrilogy, also consisting of 'The Omega Man', 'The Planet Of The Apes' and 'Beneath The Planet Of The Apes', all worthy movies in their own rights.

I'm not sure but I believe it was a digital presentation as the picture was pretty clean, the availability of a print probably necessitated it, but nonetheless it looked suitably film-like and it was great to see projected either way.

Chuck plays a cop in a future New York City, which is overpopulated and food is at a shortage, controlled by the Soylent corporation who manufacture Red, Yellow and Green varieties of food supplements. However the assassination of a corporate lawyer connected to Soylent leads Heston on an investigation which uncovers more than he bargained for.

It's a pacy little thriller which showcases Heston at his prime and is a classic of the genre, well worth a watch if Sci-Fi interests you and any opportunity to see these films theatrically is well worth taking.

Next week sees some classic rock, a bit of comedy and some musical theatre, until then get inspired!