Monday 9 October 2017

Drama, caffeine, some 60s classics, film chat, plenty of Stephen King and some iconic art...

11th September - 24th September 2017

Another bumper fortnight instalment, with plenty of variety, so let's get started...
Knives In Hens

We finally caught the latest show at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden this week, which can always be relied on to provide plays with something of interest and great performances, even if the show itself is not wholly successful.

This one felt a little less successful in it's overall impact, however there were several things to recommend catching it.

Written by playwright David Harrower, it's a three hander concerning a farmer, Pony William, (Christian Cooke), his wife known only as Young Woman, (Judith Roddy), and the local miller, (Matt Ryan), whose simple lives cross paths, and culminate in tragic consequences through the Young Woman's desire for freedom physically and emotionally.

As always the Donmar set is fantastic, making superb use of the adaptable space, with a simple wooden floor representing the farm house or mill, and a large grey circular mill stone at the rear of the stage suitably imposing in its domination of the stage, almost as a character in itself becoming the focus of the story in several different ways. Along with the menacing and mournful humming and Cello strums, the play drips with atmosphere to spare.

The style of the language is almost poetic in the way it's written and delivered, sometimes seeming a little stilted, however this felt suitable placed in the context of the time and situations presented here.

Ultimately it felt like a female empowerment tale, with an almost Lady Macbeth like turn of events and cunning, however we feel some sympathy with our lead's situation, although the piece overall felt a little slight in it's denouement.

However the performances, set design and atmosphere provide plenty of interest to make it a worthwhile endeavour.

It's on until the 7th of October.

Intro To Coffee : Origin

Later in the week we headed over to trendy Shoreditch to Ozone Coffee for an evening course of coffee tasting, known as cupping, a gift from a friend.

This was two hour hands on course which explored the process of roasting and producing small batch coffee, all carried out beneath the shop in Shoreditch on vintage equipment, and also involved tasting several different coffees and exploring several different brewing methods and how they each can affect how the coffee tastes.

After being coached on how to brew the coffee to minimise altering it's true flavour, we then tasted three different beans from different countries, and graded the different characteristics, identifying the different notes and textures.

The evening concluded with demonstrations of a few brewing methods, including Aeropress and siphon and how different types of coffees are more suited to certain methods.

We also received a bag of premium beans suited to how you brew coffee at home, all in all a great experience and well worth it if you like coffee and want to learn how to appreciate it better!

The Brighton Beach Boys

For the weekend we headed down to Brighton for a welcome couple of days break and to catch a show at the Concorde 2 by The Brighton Beach Boys, a much lauded tribute band performing their latest show playing 'Pet Sounds' by The Beach Boys and 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' by The Beatles in their entirety in celebration of their fifty year anniversaries, along with the Psychedelic Love Orchestra to help augment the complex arrangements.

These two landmark albums are notable for never being performed live by the original bands, due to both a combination of the bands either retiring from the live circuit and/or the complexity of the compositions meaning to perform them live would have been a monumental task, as these were albums recorded in an era when multi track recording was relatively advanced and these trailblazing bands were beginning to experiment with the possibilities which the new technology afforded them.

The show kicked off with a lovely rendition of 'Eleanor Rigby', presumably as a taster of the band and the orchestra, before then proceeding to perform 'Pet Sounds' from start to finish.

We've seen the current Brian Wilson Band performing the album in full on their current tour three times over the last two years, so we had a good barometer to rate this against, and my did they deliver.

From the opening strains of 'Wouldn't It Be Nice', through the more delicate songs such as 'Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)' and 'God Only Knows' they managed to reproduce every chord, harmony and orchestral flourish, even nailing the more abstract 'Pet Sounds' instrumental, including the various percussion sounds.

As the final notes from 'Caroline, No' faded the band took a short break before returning refreshed for the second half.

And what a second half too, replete with percussionist/vocalist/crowd rouser dressed in his blue Sgt Pepper's outfit to keep the crowd involved, to the point of providing the various crowd sounds for the opening 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'.

The adaptability of the various musicians and vocalists also meant that all bases were covered when it came to the variety of styles required to perform such varied music, from the psychedelic 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' to the string drenched 'She's Leaving Home', the circus themes 'Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!' through the tabla infused 'Within You Without You', all culminating in the monumental 'A Day In The Life'.

They even returned to the stage for a rousing 'Penny Lane' which was a real treat to hear live complete with a full brass section.

The band have other shows too, focusing on Bowie, The Beach Boys and a Dearly Departed show playing songs from those now gone, well worth catching live!

Mark Kermode Live In 3D

Our first trip to the BFI of the week was for the latest instalment of Mark Kermode's monthly film chat, discussion and news show.

As usual Kermode started off evening with audience questions which included his opinion on the latest Twin Peaks series.

The evening had three guests, one of which was a film critic from the Guardian, (sorry can't remember her name...), who discussed 'It' and 'mother!' and some highlights of the upcoming London Film Festival.

Up next was the Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi discussing her new film 'On Body And Soul' and the experiences she had making a movie set in a slaughterhouse.

Eddie Marsan was the final guest of the evening to discuss his guilty pleasure, in this case it was 'Carry On Screaming'. Mark clearly shared his affection for the film as both a horror pastiche and for the trademark Carry On humour.

Once again the evening was an entertaining and informative evening of film chat which is always worth catching.
Gerald's Game - Preview and Q & A

Our second visit of the week to the BFI Southbank was to catch the first of two previews of new Stephen King adaptations in what is shaping up up to be the year of King.

This time it was a rare big screen showing of the new Netflix movie version of 'Gerald's Game'.

One of King's lesser known novels it concerns a couple who go away to their lake side cabin and during a sex role play game the husband Gerald, (Bruce Greenwood), dies unexpectedly and leaves his wife Jessie, (Carla Gugino), handcuffed to the bed and trapped.

Often said to be unfilmable, the property has languished in development hell and has never thus far made it very close to production, however director Mike Flanagan has proved his talents as a horror and thriller director with films such as 'Oculus' and 'Hush' and tackles the material with great success.

The story proves particularly troublesome in a cinematic sense as it's essentially the story of Jessie alone in a single room with no other interaction, however the incorporation of the actors portraying the characters' consciences and internal dialogues makes the story come to life in a suitably visual and gripping way.

The ending and it's subplot as in the book feel a little tacked on but when the film's as good as this it doesn't detract from the experience as a whole, and one particular scene is sure to go down as the most uncomfortable King scene realised on film since the hobbling scene in 'Misery'.

Afterwards Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy were on hand to discuss the evolution of the project and it's journey to screen.

Clearly they revelled in the challenges presented by the story, however having got Stephen King himself's blessing it certainly has meant that the film is starting to get the recognition it deserves.

Flanagan came across as a genre fan which is important to the success of such projects as it shows in the commitment to the material.

The movie's available available on Netflix now and is well worth a watch. 
Jasper Johns : 'Something Resembling Truth'

We spent our Wednesday evening catching a friend's preview of the latest exhibition at the Royal Academy, a retrospective of one of America's most famous living artists, Jasper Johns.

Most known for his flag paintings which are representations of the US stars and stripes of various configurations and shades, which posit the idea of whether a representation of a flag is considered a flag in itself, an issue on which Johns has been known to declare that it is in fact both.

However hopefully the recognition of such an iconic work will be enough to get people to go along and see just how much more there is to Johns' output.

Much like one of his contemporaries Robert Rauschenberg, Johns also produced several works utilising the medium of screen printing and collage, although Rauschenberg's were arguably more pop art focused, (at least in some of his more well known screen prints), and Johns' collages for a period had a strong theme exploring anatomy and incorporate mannequin parts or casts of body parts.

One of his more famous collages 'Souvenir' is included in the collection, featuring a plate with Johns' face printed on it it also incorporates the recurring motif of a flashlight which crops up in many other works too.

The flashlight itself was an item which became a fixation of sorts for Johns, an item which Johns spent quite a while searching out to reproduce and utilise as he was constantly searching for what he had formulated in his mind as a memory of a flashlight, finding that the reality was that his idealised conception what not necessarily the stereotypical everyday reality.

Most famously he reproduced several everyday objects as sculptures, including  flashlights and bulbs, several of which are on show here.

The sheer breadth and depth of Johns' work is displayed admirably, the variety of technique and subjects highlighting just how influential and vital his work has been and continues to show innovation.

Following on from the Abstract Impressionism and America After The Fall exhibitions earlier this year it seems the Royal Academy is finally representing the wealth of American artists which are worthy of substantial representation to a wider audience.

It's on until the 10th of December and shouldn't be missed if only for the opportunity to see such iconic works in the flesh.

Mr Mercedes - Preview and Q & A

We were back once again at the BFI Southbank on Thursday night for another preview as part of the Stephen King season, this time the first two episodes of the ten episode mini series based on King's detective thriller 'Mr Mercedes'.

Starring Brendan Gleeson as Hodges the retired police detective and Harry Treadaway as the titular murderer and Hodges' nemesis.

A slight departure from King's usual supernatural tinged tales, 'Mr Mercedes' tells the story of ex-detective Hodges who retired with a case left unsolved of a killer who drove a car into a crowd of people, killing many, and was never caught.

The story continues with the killer contacting the detective and taunting him, resulting in a cat and mouse face off between the two.

The book itself is great, a real page turner and is a strong story by King, which scarily predicted some tragic events of the last couple of years.

Gleeson however is excellent as Hodges and Treadaway is suitably creepy and sinister as Mr Mercedes, and from these first two episodes it's shaping up to be a faithful and entertaining adaptation and we'll be tracking down the next episodes for sure, although it's currently only on in the US.

After the screening Harry Treadaway was on hand to speak about making the show and his experience of preparing for the role and meeting King himself, and he came across very well, obviously dedicated to carrying out the research needed for such a challenging role. This was followed as usual by an audience Q & A and as usual with these some of the questions were quite frankly nonsense and quite inappropriate, pre-screening the questions would be a much better option as sometimes the guests are asked awkward questions which are not really within their remit to answer.

We highly recommend catching the show if you can and reading the book, hopefully the other two stories by King involving the Hodges character are adapted too as thus far it's shaping up to be some great TV.

Next time we've got a bit of literature, plentiful live music, a brace of art, a rock legend, some horror cinema and some theatrical drama... Until then, get inspired...