things i’ve seen this year and not got round to blogging about (January)

2014 has been exceptionally busy. I haven’t had a chance to blog about all the wonderful things that I’ve been able to experience – and to be honest, I worry that if I don’t blog about them, they’ll be erased from my memory just through so many other things piling in!

So, I have been making the most of living in this wonderful, cultured city – I’ve seen so many widely diverse shows, it makes me feel alive! God bless London!

Death Ship 666

The first show I saw this year, so I did actually manage to get around to blogging about it, before I got bogged down in being such a culture vulture!! See my full blog post here.

The Lost World, Barts Pathology Museum

The Lost World at Barts Pathology Museum
The Lost World at Barts Pathology Museum

Two treats in one – a visit to the amazing Barts Pathology Museum where you can peruse the fascinating and gory exhibits of medical interest in the many cases and jars (from leprous hands to a flashlight that was extracted from an ancient flashlight that was extracted from a soldier that had obviously ‘fallen’ onto it backwards) and a silent film that I hadn’t seen before.

As part of their Silent Film season, the £7.50 entrance fee included popcorn and a Hendricks giin and tonic. The Lost World (1925), based on the book by Conan Doyle (and featuring him at the start), it was the inspiration for Jurassic Park and King Kong. And it was brilliant. The stop motion animated dinosaurs felt way ahead of their time, and the acting was wonderfully non-purposely comedic. I loved it. One of the best moments was after they had carefully and painstakingly gone through the process of capturing one of the huge creatures, the caption “Later in London…” is shown, removing the need for a return journey 🙂 Brilliant!

The Pink Singers, Cadogan Hall

The Time Of My Life
The Time Of My Life

The Pink Singers are London’s LGBT choir, and in January they put on a great show at Cadogan Hall of a selection of songs from some well-known and well-loved films.  There was a great energy amongst the singers, and some fantastic high-points. I may not enjoy “I Will Always Love You” but there was no denying the sheer talent of the MALE soloist who belted out a perfect rendition. the haunting “Mad World” was my highlight though. Beautiful 🙂

Frank Skinner, Leicester Square Theatre

Frank Skinner
Frank Skinner

I was lucky to be given a friend’s ticket for Frank Skinner’s ‘Man in A Suit’ – a prelude to his tour that starts next month. After a seven year break from stand-up, he’s changed a bit. Now a father, teetotal and in his mid-50s, he’s not quite the lad that he used to be in his Fantasy Football days. He was warm and witty and relaxed, rather than outlandish and shocking with loud belly laughs. It’s not often that you get knob jokes and haikus in the same show.

death ship 666, leicester square theatre

Death Ship 666
Death Ship 666

On a whim, me and my mate booked tickets for this, just down to the name and the poster really.

It was on a Sunday afternoon, and sounded like it may be just the (pretty cheap) ticket for a prospectively grim day.

Death Ship 666 is only half built (and even that’s pretty shabby), and is on its maiden voyage to the Bermuda Triangle. What could possibly go wrong?

A parody of Titanic, it’s a fast-paced, clever farce, drawing on the audience’s knowledge of the film, theatrical cliches, puns and with plenty more clever dialogue.

The cast of six take an a vast array of roles – in fact, during the only musical number (and very amusing it is), one of them has to don two suit halves to sing as his two leading characters – and he pulls it off very successfully too!

It was a laugh from start to finish, and we came out into the rain with a warm glow and a big smile on our faces – sinking ships, brash Americans, nasty posh people, an evil genius, big floppy hair, a 50’s style child detective, a mad captain, doomed lovers and added bears! What’s not to like?

Death Ship 666 has one more show at the Leicester Square Theatre at 2pm on Sunday 23rd February. It wasn’t quite sold out when we went, but I reckon word will get around – so why not book it? You can’t go wrong for just £12.50.

back to creative writing school – bridget whelan

Back To Creative Writing School – Bridget Whelan


As I have mentioned before, I did a couple of terms-worth of creative writing courses at City Lit end of last year, beginning of this.

I was excruciatingly nervous about this, having not written anything ‘creative’ for years – and definitely not being a college kind of girl.  However, all of my fears were soon put to rest by our wonderful tutor, Bridget Whelan.

She was unfortunately unable to take our class for the second term, and I think the all of the students that had continued missed her a great deal.

For me, one of the best parts of Bridget’s classes were the exercises that she used to set within the lesson, to get our creative juices flowing – and I was especially pleased to recognise some of these in the creative writing book that she has just published.

The book is set into three terms, each consisting of ten lessons and gives not only tools and exercises to help writers work on their creativity, but also warns of some of the pitfalls.

I am in the lucky position of being able to ‘hear’ Bridget throughout the book – but I think her warmth, wit and genuine love of writing and writers comes across in every page.  Bridget has taught many creative writing students, and I think you can really tell from her style that she’s enjoyed this, as above all it’s fun!  And fun definitely helps!

This is a fantastic book for writers at any stage – whether you’re trying for the first time to get something onto a pristeen page, looking for a little inspiration or (like me) need to kick your arse into gear to actually write something when you thought your creativity well may have run dry.

As she says, this book will NOT enable you to write a bestseller in a weekend, win competitions or become a rich and famous novelist, but it will certainly help set you on the path, and steer you away from some of the more dangerous obstacles.

Just £1.70 for Kindle on Amazon, it is actually going to be free to download for 24 hours Monday 2nd December (tomorrow) from 8am. You can’t ask for better value than that!

e17 storywalk

As part of the Words Over Waltham Forest literary festival currently being held, there was an E17 Storywalk event yesterday.

Over two hours an audience visited six venues in Walthamstow and at each they heard a short story created especially to feature the place where they were standing, read out by the story’s author.  the walk was free, but voluntary donations of a suggested £5 were collected for Lloyd Park Children’s Centre.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the authors unfortunately dropped out, and I was aksed whether I’d be interested in taking their place. Rather nervously, I agreed – my reasons at the time purely being to help the group out (of which I only knew one) rather than for myself.

The venue that I was given was Lot One Ten – a curious little antique shop less than five minutes walk from my flat.  Due to current personal time constraints, I literally had about three to four hours to write my story, which I did last Saturday.  So, that was the main obstacle out of the way.

However, the thought of reading my own work out to a group of strangers absolutely terrified me. I tried it out on my lovely mate – but I know he would have said it was good even if he thought it was crap!  I didn’t get a wink of sleep the night before, and woke up a bit sniffly, which didn’t help at all.

It also didn’t help that the others reading their stories out were all ‘writers’ – unlike me!

Filled with trepidation, I wandered down to the library where the walk was due to start.

Reading my story, with the other writers, my venue and the poster

The authors and venues were:

Each group had about 20 in the audience – and it was especially cosy on my one – but we fit everyone in.

The other five stories were fantastic, and I think we all relaxed after the morning group as the readings felt even stronger the second time round.

Poor Ken gave himself the short straw as his was the only outdoors venue. The first time round we were ambushed by a drunk piss-drenched Polish guy who demanded a tenner off the group to make him leave us alone. Luckily he was convinced to leave us alone without getting a tenner!  I’d like to think that it enhanced the colourful atmosphere of Ken’s story.  The scond time round it started raining pretty heavily and the wind really picked up – literally JUST for the time that Ken was reading.

All other readings were pretty uneventful in comparison!

I hope that anyone who did come enjoyed it – unexpectedly, once I’d resigned myself to the fact that I was actally there and just had to get on with it, I really, really enjoyed myself. And I met a great bunch of people, which helps! I’d totally be up for something like that again.

Paekakariki Press are printing a booklet featuring all six stories in the next 2-3 weeks, which some of our audience have already ordered. I’m very excited about this as I see it as my first instance of being ‘published’.

I must say, although he originally got me into this, I couldnt have done it without Simon’s help. He waded in and helped edit my brain-dump first draft and was brilliant at it!

So, despite my fears, it was a brilliant experience – what next?!!?

beardyman, comedy cafe

Beardyman improvises 'Release The Midget'
Beardyman improvises ‘Release The Midget’

I’ve seen the brilliant Beardyman (beatboxer extraordinaire!) three or four times over the years.  I think the first time was at Lovebox when he did a fantastic medley of Groove Armada songs.

I have a real soft spot for beatboxing, but he remains my favourite.  So, when I spotted that he was doing a gig in Shoreditch where he will create a brand new album in an hour from suggestions from the audience, I was well in there!  Beatboxing and improv?  It’s like this was aimed specifically at me!

He was better than I could have imagined.  He took to the stage peddling his wares and had the crowd onside from the start.  He was engaging and FUNNY, and certainly gauged the audience right.

Aided by his ‘Beardytron5000MKII’ decks/mixer (?!) that enabled him to add many layers and textures to the brand new compositions as he went along (everything made up live on the spot), the only instrument other than his voice was an electric guitar that he used for a couple of ‘prog rock’ style tracks.

As well as that, we had songs in the style of Lionel Richie, Prince, rave, reggae (starring Rastamouse), his fantastic drum n bass, house and even a Britney Spears style pop track called Heatwave that he ended up having to break from after he caught himself dancing around and singing in a high-pitched voice.  He held his head in his hands and shouted at us for what we’d made him do.  Secretly, I think he might have enjoyed it a little.  Track names from the audience included Mousehead, Release The Midget, Strawberry Blue, Dragon Tears, Lyrical Spaceman and Chelsea Cocks.

As an additional treat, improvised graphics were expertly created by mr_hopkinson &

Energy was high, beatboxing was incomparable, choons were awesome and there were huge laughs.

This was a warm-up for a show at the Edinburgh Fringe…so I highly recommend it if you’re going!

the school of night, king’s place


The School Of Night
The School Of Night

I mentioned quite recently how much I love King’s Place, and especially the improv comedy that we have seen there recently.

A couple of weeks ago we saw the fabulous ‘The School of Night‘.

All I had kind of taken from the listing was that this was going to be ‘improvised Shakespeare’. I know – I kept thinking “How on earth is improvised Shakespeare going to work AND be funny?” – I was tempted to apologise to my mate in advance for dragging him out to something so odd, but I didn’t…we only paid £9.50 after all, and everything’s an experience.

I really needn’t have worried. We were in stitches throughout. This was exceedingly clever comedy. The very first ‘act’ saw the players takng random books from the audience, and getting another audience member to pick a page to start reading from.  The player started reading, and then after a couple of minutes, the book was taken away, and they carried on narrating in the same style. You simply couldn’t tell at which point they had stopped reading and started improvising. Clever stuff!

Our Shakespeare play, formed from suggestions shouted from the audience featured ‘a famous person’, which someone gave, “Scott of the Antartic” and they laughed and said that perhaps the antartic wasn’t very Shakespearian, so could we suggest somewhere else cold and grim. “Sunderland!” was the response. And somewhere he could be? “At a factory!” And what could the factory be making? And this was my moment! I actually had my suggestion woven into an improv comedy. “JAM!!”  And would this be a comedy, historical, a tragedy?  A tragedy decided the audience!

So, King Scott of Sunderland started off in a jam factory and ended up traversing the seas to the Antartic in a tragic Shakespearian tale.

And it was wonderful, it was hilarious, and it was indeed tragic. There were bad omens, ghosts, murder and odd comedic characters that you couldn’t understand what they were going on about, but were ripe with innuendo.  Perfect!

If you have half a brain (or preferably a whole one), make sure you get to see this fabulous troupe – they will not disappoint!  They are playing various festivals and of course the Edinburgh Fringe.  I hope they come back to London soon so I can see them again, and take ALL my friends 🙂

before the party, almeida theatre

Katherine Parkinson & Stella Gonet

It’s been a few weeks since I went to see Before The Party at the Almeida, but  I just haven’t got around to posting a review (in fact there are a few that I have meant to get around to posting that I haven’t yet.  I’ve been too busy ‘going out’ to blog recently!)

Before The Party was written by Rodney Ackland and originally showed at the St Martin’s Theatre in 1949, starring Constance Cummings as Laura.

In the Almeida production, Katherine Parkinson played Laura.  I have to admit that it was this casting that originally caught my eye, as we had recently seen her in Alan Ayckbourn’s Absent Friends, and she had been fantastic.

Her mother was played by Stella Gonet, who I only know from being Beatrice in The House of Elliot (you know, the older, blonde sister who wasn’t the elegant dark-bobbed one that we all wanted to be at the time!)

The reast of the cast were great too, but I have to admit, I didn’t recognise any of the names (although I am sure I probably should have done!).

Before The Party is set in two halves, before two parties on the same day.  The only location is Laura’s bedroom, that the whole family tends to come together in whilst they are getting ready for firstly a garden party at a local family home where ‘anyone who’s anyone’ is going to be.  The second the family themselves are hosting as an impromptu supper party as the garden party suffers from a proper English downpour.

And ‘proper English’ is what it’s all about.  It’s all about society, etiquette and the false veneer of morailty that those of a certain class felt they needed to hide behind at that time.

Laura’s shocking secrets about her marriage and the death of her husband that she has hid from everyone including her family are forced into the open – and the family have to decide how to act both on this, and the fact that she has become romantically involved with an apparent nobody.

The tension on the stage between the characters was very well written, and the claustraphobia of the one location was often felt, especially by Laura who was constantly asking people to leave her alone in her own room.

Fantastic costumes, a brilliant set – the staircase just outside the door was a particularly good touch, and well-written, believable, although not particulalrly likeable characters.  A wonderful (but occasionally uncomfortable) snippet of middle-class English family life in the late 40s.

“confessions” by the maydays, king’s place

The Maydays

King’s Place has become quite a favourite venue of mine.  Not only is it very easy for me to get to both from work and to/from home, their two halls aren’t VERY big, and therefore all seats get a good view…and if you book online and are happy to be allocated a seat on the day ALL performances are just £9.50!


Due to this, I’ve already tried a couple of new things that I may not necessarily have come across – the D’arcylicious Austentatious (who we have since seen again elsewhere) and the excellent Storytellers’ Club.  I have also been regularly going to the amazing Not So Silent Movies on a Sunday afternoon – but more on that another time.

it seems to be a place to discover great improv comedy, as we found last week when we went along to enjoy The Maydays and their ‘Confessions’ show.

Audience members are invited to write down a confession which are then all placed in a pot on the stage.  Confessions can be anything – from stealing a penny sweet when you were six to cheating with your sister’s boyfriend (I think that did actually come up as a ‘what you could have had’ at the end.)

The troupe (ably assisted by not-Richard Vranch at the piano – I think his name was Joe) then improvise either a sketch, song or combination of both ON THE SPOT! WITH HARMONIES AND EVERYTHING!!

Some confessions are naturally more comedic than others, but it’s not necessarily the confession that secures the laughter.  One person on our night had written a confession that contained exstensive emoticons and exclamation marks etc and instead of concentrating just on the confession, they wove using emoticons verbally with other expressive noises into a sketch. and it was good. and we all laughed heartily!

In the final half, they invite someone to ‘confess’ in front of the audience, giving a bit more meat and background to their confession, and they then performed a series of sketches and songs based on that one confession. I think we were particularly lucky to have a meaty confession concerning drugs being brought back through border control on a coach after working in Holland for a few months.

There was a lot of mileage in that one – but, The Maydays didn’t actually just go for all the obvious ones, and sometimes they went off at such a tangent, you could see the troupe members who weren’t performing cracking up at what was going on at some points.

And I think that summed it up – they obviously know each other well, can read each other, love what they do and are bloody good at it!

They usually appear at the Leicester Square Theatre (same as Austentatious!) but will also be at the Brighton Fringe (as that’s where they’re based).  And they run Improv Comedy Classes too – how tempting is that!?

in the beginning was the end, somerset house

in the beginning was the end
unfortunately we never saw this happen!

I do love theatre, and I do love things that are a little ‘different’ – so I was looking forward to the promenade, site-responsive theatre production by DreamThinkSpeak at Somerset House recently called In The Beginning Was The End.

The blurb didn’t really say much about it to be honest:  “A new large-scale, site-responsive theatre production, inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, The Book of Revelation and the world of Mechatronics

Take a journey through the maze-like underground passages and unseen spaces of King’s College and Somerset House into a world of calamitous accidents and divine revelations.

Mixing Leonardo-inspired hydraulics and modern mechanical engineering with dreamthinkspeak’s special blend of film, installation and live performance, it reveals a vision of the world either on the verge of collapse – or the brink of rebirth.

dreamthinkspeak return to Somerset House after the sell-out success of their 2004 show Don’t Look Back.”  But hey, that’s all good, isn’t it?

I had experienced the fantastic Punch Drunk’s Black Diamond production around the streets of Shoreditch that was a completely immersive experience, and also to the amazing The New World Order by Hydrocracker – a site-responsive piece within Shoreditch Town Hall. I had also been to the Barbican’s promenade performance of Hansel & Gretel by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which was also excellent.  So I had high hopes for this, which was by comparison a lot more expensive!

We were ushered in groups of ten across a courtyard, and down some steps and through a maze of corridors to a meeting room, with a screen showing us the events in another similar meeting room.

We were joined by one of the actors and off we went – it started off very promising, complete with alarms, a bit of running, lab coats and foreign language.

And then it kind of fizzled out for quite a while. We were left to wander aimlessly around darkened labs with bleeping equipment and books of research.  That was quite interesting for a while.  i wondered if we were meant to be looking for clues – but nothing jumped out at me really.

I played with some of the dials and made some old-fashioned frequency waves change oscillation and felt a bit naughty for doing so, but I really didn’t know what I was meant to be doing or experiencing.

There were some models and screens with various scenarios showing, and once we got round, I realised that they had been depicting ‘scenes’ to come.  There were a couple of scientists that were working at their benches too – one powering a light with lemons and another writing formulas on a wall.

They interacted with us, but in a Germanic-sounding language, which was quite amusing.

We were then ushered into a bright shiny succession of rooms that were meant to be within a company making innovative products – and we were introduced to these products, again in a mainly indecipherable language.  This was by far the best part of the production.

After visiting their labs, we went to their ‘Complaints Centre’ where a team of workers sat, eventually indivdiually showing their distaste for their employees by having a mental breakdown, stripping off completely and cli,bing a spiral staircase at set intervals.

It was rather beautiful and dramatic to see this spectacle, but being British, I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to be looking.  this wasn’t helped by one of the guys appearing to have a semi-on – especially has he kept catching my eye and grinning slightly.  I did start to wonder whether he was even part of the production, or if he was an audience member who’d decided to have a go himself – he seemed totally contrasting to the rest of them. or maybe THAT was part of the show too!

Oh it’s all so confusing!

The literature that we were given only as we left mentions Da Vinci, The Koran, John the Baptist and the Bible but I found the whole thing a little dull, confusing and very much style over substance.  I like surreal, but this was rather too obscure for my tastes.  Far too conceptual.

Also, the literature tells me that the piece is meant to raise the question of whether we are really in a world of development or a world of collapse.  That wasn’t something I had picked up on through my 70 minute aimless wandering – and perhaps I should have had some literature to go round with – some friendly signposts as to what I was meant to be thinking or feeling – or even just taking notice of!

people, national theatre (live cinema broadcast)

Frances De La tour & Linda Bassett

I don’t think I have ever seen an Alan Bennett play – in fact, until I read Smut with the E17 Book Club last year, I don’t think I had even read an Alan Bennett book!

So, I wanted to see People at the National Theatre – but by the time I thought to book it, the reasonably-priced tickets had all gone for weeks ahead.  So, I was very excited to see that there was a live broadcast being shown at the Hackney Picturehouse as I’m a member.

I watched the Theatre Live series recently on Sky Arts, presented by Sandi Toksvig and had really enjoyed that kind of theatre / live TV hybrid. However, I had no idea what to expect from a National Theatre screening.

Obviously everything is timed, and we got a lovely view of the audience as they were all filing into the theatre, and waiting for the play to start.  Then Emma Freud appeared to tell us that we were now getting to watch a 5 minute film about the play. Now THAT is something you don’t get at the theatre!

Frances De La Tour plays practically hermit-like ex-model Lady Dorothy Stacpoole – current owner of the family stately home that hasn’t been able to afford the upkeep on for many years.  She lives in mainly one room with her faithful ‘companion’, Iris played by the wonderful Linda Bassett.

Her arch-deacon sister (Selina Cadell) is trying to persuade her to give the home over to the National Trust, but Dorothy abhors ‘people’.  The thought of them traipsing all over her family’s precious land and property, just for the experience – although not actually experiencing it – is more than she can bear.  She is also being ‘wooed’ by an auctioneer (the fabulous Miles Jupp) who believes he can offer her more than just an attic sale.

When she has a surprise visit by an old friend from her modelling days, Dorothy wonders whether he could prove to be her rather unconventional salvation – much to the disgust of her sister.

I absolutely loved this play.  The mixture of ‘very proper’ and ‘downright improper’ reminded me very much of “The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson” within Smut.  Parts of it seemed quite farcical, but the contrast of those moments with the deeper, darker ones felt very well-placed, very Bennett.

De La Tour commanded the stage and made Dorothy feel completely real – aided and abetted by the beautifully comedic timing of Linda Bassett.

I have to say that I think the screening of this was fantastic, and I may have enjoyed it more than if I had seen it live in the theatre. Unexpectedly, there were many cameras, given shots from many angles, close-ups and panning shots.

The stage set was wonderful, and I believe I may have missed a lot fo that from the ‘cheap seats’.  I think I may also have lost a lot of the emotion in the performances, seeing them from afar.  the cameras kind of directed you to where you should be looking.  So I think that this was definitely a total success for National Theatre Live.

I have actually already booked to see the live screening of The Audience with Helen Mirren, so I am looking forward to that even more now.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to the theatre, and the whole experience of it, so don’t believe that live screenings can replace the feeling of ‘being there’, but now that I have been to one, I am happy to acknowledge that it is a very, very enjoyable second best!

People is showing at the National Theatre until 15th May 2013.

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