Sunday, 31 August 2014

'Guys And Dolls' - Chichester Festival Theatre

On Saturday Chris took me down to the Chichester Festival Theatre to see the matinee of the new production of 'Guys and Dolls'. 'Guys and Dolls' holds a special place in the theatre pantheon since the 1982 production at the National Theatre is what got Chris into theatre in a big way. Some things matter.

It takes an hour and a half heading south by train from London to reach Chichester, trundling through Surrey and into the Sussex countryside with cows and sheep - yes, real wild animals! Luckily they only attack at night so we were safe.

Anyway, there we were, waiting to be wowed or saddened and I was much heartened by the first glimpses of the staging with a semi-cicle of advertising posters gracing the stage like it was Times Square. I liked it. I liked it even more when the lights surrounding each poster flashed on like Broadway signs. That was truly spectacular with the reflection on the shiny back stage creating a great effect. The action all took place with minimal sets under that great backdrop and it was very effective. The energetic cast kept the pace fast and tight, jumping and dancing all over the place (including the bicycling nun collecting money) creating a picture of the big city, vibrant and full of life and danger.

It's a love story, of course, bit it's not straightforward at all (is it ever?). We have Nathan Detroit, a rogue setting up an illegal crap game, and Miss Adelaide, an aging chanteuse who is a star at the Hot Box club. They've been engaged for 14 years and that sort of says it all. On the other hand we have Sergeant Sarah Brown, leader of the Times Square branch of the Salvation Army, and Sky Masterson, a gambler supreme in New York for a few days who accepts a bet from Nathan that he can't get Sarah to have dinner with him in Havanna, Cuba. Of course, that's where it all goes wrong because they fall in love.

We see Nathan trying to set up his dice game and keeping away from the police and Sky trying his wiles on Sarah. Sky succeeds by guaranteeing twelve sinners will attend her midnight meeting the following day. One complication after another ensues, along with broken promises and love-lorn moments before all comes well in the end - with a few twists in the tail, naturally. One of the funniest moments of all was when Miss Adelaide curses Nathan because, for once, he actually tells the truth!

Was it worth the treck out into the countryside? You betcha! I loved it and even bought a programme. I saw the 2005 revival that was really a star vehicle for Ewan McGregor but this far surpassed that version and I finally saw the underlying joy and life in the show. There are laughs a plenty and great songs and a story that just works.

There are four equal leads in this show and you need all the pieces in the right proportions. Peter Polycarpou and Sophie Thompson played the older lovers of Nathan and Miss Adelaide and Jamie Parker and Clare Foster as the young lovers Sky and Sarah. I've seen all of them on stage before - other than Jamie - and I have to say it's the older lovers who won the awards for best performances. I quite liked Jamie but Clare doesn't quite seem to have found her character yet. Jamie really killed it with 'Luck Be A Lady' when he was playing for souls, his own as Sky included.

Clare came fully to life for her song with Miss Adelaide, the fun 'Marry The Man Today' and change him tomorrow rather than worrying about it today. That's the penultimate song of the show and gives the female characters another chance to shine  and shine they did, climbing up on the chairs and giving it some big wow as well as laughs, with Sophie slowly prowling the stage.

Peter and Sophie played off each other like old pros and Sophie in particular milked every situation and line for the laughs, sometimes just by lowering her voice on the right line. That was a masterclass in comedic acting. It was definitely Sophie and Peter's show and that's how I'll remember it, those two showing us how it's done!

I've already said that the set was excellent, very evocative, flexible and impressive. And so was the lighting and costumes - and so many costumes! I loved the suits of the gamblers, all colourful but not garish and I'd wear them (if I wore suits). The backdrop and the lighting totally changed the mood whenever needed without any overt change, just a subtle switch of the light to change the mood, bathe the stage in a different light and, hey presto, a new set!  It was really clever and simple. And, more importantly, it worked.

D'you know what I want? I want to see this production again. I now *get* 'Guys And Dolls' and want to *get* it again. I want to see Sophie Thompson and Peter Polycarpou and want to see Clare Foster (who I loved in 'Crazy For You') to grow into her role. And I want to see Jamie as Sky punch Big Julie.  Yes. This show needs to transfer to the West End. Make it so, please.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Sex Tape Sexism

It's not often I go into one but seeing this poster on Brixton Hill really annoys me. Can you see why?

I last had a rant about sexism and misogyny five years ago (almost to the day) about the Sugababes single, 'Get Sexy' and this poster just sets me off again.

It's at one of the bus stops about halfway down Brixton Hill and I'm forced to see it every day. It rather begs the question about why Cameron Diaz is exposing so much flesh when the bloke (who I've never heard of) is covered up, even to the extent of wearing socks? How can this be anything other than sexist?

Cameron has been a name for, what, 15 years? So why does she feel she needs to expose her legs and arms like this, especially next to a nobody? Is it because sex sells and the ad men have come up with this poster? Or because she wants to show that she's still attractive? But the oddity is that the bloke even has his feet covered.

Of course, people and companies can present themselves and their products however they want, but, why am I forced to see it? Why is it so accepted these days that it's acceptable to see a women in knickers in a poster in the street next to a fully clothed man? Doesn't that seem a little bit odd to you?

I don't like it.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Dear Bloggers

Dear Bloggers and people who read blogs

I love getting comments on this blog and I don't really mind if the comment is that you love or hate what I've written, that the photos are crap or that I've been incredibly foolish in my choices. I really don't mind - you have a right to your opinion and, if I wasn't prepared to accept that, then I shouldn't be publicly blogging. But, when you try to use my blog to sell your products then that's where I draw the line. I will delete the comment and mark the user as spam so nothing else is published no matter how often you leave a comment.

This blog is here for my enjoyment - and hopefully yours too - and not as a cheap means of promoting dodgy products like weight-loss pills or anything else. If I think a product is good then I'll blog about it anyway, irrespective of dodgy marketing agencies trying to expand their reach on the cheap (I hope the advertisers realise this and see that they're being ripped off). Clearly I've had one too many advertising comments that have resulted in this posting.

My message to advertising and marketing agencies around the world is to FUCK OFF! You are not using this blog to sell your tat and crap.

I'll need to think about my next strategy (if FUCK OFF doesn't work, which it probably won't since a lot of these things are done by autobots) is maybe to name and shame the companies that try to hijack the comments and use the blog. I don't have a problem with that. Do you?

*Click DELETE*

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Kate Bush Night on BBC4

That woman. Yes, I watched the programmes about Kate Bush on BBC4 on Friday as the prelude to her live shows in London and yes, I'm astonished all over again. I remember her first single, 'Wuthering Heights' in 1978 and bought her first album, 'The Kick Inside'. And every album since then. Well, it's the law isn't it?

I loved that the program started with Viv Albertine and John Lydon talking about Kate, two punk heroes talking about this strange creature who wasn't punk but wasn't, well, anything really. Kate was and is her own brand. Bat for Lashes and St Vincent, Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos all talking about Kate was great and not a single word from Kate herself. Her live shows started at Hammersmith last night and that makes all the difference. I've got tickets to see her on 5 September and I can't wait.

The reviews have been fabulous and the show sounds spectacular. She graced the front pages of all the nationals this morning and was in the TV and radio news on the hour. All of her albums are in the download charts. There's a lot of excitement around Kate and I can't wait to see her next week. The witch has woken!

Noddy Holder: 'The World According to Noddy'

I'm not quite sure what's happening with the new book from Sir Noddy Holder but it looks like it'll be out in hardback in September and in paperback and other formats early next year. I, obviously, need it.

I haven't seen a definitive description of what the book is actually about - I've seen it variously described as an updated autobiography (from his '90s book 'Who's Crazee Now') to a witty book of observations on modern life. It could be both I assume. The lack of a picture of the front cover on Amazon makes me wonder whether a September publication date is feasible but let's see.

The Great God Nod is still out and about and causing a ruckus when he want to.  The photo above is the latest of him from a couple of months ago accepting the freedom of Walsall. Still a man of individuality and style!

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Suzi Quatro: 'The Girl From Detroit City'

There's a new four-CD box set from Suzi Quatro due out on 20 October 2014 called 'The Girl From Detroit City'. It's being released by those nice folks at Cherry Red and includes 82 songs, three songs by The Pleasure Seeekers (Suzi's first band), three new songs recorded for the box set and 20 previously unreleased songs. Not bad!

Despite being a long-time Suzi fan I didn't see her play live until 2007 when she played at the Cannizaro Festival in Wimbledon. She supported SLADE on their 1972 tour but I didn't get a ticket to that gig so missed her. When I found out she was playing a few miles from my house then I *had* to go. I met her after the show briefly and she signed the postcard I had of the famous photo of her in her leathers in the National Portrait Gallery (yes, Suzi is in our national collection of portraits). The signed photo is framed and on display in my hallway.

I met her again in 2008 at her book signing for 'Unzipped', her autobiography, and had my photo taken with her. I was a little bit thrilled at that!

I'm looking forward to this new box set, hearing some new songs and some old, long ago songs that I haven't heard before or for a long time. Suzi changed things for women in music and deserves the credit for that. Rock on, Suzi!

Buffy Sainte-Marie: 'Native North American Child' in the Early 70s

I was sent a video of Buffy Sainte-Marie singing 'Native North American Child' the other day, on a huge stage and backed by an orchestra. The song doesn't half sound odd with a 'pop' orchestra! But there she is, dancing around the stage, putting on a show, in her mini-skirt and platform shoes, wowing the audience. It looks like it's a kind of charity telethon type of programme in Germany in the early '70s and is in black and white. Here are a few screen grabs from the video with Buffy being all righteous and smiley and look-at-me!

The video was found by Gary Jordan who asked me not to post it so I won't. Thanks Gary!

Friday, 22 August 2014

More Siouxsie & The Banshees

At last, the last four Siouxsie & The Banshees albums will be re-released in remastered format on CD, including the unobtainable 'Superstition'.  'Through The Looking Glass', 'Peepshow', 'Superstition' and 'The Rapture' will be released on 13 October and, according to posts from Steve Severin, there'll be more to follow! I hope so!

I had these records on musi-cassette back in the day so it'll be nice to have proper records again.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


This lunchtime I thought, 'I really fancy a healthy salad', and went salad-hunting. Given that I work in a predominantly office area (i.e. Westminster) you'd think that would be relatively easy. But it's not, at least not for a vegetarian. There are lots of chicken salads and tuna salads and sushi salads but a boring old no-dead-thing salad? O no. Then I found one that looked like it was full of carrots and felafel and chick peas and other healthy stuff, so I bought it. When I got back to the office I found it looked nice on the top - on top of a thick bed of lettuce leaves.

I've been a vegetarian for almost 40 years and I've lost count of the acres of lettuce I've eaten over those years. Lettuce has always been used to 'bulk' up salads, provide the base and sprinkle a few other veggies, fruit and pulses on top and that's your basic salad. Well, I'm fed up with all the lettuce. It's a cheap way to provide a bigger meal but I'm bored with it. I want more tomato, more cucumber, more peppers, more onion, more everything - and less lettuce. Ideally, no lettuce.

Imagine my joy at discovering a real Greek salad in Greece (Athens to be precise) a few years ago with no lettuce at all? Those intelligent Greeks had obviously realised that lettuce is boring millennia ago and banned it. How sensible. How wonderful.

Sadly, London Greek salads all too often still include a base of lettuce - except at The Real Greek, and I urge you to sample a Real Greek salad. I do every time I go there. Yum!

I disapprove of fields of lettuce - let the rabbits in, I say. I disapprove of whoever first decided to cultivate lettuce many millennia ago when we discovered farming and gave up hunter-gathering. I disapprove of the man (probably a man and probably Victorian) who first put lettuce into a salad.

If you like lettuce, then good on ya (and I don't understand that) but I'm with the Greeks on this one. 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Frozen By Sight - Paul Smith & Peter Brewis

The new record from Paul Smith is available to pre-order and, naturally, that's what I've done. It won't be available until November but, when you pre-order, you can download three tracks: 'Barcelona (At Eye Level)', 'Mount Wellington Rises' and 'Trevone' which all soon good. According to Paul, each song is about a place or a journey he's made with his words set to strings by Peter Brewis from Field Music.

You can pre-oder (and download the songs) from the new website. Here's what the 'Frozen By Sight' website says:

Frozen by Sight is the new album from Paul Smith (Maximo Park) and Peter Brewis (Field Music). Drawing inspiration from disparate musical and poetic sources the two Mercury Prize nominees have come together in a playful departure from their respective bands, with Peter Brewis' chamber-band arrangements built up around text from Paul Smith's travel writing, creating a a restrained yet richly descriptive song suite.

First performed at the inaugural Festival of the North East in spring 2013, Smith and Brewis began work in early 2014 recording the album at the Field Music studio in Sunderland with David Brewis, Peter's brother, acting as co-producer. Integral to the sound of the record are the distinctive performances of the band: David's dynamic push and pull on the drums, John Pope's wandering, melodic bass playing, the precision and drama of Ed Cross' string quartet, and the sonorous palette of Andrew Lowther's tuned percussion. Brewis reinforces the arrangements with smatterings of piano while Smith features as a highly individual singer/guitar player.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Matisse Cut-Outs

I went to see the Matisse exhibition of his 'cut-outs' again at Tate Modern yesterday and loved it just as much as the first time I saw it. The simple joy of the kaleidoscope of colour and shapes is astonishing. To be surrounded by all this vibrant art is on a par with the transcendent experience of being surrounded by the devotion and belief of Fra Angelico at the Musee Jacquemart-Andree in Paris a few years ago.

Where does this beauty and joy come from? How did this old man in a wheelchair find the vision within himself to produce these astonishing works? What made him see a dragon or a snail or a leaf in these odd shapes or colours?

Thank you M. Matisse.

'Skylight' at Wyndham's Theatre

Yesterday Chris took me to see David Hare's 'Skylight' at Wyndham's, a theatre I've been in lots of times and will always make me smile with memories of 'Avenue Q' from years ago and those rascally and wise Bad Idea Bears. Anyway, back to 2014 and Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy being fraught and tense and funny in an ugly little flat in a sink estate in Kensall Rise in north west London on a freezing December night in the early '90s.

The flat belongs to Kyra and it has the cheapest and most awful furniture I've seen in a long time, spindly and formica, with a two-bar electric heater for warmth. Kyra lives in four small rooms and overlooks more flats outside her front door, layers and layers of flats, some with football flags in the windows instead of curtains. The whole place reeks of deprivation and, in her case, cheap because she could afford better if she wanted. Kyra is a teacher who chooses to live in a deprived neighbourhood in north west London and teach in a  deprived neighbourhood in east London meaning she spends most of her time commuting to school and then home again. By bus, of course. You see, Kyra has a social conscience. Or does she?

The story gradually unfolds, firstly through a random visit by Edward, the son of her former lover. And then by Tom her lover, millionaire restauranteur, who hasn't seen her for several years. She was taken in by Tom and his wife when she first came to London to work before going to university. On return she and Tom had an affair for six years before Tom's wife found out about it and Kyra vanished. Tom's wife died from cancer a year ago and he's finally tracked her down. What was it all about back then and what's it about now? That's the tale we're told in the freezing little flat with snow outside.

The cast were all great, all three of them! Bill Nighy was Tom, the self-centred successful businessman, a role he played 20 years ago when the play was first produced. Carey Mulligan was excellent as Kyra, controlled and in control of her life, with Matthew Beard as Tom's son, Edward, aged 18 in the play who has just left home after a blazing row with his father. Bill's rather mannered portrayal of Tom, endlessly pacing, endlessly challenging Kyra's life and decisions, was great to see with his comic timing and emphasising words in the text to create the next argument between them. And Carey's control and stillness at the centre of the maelstrom of passions, always pushing Tom to think, challenging his assumptions and one-sided view of their years together. And Matthew as Edward, particularly in the final scene bringing breakfast when he seemed to blossom into the character. I thought they were all excellent.

The set and lighting were also really good and I particularly liked how the windows in the block of flats outside the front door changed to reflect the time. And, of course, the play used smellovision to great effect. During the first half Kyra makes spag bol - and she really cooks it, chopping up veggies for the sauce and the smell of frying onion reached us up in the balcony. The cooker on stage in the ugly flat really worked and helped to warm up the flat but it was the smell of onions that made me hungry. This is, I'm sure, the first time I've blogged about the smell of a play!

I thoroughly enjoyed the play, from Bill's manic political and social rants and Carey's stillness. Some of the play has aged, like the references to rap music and the Poll Tax, but most of it is still relevant today. But the flat, please, do something about it - I don't remember the early '90s being that grim!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Literary Benches Around London

This years' theme for things to hunt down in London over the summer are benches, literary benches. Books About Town has commissioned a series of 50 benches about books with a London connection that are painted with an image associated with the book. The benches are all in the shape of an opened book and are surprisingly comfortable to sit on. The benches are dotted around open spaces (and some not so open) in four areas of London: Bloomsbury, Greenwich, City and Riverside (City Hall to the Globe). I've had an initial skirmish with the benches in the sun of a London summer and got burned and photographed the front and back of a lot of benches. I have more to collect.

I started off on the Riverside trail with the 'War Horse' bench in the shade of some young trees before discovering Alice in Wonderland and the Discworld bench with the Librarian. Walking along the river I discovered more benches, including one to Shakespeare outside the Globe Theatre. I prefer the back of this bench to the front for depicting the old London Bridge.

Over the Millennium Bridge between the Tate Modern and St Paul's Cathedral and another set of benches around the cathedral including 'Mary Poppins' and 'Peter Pan'. A bit further up in the 'Bridget Jones' bench. I couldn't find the Dickens bench and didn't have time to explore further in the City to find other benches so that's for another day

Another day passed and I went into Bloomsbury to find those benches in the grand literary squares. 'Mrs Dalloway' and (another) 'Peter Pan', Oscar Wilde and Sherlock Holmes but the best of the lot is 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' in St George's Gardens. I loved this bench with Mr Tumnus and Lucy walking away from the streetlight and into Narnia with a large painting of Aslan on the back. So far that's my favourite bench. I've yet to explore the Greenwich benches so maybe one of them will become my favourite but it'll have to be pretty spectacular.

Anyway, here are some photos of benches for you to enjoy!

The 'Through The Looking Glass' bench:

The Discworld bench with the Librarian looking very orange:

The Shakespeare bench outside The Globe Theatre, front and back:

The 'Mary Poppins' bench, front and back, with skateboarder damage on the front (between the front door and the first cherry tree):

The 'Peter Pan' bench outside St Paul's, front and back, with the addition of sparkly things embedded in the bench for that extra glimmer:

The 'Paddington Bear' bench outside Southwark Cathedral, front and back - I like this since it's the same picture really, as if the bench is see through, and you can see Mr and Mrs Brown in the distance on the back.

My favourite so far, 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' with Mr Tumnus and Lucy walking into Narnia on the front, polar bears on the side and Aslan on the back.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

'Medea' at the National Theatre

I suspect Euripides would recognise the new version of his blood-soaked play despite the 21st Century language. The anger, passion and revenge are all there and the only thing missing are Zeus's thunderbolts splintering the stage. Yes, we saw 'Medea' this evening.

Medea follows Jason (leader of the Argonauts) to Corinth with their two children but he leaves her to marry a princess of Corinth and Medea swears vengeance. She is a witch queen, after all, and what she swears she will deliver. The play takes place on the day of Jason's marriage when Medea successfully kills the bride and the king (her father) and then, to strike directly at Jason's heart, kills her two sons. O yes, there is blood to spare in this play but that's not what it's about. Not really.

Medea is an early feminist, a woman with a mind of her own and the determination to make her wishes come true. Is that witchy magic or something else? She states that she would rather face battle with men than give birth again. She has been betrayed by Jason and will not put up with it - he will suffer in every way she can conceive up to and including killing his children. But that also rebounds on her since she gave birth to them in rivers of blood and their deaths push her into madness.

The play is only 90 minutes long but it's quite draining. The emotion the cast drag out of the audience is impressive and attested by the number of people delivering a standing ovation, particularly for Helen McCrory as Medea. And she deserves it - how can you deliver a performance of that intensity every night? I was drained by the end.

I wasn't entirely on-side with the set. The stage was the living room of Medea's house, the background was a woods and upstairs was the wedding reception room? What's that about? I sort of see what it was about but I'm not sure why it was needed. Trying to be all things to all people is fine so long as it works but it just confused me. Is what's going on upstairs important or just filler? Where am I supposed to be looking and what am I supposed to be looking at?

Whatever, I thought it was an excellent production and I left thoroughly drained. I'm still mulling over the feminism from two thousand years ago and how it's still relevant today. Euripides was a visionary. Go and see it.