Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 and The Year of The New

Now that we're at the end of the year, it's worth noting that early on 2015 was designated The Year Of The New. New things would be done, new places visited, new things seen - it was time to be brave and jump in with both feet. Everything might not be a success but why not take a few risks since the dividends could be enormous.

So, what sort of things were new?

First of all, there were new art galleries to visit and, sometimes, new favourite artists to discover. At the start of the year we went to Leighton House Museum, the former home of Victorian painter Frederick Leighton, and it was there that I became aware of Lawrence Alma-Tadema and started hunting out paintings by him. See? A new obsession can be started anywhere.

Another new favourite was the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris, a suburban mansion house converted into a great small gallery with exhibition spaces and a great shop that sold books in English. It was great fun to wander round the museum not knowing what the next room might hold - anything from medieval illuminated manuscripts to an exhibition of paintings about women's toilet habits. It was a lovely discovery and a musee I will definitely return to.

I've never been a big fan of portrait paintings but this year seems to have been full of exhibitions of portraiture. From the late Rembrandt exhibition at the National Gallery and the great Sergeant exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery at the start of the year, through the self-portraits of artists in Vasari's Corridor in Florence, to Goya and to Mme Vigee Le Brun at Le Grand Palais in Paris right up to Giacometti at the National Portrait Gallery this week - lots of portraits. I would never have expected to see so many portraits in any one year and learn to look at them. And make up stories about the sitters.

It was also the year to experiment with dance and opera. I'm a regular at Matthew Bourne (now Sir Matthew, of course) productions but I'd never seen a classic ballet. Equally, I've been to comic-opera like Gilbert & Sullivan but not seen a full-on classical opera production. Seeing a production of 'Peter Pan' by the Welsh National Opera was disappointing (so much so that I didn't even blog about it) but 'The Barber Of Seville' was better. I'm still not sold on opera but will give it another go in the spring with 'Il Traviata'. A far greater success was ballet.

2015 is the year I fell in love with ballet. It started with a trip to the Royal Opera House to see 'Woolf Works', a new ballet piece based on three novels by Virginia Woolf and that resulted in booking more tickets. There was the full-length fairytale of 'Cinderella', the 'Triple Bill' of different short ballets and then the masterpiece of 'Romeo & Juliet', a classic ballet on a grand scale by the Royal Ballet and I was hooked. The energy and athleticism of the dancers, the glorious costumes and sets, the lighting and the wonderful music, all contributing to taking the story forward. I suspect you need to see the right thing to  start to love ballet and I was very lucky this year that I saw the perfect productions that caused me to regret not seeing ballet for the last 30 years - so much missed but so much to explore in future.

There were lots of other 'news' in 2015 of course (including a new job) but these are some highlights. Things I never imagined I'd like - like ballet - have emerged as things I now love. I've broadened my horizons and that's a good thing. So people, if you're reading this take a risk in 2016 and try something new, something you haven't done or thought about before, something to surprise yourself. Be brave!

I officially designate 2016 as The Year Of More New!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

'Giacometti: Pure Essence' at the National Portrait Gallery

The exhibition of Giacometti portraits at the National Portrait Gallery is only on for another couple of weeks so I popped along to see it while I could. I know nothing about Giacometti other than his name so this was a good opportunity to do some learning. Of course, being at the National Portrait Gallery, then the emphasis was on his portrait works, both on canvas and in statuary and that's a good enough place to start.

The very early works show a love a colour probably influenced by his father who was a post-impressionist painter himself, but when he moved to Paris to study his own style began to emerge. Most of his portraits seem to be of members of his family, particularly his brother and sister and then, in later life, his wife. Again and again, the same sitters , often in broadly the same poses. Giacometti seemed to get frustrated that he couldn't paint what he saw in front of him so he'd try again and then again, refining here and emphasising there, trying again to capture reality. This is possibly why, in some of the portraits the faces are over-worked as he tried to make them real and the body is left almost as an outline - it's the face where the secret to humanity lies and that's what he struggled to capture.

He travelled around and he painted, lived in different places and kept painting and making busts and sculptures. Tiny heads on big bodies in both paintings and busts and, occasionally, a long thin statue, trying to reduce things to a core of being. He became associated with the existentialists in Paris and was courted by Sartre and painted Genet. As his reputation grew it might be reasonable to expect a widening of his palette of subjects but no, he still returned to his brother and his wife as subjects. Almost as if he was still trying to get them right and capture their essences once and for all. I wonder if he ever felt he succeeded?

The exhibition's only on for another couple of weeks so if I've managed to whet your appetite, you know where to go.

'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' at the Donmar Warehouse

The final theatre trip of the year was to see the new production of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' at the Donmar - you've probably seen the film but have you seen the play that started it all? No, neither had I so this was a first for me. The cast for this production are led by Janet McTeer and Dominic West and add in Una Stubbs and you know you're in for a treat. I've seen all of them on stage before (and on telly and in films) and enjoyed them every time.

It's set shortly before the French Revolution and demonstrates the morals of the time, with gossip and intrigue being king, sex a devalued commodity unless it is with the un-reachable and nothing matters more than winning at any cost. It's terribly cynical and the mores of the time destroys lives as innocents fall foul of the seducers who treat the encounters as meaningless. Until they discover it's not meaningless after all and that's when the consequences start mounting up.

The Marquise de Merteuil (McTeer) and Vicomte de Valmont (West) are fomer lovers who challenge each other in their sexual conquests. Merteuil wants him to seduce the young Cecile (Morfydd Clark) before her marriage to an enemy but Valmont wants the bigger challenge of the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Elaine Cassidy) who is staying with his aunt (played by Una Stubbs). Valmont ends up pursuing both - and gaining both - while Merteuil seduces Cecile's chaste young lover. While the intrigues are fun and the suggestion is that everyone is part of the same game, it's actually pretty unpleasant and that is what the play exposes. But it's the innocents that pay the price.

I enjoyed the play with it's sparse sets and constant movement keeping it fully energised throughout. There are some laugh out loud moments and some more thoughtful sections. The audience collapsed towards the end of the first half when Cecile naively asks Valmont if her husband-to-be would appreciate that she's been learning all the sex-tricks Valmont can teach her when someone in the front row broke out in raucous laughter at the absurdity of it and everyone joined in, including Dominic West! It's good fun with a darker underbelly.

The cast were excellent and I particularly liked Janet McTeer as the butter-wouldn't-melt Marquise who could out-cruel Cruella DeVille any day of the week. She was great fun with her tongue stuck firmly in her cheek for most of the play until it becomes deadly towards the end. Dominic West was also great fun as our debonaire seducer who always gets his woman but doesn't judge the consequences too well. I also liked Adjoa Andoh as Cecile's mother who came across as very realistic rather than a cartoon. Una Stubbs was lovely as the elderly, rich aunt who acts as a catalyst for her nephew's seduction of Madame de Tourvel. It's always a pleasure to see Una on stage.

The Donmar often sells out before the shows begin so I don't know if there are any tickets left for this production but, if you can, go and see it - it's well worth it!

Kim Wilde's Christmas Party 2015 at the Coronet

My last gig before Christmas was Kim Wilde's Christmas Party which was moved from Shepherd's Bush to the Coronet at Elephant & Castle at the last minute due to roof problems at the Bush. I'd been looking forward to this for a long time so a mere change in venue wasn't going to put me off, even if it was to the less salubrious Coronet. The huge queue to get in suggested it didn't put off anyone at all, and neither did the significant security checks - the Coronet is obviously used to the need for security and the security staff were very professional about it all.

Just as we got in and made it to the bar at the back of the hall, the lovely Clare Grogan came on stage to give us those classic Altered Images songs from the early 80s. Bounding round the stage and exhorting us all to join in, she was great fun! Then, after a short break, on came Heaven 17 to keep us firmly in the 80s with some memorable songs. They started with 'Fascist Groove Thang' and 'Come Live With Me' and moved on to do what they called 'their version of the Human League's version' of 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling'. After a few more we got the inevitable 'Temptation' and then they spoiled it all by doing a silly version of Bing and Bowie's 'Little Drummer Boy'. Epic fail.

Another break to re-set the stage and then on came Ricky Wilde and the band, getting ready for Kim and then there she was, wreathed in smiles and waving and launching straight into the songs. It was mainly a greatest hits set and that was very acceptable to the crowd! We had 'View From A Bridge', 'Chequered Love', 'Water On Glass' and 'You Came' as well as some songs from the Christmas record and the covers album. She was joined by the Spandau's Steve Norman on sax on 'Love Blonde' and by Clare Grogan in a white party dress for 'Let It Snow'.  There were lovely versions of 'Hey Mr Snowman' and 'Last Christmas' and the discotastic versions of 'If I Can't Have You' and 'You Keep Me Hangin' On' were both fab, with the latter closing the set. Might I say wow?

But it didn't stop there. O no. The next section was pure Christmas songs with 'Winter Wonderland', Kim's own Christmas hit 'Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree' sung with Glen Gregory, 'Merry Xmas Everybody' and 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday' with snow dropping into the audience. More clapping and then encore two with 'It's My Life' and then a magnificent version of 'Kids In America' - she's *got* to play that one, after all!

What a fab show and a great Christmas present from Kim. She's still got the voice and still got the moves, covering the stage, never still, giving her all to us ragbag of people who've been buying her records for over 30 years. Brother Ricky looking after the band and niece Scarlet on backing vocals, it's still a family business for the Wildes and long may it continue! Kim pleased a lot of people that night, including me. And I treasure my Christmas present from Kim - a Santa hat on the back of my chair left especially for me (well, I think so, anyway).

Well done Kim, come back soon!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty at Sadler's Wells

My final pre-Christmas entertainment was the traditional visit to Sadler's Wells to see the Matthew Bourne and this year it's 'Sleeping Beauty'. I saw this on it's initial run a few years ago at Sadler's Wells and it\s great to see it again. I like having Christmas traditions and this is a nice one to have. I bought tickets as soon as they went on sale over the summer and got them right in the middle of the best row to have a perfect view of the show.

It\s the tale of Princess Aurora who is adopted by the king and queen in 1890, courtesy of the fairy Carabosse. Unfortunately, the king wasn't sufficiently grateful and she visits to curse the baby but is fought off by Count Lilac and the good fairies. It's then 1911 and Aurora's birthday at a grand Edwardian garden party, when Carabosse's son, Caradoc, tricks her into pricking her finger on a black rose and she falls into a deep sleep for 100 years. Her young lover is transformed by the fairies so he can live to re-awaken her 100 years later  and that's what he does, except Caradoc tricks young Leo and seizes Aurora to sacrifice her at a dark party but is again saved by the rave Count Lilac and they all live happily ever after.

 Of course, there's a lot more going on than just these bare bones of the plot. I love the first act with the troupe of good fairies who visit the baby princess and each leave a white feather in her cot and then proceed to dance their gifts. I liked the second fairy and named her gift 'flibberty-jibbet' and lo and behold, that's how Aurora acts before her birthday party, like a right old flibberty-jibbet disobeying her nurse and mother! It was all very gothic and atmospheric so we're well prepared for when Carabosse appears doing her evil stuff with her hounds.

It's a great show and I'd urge you to see it if you can, either at Sadler's Wells or when it goes on tour in the New Year. It's great story, great dancing and some really good young dancers. It's great to see Ashley Shaw and Adam North as Aurora and her love, Leo, the gamesman and they work really well together in a great partnership.  I also liked Tom Clark as both Carabosse and Caradoc, evil fairies both who get their just desserts for being nasty, and Christopher Marney as the brave Count Lilac who challenges mother and sun and saves Aurora. All the dancers are excellent and it's enhanced by the great staging, costumes and atmospheric lighting. Go and see it if you can and be prepared to be transported into a world of wonder.

'A Christmas Carol' at the Noel Coward Theatre

'A Christmas Carol' is a *must* in the run-up to Christmas - read it, watch it or listen to it. For the last could of years I've attended a reading of the great book at Queen Elizabeth Hall but this year sees the production of a new stage version at the Noel Coward Theatre so I booked tickets to see it straight away. It's being sold on the back of Jim Broadbent as Mr Scrooge, with posters all over the place,  so a lot is riding on his shoulders.

The play is 'based on' rather than a full stage adaptation of the book, so there are bits  where I couldn't help but think 'this isn't in the book' or 'it doesn't happen like that'. That was a bit diverting at times and being too purist doesn't really add to the experience. Using puppets to show the Cratchets in their scenes saved in having lots of actors in a tight space but I didn't really like it. But then I learned to let go and go with the play as it unfolded in front of me, rather than with my memories of the book.

I like the stage setting of the front being decorated like a Victorian Christmas card and the main set being a big book that rotated to show different backgrounds to the scenes, which I thought was a lovely idea. It rather cut back on space on the stage that meant it felt a bit cramped at times, but it broadly worked. Having the puppeteers come on with spare legs to mimic the flying sequences was quite fun in a daft way, particularly when they were little baby legs for the Ghost of Christmas Present section.

It's a small cast but I particularly liked Samantha Spiro in her best Barbara Windsor impression for the Ghost of Christ has Present, slapping Scrooge around and chasing him with strobe lights taking us back to a reverse Benny Hill. I also liked Amelia Bullmore as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge's mother. And, of course, it was great to see Jim Broadbent on stage for the first time. He's been around for a long time but I hadn't seen him before, but he gave a lovely, warm performance that made me smile.

I'm pleased I saw this in the run-up to the big day - it's on for another few weeks so there's still time to see it. 

Saturday, 26 December 2015

'Guys and Dolls' at The Savoy Theatre

I saw this new version of 'Guys and Dolls' at Chichester last year where it first played and it has now come into London at the Savoy before going on tour. It's jut as colourful and fast-paced as I remember it. There have been a few cast changes but it still features Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide and Jamie Parker as Sky Masterson, with new additions David Haig as Nathan Detroit and Siubhan Harrison as Sarah Brown.

You now the story of gamblers and nightclub singers in New York crossed with the Salvation Army and a trip to Cuba. Nathan's trying to set up a game and Sky is challenged to taking Sergeant Sarah to Cuba for dinner and he does so on the basis that he will provide twelve guaranteed sinners to Sarah's congregation the following night. It all goes right and then oh so wrong as Miss Adelaide and Nathan break up and Sky and Sarah fall in love. O dear, life is never straight-forward is it? Will it all work out in the end? I can't possibly tell you, you'll have to go and see it for yourself.

Sophie is great fun as the ageing Miss Adelaide who's been engaged to Nathan for a mere 14 years and never seems to move towards marriage. She hates his gambling but she loves him and can't help it. She milked every line at least twice for every laugh and she got the laughs too. David Haig was great as Nathan, very natural and slotted in nicely - they played off each other very well and had great timing. Jamie was good as Sky but I was less convinced by Siubhan as Sarah - I couldn't help but wonder what Julie Covington was like in the role back in the early 80s with the much-lauded revival at the National Theatre. I liked Gavin Spokes as Nicely Nicely, one of Nathan's gamblers who gets the show-stopping moment of 'Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat' towards the end and a great scene it is too. The other big show-stopper is Sky's 'Luck, Be A Lady' in the sewers beneath Manhattan when he wins twelve souls for Sarah at a game of dice and won back his marker.

If you get the chance, go and see this show, either at the Savoy or while it's on tour in 2016, it's well worth it.

The Unthanks at Union Chapel

The Unthanks have been around for 10 years now and are going on tour to celebrate that fact. That does, of course, include time spent being called Rachel Unthanks & The Winterset and that's what I first saw them as in 2009 in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House. They always seem to pick the right venues for them. Rachel mentioned a couple of times that Union Chapel was her favourite venue and, with the lighting, the Christmas Tree, and the backlit rose window, it was certainly very atmospheric.

The set opened with Rachel and Becky singing together and gradually welcoming the band on stage, slowly growing until we had the full band of 10 members including strings and brass. Just voices to the small band to the big band, touching on the albums over the last ten years. Rachel and Becky were both in sparkly frocks for the start of the festive season and the gorgeous lighting and Christmas Tree in the corner near the stage made it feel like the start of Christmas, especially when, for the encore, the rose window of the chapel was lit. That was really a very nice effect. I haven't seen them with such a 'big' light show before, so they were clearly putting their all into these 10th anniversary performances.

It was a show of two halves with a break in the middle to get drinks or merch - I chose to get merch in the form of the new rarities album which both lasses signed for me. I also had a little chat with Becky about growing up in the same village - years apart, obviously.

Favourite songs of the evening included 'On A Monday Morning', 'Lucky Gilchrist', 'King Of Rome', 'The Romantic Tees' and 'Shipbuilding'. One of the last songs was their new Christmas song, '2000 Miles', which sounded excellent and is on the new album 'Archive Treasures'. The encore was 'Tar Barrel In Dale', a previous Christmas song, and a lovely version of 'Here's The Tender Coming' followed by lots of clapping.

It was lovely to see the lasses and The Unthanks again and listen to their thoughtful, gentle music again. Come back again soon.

And thanks to Twitter posts for the photos!

Monday, 21 December 2015

'' at the National Theatre

Went to see the new musical on the block, '' at the National Theatre last Saturday and I really wanted to like it. Not so much because it was (at least in part) by Damon Albarn but because I wanted a new magical Christmas show. In the event my expectations were far too high and that probably affects my view of the production. No, I didn't really like it and I think that's because it tried to cram too much into the plot, too many strands of social concern for it to work.

It's based loosely on the 'Alice In Wonderland' stories but, in this case, wonderland is an online app, hence the annoying 'dot' in the title of the play (it's pronounced wonder-dot-land). It's the tale of a girl who's bullied at school and who finds the new online game that means she can create an avatar rather than be herself. She's called Alice, of course, as is the head teacher, who takes over the school girl's phone and discovers the game. She takes over the avatar and starts to rule the wonderland as a cruel queen. Alice, of course, has to fight back and eventually wins. bringing her parents back together in the process.

It's quite spectacular in its way with a very creative use of the video wall at the back of the stage, odd costumes and very little set but it needs a narrative to take it forward and a bunny with a strange face and ears isn't sufficient for that. I was disappointed. Let's leave it at that.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

'Pericles' at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe

'Pericles' is one of those Shakespeare plays that I've never quite got round to, either seeing it or reading it, but it's on at the lovely candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe so it's a good opportunity to see it. It's one of those oddities that seems to have the first half written by another playwright and the second half written my Mr Shakespeare - and it shows. The quality of the writing - and the story-telling is vastly different and the second half is obviously better, and, let's face it, more interesting.

It's the picaresque tale of Pericles, the Prince of Tyre and his adventures, most of which seem to involve the sea and storms and shipwrecks. Pericles seems to be a nice enough bloke but he doesn't half get into some scrapes. He seeks the hand of a princess and when he discovers she's in an incestuous relationship with her dad the king he runs back to Tyre. From there he's advised to flee and get shipwrecked only to fall for another princess (it happens) who he wins and marries.  When she's heavily pregnant they decide that's the opportune time to head back to Tyre and she dies in childbirth, is buried at sea and the resultant daughter fostered to another king and queen.

The second half starts 16 years later and the baby has grown up into a virtuous young lady who is kidnapped and sold as a slave to a brothel but Pericles is told that she died. But she uses her wit to retain her virtue and is eventually brought on board yet another ship to try to cheer up an old man with her conversation. And that's when she learns that the old man is her father and Pericles learns that his daughter is alive. It's all rather convoluted and goes on a bit but it's nice to have finally seen it, and seen it at the Sam Wanamaker with candle all over.

I can't pretend it was one of my favourite plays of the year - the acting was solid but the material doesn't send it flying. James Garnon was good as Pericles and Jessica Baglow as fun as his daughter, Marina. I'm pleased to have seen it at last.  And here's the real Pericles...

Top 30 Music over the last 10 years or so

Do you remember the olden days of this blog, when the Plastic Bag was all shiny and new and not a crease in sight? Well, in the olden days I used to put up lists of what music I'd been listening to and all sorts so I thought, to note the end of the 10 calendar year of the Bag, I'd list my all-time most played artists according to Last.FM.

In total, it tells me that I've listened to 3,034 different artists and my Top 30, in descending order, are:

1. Buffy Sainte-Marie
2. Maximo Park
3. The Human League
4. Suzanne Vega
5. Poly Styrene
6. David Bowie
7. Kirsty MacColl
9. Amanda Palmer
10. Madonna

Are there any surprises there? I'm a bit surprised that Bowie is so high in the list and that Madonna is in the top 10. With Bowie, I rarely 'binge' listen but he's usually in my playlists somewhere and with Madonna, I suspect her position is due to her last album ('Rebel Heart') that I've listened to a lot. The others? Yes, I'd expect to see them in my top 10.

11. Kim Wilde
12. Pet Shop Boys
13. X-Ray Spex
14. Petula Clark
15. The Dresden Dolls
16. Blondie
17. Boy George
18. Siouxsie & The Banshees
19. Beverley Knight
20. Kate Bush

In the teens, I suspect Siouxsie is so high due to the re-releases of all the Banshees albums over the last few years and her gigs as part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival a couple of years ago. Kate Bush is there due her gigs at Hammersmith (obv). I don't recall listening to a lot of Pet Shop Boys or The Dresden Dolls this year so their position probably relies on massive listens in previous years.

21. Public Image Ltd
22. Patti Smith
23. T.Rex
24. Marianne Faithfull
25. The B-52's
26. The Kinks
27. Donna Summer
28. Mary J Blige
29. Viv Albertine
30. P!nk
The 20s are all staples in my playlists and the only one I'm surprised at is The Kinks, although this is probably due to binging on Kinks songs when seeing the stage musical. P!nk should be higher up the list since I used to amend the '!' in her name to an 'i' (i.e. proper English) so a lot of plays won't be counted.
That's one of the oddities of lists and Last.FM since it only counts things in a certain way. Just as P!nk would be higher if plays under the two names were added together then so would Siouxsie (add Siouxsie solo to the Banshees and the Creatures) then she'd be in my top 5. Equally, if I added Amanda Palmer to Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra and the Dresden Dolls - and Evelyn Evelyn if you must - then Amanda would be at number two.
Who do you listen to?

Friday, 18 December 2015

'The Nutcracker' by The Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House

What could be more Christmassy than seeing 'The Nutcracker' at the grand Royal Opera House with enormous Christmas trees and sparkly garlands wrapped around the pillars outside? O yes, the look of the place raises the ante for the show and it delivered to all my expectations. What a wonderful show!

I've seen Matthew Bourne's interpretation of the story a couple of times and loved it, but this was my first viewing of the 'traditional' show and featured the choreography of Peter Wright. And what a marvellous show it was too, perfect for Christmas, especially since it's set at Christmas.

It's Christmas Eve and Clara is given the Nutcracker, a toy that contains the soul of Hans-Peter, the magician and toy-maker's nephew. She creeps downstairs after the party to make sure the toy is all right and is transported to a magical world as the Christmas Tree grows and grows and the toy soldiers battle with the mice and their king. Clara and the Nutcracker prevail to be transported to the Land of Snow with ballerina's as snowflakes filling the stage. After the half-time we go to the court of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince for some grand entertainments before returning to Clara's home before dawn and, astonishingly, Hans-Peter is now free from the Nutcracker and loans Clara his cape to protect her from the snow and cold. Our hero is safe and who knows what might happen in the future…

I loved this production! The magic and beauty of the whole thing, the enormous Christmas Tree growing and growing as Clara shrinks, the wonderful snowflakes and then the Fairy and her Prince. O wow. Once again, it drives home to me that ballet isn't just a load of athletic young people doing their stuff on stage, it's the whole production - the music, the dance, the sets, the costumes, the lighting and the whole atmosphere of the thing that ignites the Art.

I loved our heroes in Francesca Hayward as Clara and Alexander Campbell as the Nutcracker, Gary Avis as the magician with his swirling cloak and the lovely Iana Salenko and Steven McRae as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince (who were also my Romeo and Juliet). Thank you Royal Ballet for introducing me to 'The Nutcracker' and welcoming in Christmas!

'In The Heights' at Kings Cross Theatre

Finally got round to seeing 'In The Heights', the Southwark Playhouse's production of the much lauded Broadway show that's been put on at Kings Cross Theatre. Yes, Kings Cross Theatre was a new one on me too, but I think it's a temporary theatre space behind Kings Cross station until the powers that be finally decide what to do with that area. 'In The Heights' was, I think, just starting it's Broadway run on one of our New York trips but didn't see it so this was a chance to see what all the fuss was about.

'In The Heights' is the 'rap musical' set in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan over a few hot summer days in the early 2000s. It's the Puerto Rican area and everyone knows everyone else and their business, a close-knit community threatened on all sides by rising rents and the challenges of modern living. It's the real world, kids. We have Usnavi who runs the local shop, Daniela who has the local hairdressers and centre of gossip and Kevin who runs the local cab company, it's all very local. And their stories inter-twine and develop. Over a few days they all learn, they all evolve and become different people - or maybe they expose the people they really all were all along?

So, okay, there's nothing new in the story to the show - boy fancies girl he grew up with, girl wants to better herself, girl finds she fancies boy then the lights go out - but I liked it. It's not the show, it's the energy I liked, the full-on commitment of the cast, the beaming smiles of the ensemble during the dance numbers, the whole thing. I even bought a programme.

I liked Sam Mackay as our hero, Usnavi (i.e. US Navy as inscribed on the side of ship) even though his delivery of the rap was a bit white-boy Eminem, and the heavily pregnant Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Daniela (who I saw and enjoyed in 'A Chorus Line' a few years back). Lily Frazer was great as Nina, the girl who escapes the neighbourhood to go to university bout comes back as a drop-out, and what a great voice and presence she has. I must also mention Jade Ewen, the last Sugababe, who plays Vanessa, the girl who wants to get on for her acting and singing and the incredibly short skirts.

I liked it and it's great fun. Go and see it!