reasons to be pretty, almeida theatre

Reasons to be pretty

I went to see this a couple of weeks ago, but have been incredibly slack at blogging recently!

I first went to the Almeida just a couple of months ago to see My City, which was really good – and I fell in love with the place!

This play is by Neil LaBute and is said to “…examines our perception of beauty and asks whether it is as much of a curse to be conventionally attractive as it is to be considered ugly.”  It’s the last of a trilogy of plays including The Shape Of Things and Fat Pig (which I was tempted to see but didn’t get around to a while ago).

I don’t think it really explored it THAT much, but perhaps that was because the girl in it who was supposedly ‘plain’ really wasn’t at all – in fact she was the same actress that we saw in My City (Sian Brooke).

There were only four in the play – and they were all absolutely brilliant – including Billie Piper whose character I think had been rewritten slightly to take into account that she is currently pregnant.

The only thing that grated on me was the fact that they all spoke with American accents – although their accents were really good (to my ear), I couldn’t help thinking that it was unnecessary seeing as they were all British and in a play in London!

However, it didn’t affect my enjoyment – it was brilliantly acted, believable, really delved into the intricacies of relationships and the opening scene could probably keep up with the number of ‘fucks’ in the opening scene of Four Weddings (but it was WAY better than that, don’t worry!).

Kieran Bew played the typical ‘want it all’ jerk to perfection and Tom Burke played that kind of lazy, calm, slightly stoned-seeming unmotivated unskilled worker that I love in American ‘cult’ films (think the fabulous Office Space) to perfection.  He was absolutely brilliant.

I thoroughly recommend!

my city, almeida theatre

My City

I have never actually been to the Almeida Theatre before, and it’s an absolutely lovely little place!  nestled just off of Upper Street, it’s one of those landmarks that as a Londoner, you always know is there and until you actually go, you don’t realise that you’ve never been!

So, I was having HUGE second thoughts about going to see My City as a couple of days before we were due to go, I rather stupidly read some reviews, and the word ‘tedious’ was used in one, and ‘flat’ used in another.  So I moaned at my mate for having conned me into seeing something awful.

However, there is usually an interval, and a chance to escape these things – and it was a night out anyway (and we’d already bought the tickets) so along we went.

I actually rather enjoyed it!

One evening, Richard finds his old headmistress laying on a bench in London.  She had a huge influence on him when he was younger, and he is intrigued to find out what has happened to her since then, why she is lying on a bench and why she seems to have taken to wandering the streets all niht.  So he arranges to meet her and a couple of other former teachers, along with his friend Julie from his class who they had also had a huge impact on.  however, their evening takes a rather surreal turn.

Tracy Ullman played the former headmistress, and she did an absolutely splendid job.  There were many ‘memories’ played out – and she really conveyed the ‘essence of headmistress’ admirably, ably assisted by her quirky support staff.  Many of these segments (and other parts of the play) were stories – and it was the stories that were told that were the most touching parts really, rather than the interaction between the characters.

The first half was actually really good.  However, the second half let it down a bit.  There seemed to be a lot of  unnecessary shouting, a rather awkward and surreal scene that went on a little too long, not quite as many stories and rather too many pregnant pauses.

All in all, I thought it was enjoyable enough – I wouldn’t shout it from the rooftops that everyone should see it, but it was a nice night out in a lovely venue, with some really entertaining scenes and stories and all the actors were actually REALLY good (Sian Brooke, Tom Riley, Sorcha Cusack, David Troughton).  I can’t wait to go to see Reasons To Be Pretty with Billie Piper there next month.

I wondered whether this theatre-goer realised she was wearing odd shoes!

duckie’s lullaby – pit theatre, barbican

The Lullaby cast

This year, my mate wanted to do something a bit different for his birthday.  This is how last week I ended up sharing a double bed in a theatre overnight with a man who wasn’t The Man, and wondering whether someone had perhaps slipped an E into my mint tea before bed.

I had only ever heard of Duckie in connection with gay nights at the Vauxhall Tavern, so I really wasn’t sure how likely they would be to be able to send me asleep.

And that is the whole idea of ‘Lullaby’ (the clue is in the name).  You pays your money and you decide whether you (and your companions) would like a single, double or even triple bed.  On arrival at Level -2 (about 10pm-ish), you are met with muted lighting and big squidgy sofas (that aren’t usually there).  You sign in and are assigned a bed number.

The Pit Theatre foyer

Pyjamas and slipper-clad attendants show you up to a communal (but not too open-plan) changing room where you brush your teeth, take out your contacts, put your pyjamas on and don your slippers before being shown back down and having any belongings safely locked away for the night.  There was one gay couple there who were wearing matching PJs and had even brought their teddies along with them!

There is hot chocolate or tea (mint, green or camomile only) on offer, before you are ushered in to the Pit Theatre, which has been transformed into a circular stage surrounded by 20+ beds.  You find your own (we had my lucky number – 13) and jump into the lovely crisp clean bedding (provided by Toast).

Once everyone is settled, the show begins.  But this is a show with a difference, it has been created to relax and send you off into a peaceful slumber.  There were som rather bizarre looking animals, some songs, some stories (one about a man who had an imaginary family which I would love to know the end of), a magic show, light shows and dancing octopuses (octopi?).

Just a little bit of a trip!

At one stage, I turned to my mate and said “This must be what it’s like for a baby ALL the time!”.  It felt truly freaky in some parts.  however, it must have done the trick as I usually don’t go to sleep until at least midnight, but just after the interval (for any of those who needed a final wee or fag) I put on my complimentary eye-mask (great idea) and stuck in my complimentary earplugs and apparently drifted off (as I didn’t hear the end of the imaginary family story!)

I felt slightly self-conscious to start with as I do sleep hugging the duvet generally with my bum hanging out the bed!

I think I woke up at my natural waking time (about 6.50am) and of course had no idea what the time was.  I had woken a couple of times during the night, but that is actually less than I usually do, and I went straight back to sleep which is very unusual for me!

At 7.30, we were treated to the ‘Dawn Chorus’ which I thought was a birdsong soundtrack – until I actually sat up and saw that they had put a big coop with lots of little fluffy yellow chicks in the middle of the room with a mic over it.  Everyone put their slippers on and went straight over to soak up the cute fluffiness!

Then it was slipper-shuffling off to a buffet-style breakfast of boiled eggs, croissants, cereal, juice, tea, coffee, jam etc where everyone discussed how they’d slept and what bizarre dreams the show had induced.  And all that was left was to get dressed and leave!

It was an extremely unusual experience, but pretty fun – although I am glad I didn’t do it on my own.

stella artois black presents ‘the black diamond’

2 lovers, 1 thief, 1 diamond

Stella Artois have produced a new lager called Stella Artois Black.  As part of the launch, they were giving free tickets to be part of an immersive theatre experience.

I was intrigued, and managed to get me and my mate a ticket for Wednesday night.  I wasn’t sure how much to say, but the tickets have all sold out, so I don’t think I will be spoiling it for anyone now (although if they have restarted and you haven’t been yet, obviously stop reading now!).

If you watch the trailer, you can get a real feel for the 1960s Paris black & white film feel of it all. The blurb says “”2 lovers. 1 diamond. A thief. A curse. A classic film noir movie coming straight from late night Paris in the 1960s. And you. You are the spectator, but also the actor. Only you will discover the secrets of The Black Diamond.”

Anyway, the confirmation email detailing the venue gave away no details, it was just ‘At The House’ with a street name and postcode in Shoreditch – all very intriguing.

When we got there, the whole house was done up to look like a Parisian apartment (lounge, wine-cellar, dining room, bedroom, bathroom) filled with little curios – postcards, pictures, letters, records, photos etc.  There was French 60s music playing and a general chic party atmosphere with balloons and a handmade banner that spelled out ‘Jaques ♥ Cecile’ in the lounge.

We were busily trying to work out who were ‘guests’ and who were actors, as it wasn’t always immediately obvious, which made it feel even more like we had been invited to this party.  I don’t want to say anything about the actual content of the ‘performance’ but various characters came over and spoke to us as if we were just people they were meeting at a party, and (with prompting) gave us a little of their story.  It was VERY cleverly done.  There was a guy that we spoke to who obviously had a very bad attitude towards Cecile, and my mate kept saying “We should warn them about him!” 😀

The performance end was rather dramatic, and we were literally turfed out onto the street around an hour after we’d arrived (there was another performance afterwards).  It’s definitely made us look forward to the last part which is apparently ‘On The Streets’ and we have to meet at some phone boxes in a station.  Unfortunately the ‘showing’ I’ve booked isn’t for almost a month!

They were serving (free) Stella Artois Black from a discreet bar in the house, and although I’m not a lager drinker usually (apart from with Chinese or Indian or perhaps a Peroni with Italian) I actually really liked it.  It wasn’t as harshly fizzy as some lager – small, pleasant bubbles – almost like a good prosecco!  And the flavour was really mellow.  If it was around, I’d probably be happy to drink it!

love’s labours lost, greek theatre, e17

Gorgeous costumes!

Last night, I went along to see the Greek Theatre Players perform Shakespeare’s Love’s Labours Lost in the garden of The Girl’s school.

I didn’t even know there was a Greek theatre there!  It’s been there for ages apparently, and they’ve recently refurbished it (along with the rest of the school).  The Greek Theatre Players have performed there since 1958 – just one Shakespeare play a year.

I knew nothing about Love’s Labours Lost – and to be honest, it was rather flowery, and I found parts of it difficult to follow.  Basically (from what I could gather), some scholars who have agreed to study with the King of Navarre, and in agreeing to this, they are also agreeing to regular fasting, isolation and no women.  One of the scholars isn’t quite as keen to give all of this up, and questions it.

Then a heavily-accented (but done very well in this case) Spanish swordsman comes to court, and tries to woo a maid.  Also, the Princess, daughter of the King of France arrives with her ladies-in-waiting, and is denied entrance to the court due to the scholars’ agreement.

The play really is all about battles of wit between the scholars and the Princess and her ladies, with them all eventually falling in love (of course), with a few comical asides.

Shakespeare by twilight

I honestly don’t think this was Shakespeare’s best work – and it went on for ever!

However, I generally enjoyed the experience.  All of the actors were fantastic – there were a couple of standouts (the Spaniard, the Princess, Roseline, Maria, Holofernes and Dull (I think).  The costumes were absolutely fabulous – in fact there was one point where one of the actors came and sat next to me for part of a scene, and I was admiring his longcoat!

The setting was also wonderful, and it really suited the play.  However, the weather has been awful this week (after the recent run of good weather, this was such a shame – I think otherwise there may have been a larger audience than the 45 or so that were there), and halfway into the second half, the rain started getting so heavy that we were moved indoors to The Girl’s school theatre.

Although it was nice and warm and dry (and not really windy, so therefore easier to hear), I was very surprised when I realised just how much the unpropped play lost taken out of what felt like its natural setting!

It lost the 'theatre' in the contemporary setting

It was a great experience, although my dodgy coccyx really, really hates me now.  I will definitely go along to whatever they put on next year – although I hope it’s something a little more accessible

guffaw comedy club, rose & crown e17

Everyone likes a laugh, don't they?

So, I have been putting off writing this review from Thursday as I really wasn’t sure where to start.

Now that I have actually started, I realise that I was a bit unprepared as we saw four acts on the night, and I only remember the names of two of them, so I can’t even do a decent review!  What a rubbish blogger I really am!

The Guffaw Comedy Club has been at the Rose & Crown Theatre Pub in Walthamstow for a while now, but I had never been.  Thursday was the last night of the current season (apart from 4 nights in July where there is a fantastic line-up including Richard Herring) and so I was convinced to go along.

The two girls that I went with had been to every show bar one, and said that it had generally been good, and that the headline acts were always really good.  I hadn’t been upstairs into the theatre since they ripped out the bar – it makes a huge difference to the room.  And the removal of the overly sticky carpet has been a vast improvement too.  About 14 years ago, I used to do bar work over the R&C and I used to HATE having to work in the upstairs bar when there were functions!

Susan Murray is the compere/organiser for these shows and even though she’s been moaning about having a cold on Twitter, she seemed on great form  🙂  So, the first guy (whose name I don’t remember) came on.  He is actually from Walthamstow Village and I found him very amusing and personable.  I liked him!

Next was another one whose name I can’t remember.  He started off good, lost it a little in the middle I think, and then ended well with a song on his ukelele about stalking, which he sang to one of the girls I was with and which I found pretty funny.  He was right, dark, disturbing lyrics just become adorable ditties when you accompany them on a ukelele!

Then came Michael Kossew (see, I remembered a name!).  He actually started off really really well – a sketch about the verb ‘to Michael’ someone, which was really funny.  Then at some stage in the proceedings, he just seemed to get very very inappropriate.

Now, this is hard to explain.  I am not easy to shock.  I am not some kind of virginal ‘laydee’.  BUT, I think it can be very uncomfortable in such an intimate setting to be, well…intimate!  This is a pretty small room, and there were no more than about 20 in the audience, so, if you find something a little uncomfortable then there is nowhere to hide.  It’s all very in your face!   I am NOT a prude, but I almost felt like I was being forced to be.  He’d done really well, and then he said “Have I got time to tell one more story?”…and if he hadn’t, I would’ve thought he was brilliant!

So, that was a little uncomfortable and then we had the headline act – Ian Cognito.

Now, I hadn’t heard of him before, and I had NO idea what to expect (as I said before, I only went along at the last minute, so hadn’t really thoguht about who was on!).  The problem that I had with Ian isn’t that he wasn’t funny because some of his jokes were absolutely hilarious and I couldn’t help but laugh.

It was his delivery.  To put it quite bluntly, I felt a little scared!  He is sweary (which I can take), but he is also very shouty – and quite vitriolic.  Again, I can imagine that this would be fine in a large setting.  In fact, if this had been at a small theatre with an audience of a couple of hundred or so, I probably would’ve thought he was hysterical!

But it wasn’t.  It was a small room above a pub with an audience of around 20.  And he scared me!  He shouted, he went red in the face, he punched things and I was worried he was going to chuck his pint at us!

In reviews I’ve read of him since, he gets compared to the likes of Bill Hicks – and I can see that.  i just don’t want it completely in my face!

Talking to some others after, I think he split everyone pretty much boys/girls.  The guys seemed to absolutely love him and couldn’t understand why the girls hadn’t as much.  That was a new experience for me!

It was certainly an interesting night though – and it wont put me off going when the season starts again in October.  Comedy is so individual, so personal – and the girls have been to loads of nights that they thought were great…so, hey – who knows what we’ll get next time?!

(Well, actually, I know I’ll get Richard Herring…)

frankenstein, national theatre

The final scene with Lee Miller as the creature and Cumberbatch as Frankenstein

We were SO lucky to finally manage to get tickets to see this (thanks LPP&P!) and had been looking forward to it for AGES!

And I think that we were especially lucky to get them on a night where Jonny Lee Miller was playing the creature, as he was absolutely mesmerising.

The whole thing starts with the ‘birth’ of the creature – literally spilling from a womb-like container.  Shocked, dazed and confused, he lays convulsing on the floor covered in blood (with a lot of todger action going on – unfortunately we weren’t at the front!).  We watch as we see the creature discover movement, until Frankenstein (Benedict Cumberbatch), appalled at what he has created, casts him out into the unknown.  The creature walks the streets, where he is hounded by the people of the city, and then out into the countryside, where he is taken in and educated by an old blind man.

Well, we all know the story – and it IS a fantastic story.

Danny Boyle’s production is spectacular.  The set is surprising, intriguing and very creative – complete with fire holes, and rain falling from the ceiling.  Oh yes, and an EXTREMEY loud bell, that was almost deafening when it rung (which was a few times during the performance).

Miller’s performance shone, but didn’t actually outshine Cumberbatch who (in his best Sherlock-esque style) was a very believable Frankenstein.

The script by Nick Dear was poignant, emotional and very bleak in places – as it should be.

Elizabeth’s performance was likeable, light and naive – and the only slight niggle in the whole thing was the role of Frankenstein’s father which was played by the brilliant George Harris.  I know art is (and should be) colour-blind, but it just jarred, having Frankenstein’s father played by a black man with a pretty strong accent.  It should have worked, but it just didn’t.  Perhaps that was my fault – maybe I’m too literal – but it just made it too unbelievable for me!  Even though he played it very well!

I am SO pleased that we got to see this, and live rather than the cinema-screenings last month.  It was just so atmospheric! Loved every second of it.  Lee Miller is officially a legend!

the fat girl gets a haircut, roundhouse

Programme (given to us AFTER it had finished!) and running order


I really am not sure where to start with this one.  OK, let’s start with the summary that I had read on it before.

A boy collects tears in carefully labelled jam jars; a girl is horrified that her best friend thinks her father is ‘hot’; a young boy bricks himself up in a Lego tower; and a young girl wears her mother’s shoes… The Fat Girl Gets a Haircut and Other Stories is an original work created and performed by a company of teenagers, with artist/director Mark Storor. Their candid tales – on themes of love, family, sexuality and religion – are revealed in 13 explicit portraits. With a live band, animation and video in a 360 degree setting, The Fat Girl Gets a Haircut and Other Stories creates a vision of the world as experienced through the prism of teenage years. Running time 1hr 15mins (no interval). May not be suitable for under 12s

Sounds rather intriguing, doesn’t it?  And it was also in one of my favourite venues – the fantastic Roundhouse in Camden.  What’s more, we got free tickets, which you can’t really go wrong with!

So, what was it about? I honestly have NO IDEA at all!

This wasn’t anything like what I was expecting.  This was a mostly silent (apart from the musicians – who were actually VERY good, especially Gabi Froden, the singer) ‘interpretive’ telling of 11 ‘stories’.  I say ‘interpretive’ because they were very open to interpretation.

I shall give you an example.

When we got in there (stage in the centre, audience all around in a circle) and the actors were standing on the arms of some of the chairs equally spaced around the circle under spotlights.  When the lights went down, one of the lads started taking his shirt and trousers off, and he had a small doll strapped with masking tape to his chest.  He made his way to a white plastic sheet that was on the stage and begun cutting paper, when all of the other actors picked up bottles of ketchup and sprayed him with them, until he was covered head to toe in ketchup, and unable to stand up, so he kept falling down.

He then cut off a lock of his hair, masking taped it to the doll’s head, removed the doll from his body, and sent it off in a small paper boat into the sky, that had just been drawn down by two of the girls.

That was the first vignette, and I don’t want to give too much away to people that want to go and see this, but I want to give a feel for how confused this made me.

From stuff that I had read before, I knew that this had been a long project worked on by Mark Storor and the actors (they were all young teens I believe).  And that the stories were about stuff they had experienced as a kind of ‘coming of age’.  I kind of thought that this first one might have been about abuse, and him trying to save his inner-child, but after that I was pretty lost.

Quite a few in the audience left during the performance, which we thought was a bit unfair – especially the ones that left when there were just two ‘stories’ to go…they had made it that far, what harm would it have caused them to stay?!

Overall, I thought it was…interesting.  I wouldn’t be telling everyone to rush out and see it, I wouldn’t be telling people not to bother, but I think that they should go and see it with their minds open, and have to be of a type who is happy to see such a surreal and interpretive performance.

Oh – and we didn’t see any fat girls get a haircut!

*** EDIT *** UPDATE *** EDIT ***

Just read this:  “Actor Jacob Crossley has Asperger’s syndrome and it was his experiences which inspired one of the show’s stories.

Burlesque Boy is about a teenager with an aversion to body hair who fears that everyone wants to kill him. He also has questions about his sexuality.”

well, I think my experience of the show may have been VERY different if I had known more of the stories behind each of the stories, as I didn’t get that at all from my experience, but it makes sense in hindsight.

Perhaps there should have been an explanation given out with the running order…

josé gonzález, barbican theatre

José @ Barbican

A couple of months ago, I saw that José González was playing at the Barbican.  I’m a member, so I’m always keeping my eye out for interesting stuff – especially as my mate moved there last summer!

I love José González’ voice, so, I thought I’d check the tickets out and see if my mate fancied going…but when I checked there were like 5 seats left and they were all single seats, so I thought ‘Bugger it!’ and just got a seat for myself (selfish bitch, I know!).

It turned out that my mate had looked too, but they were all sold out by that point, and so he felt hard done by.  And I felt rather guilty.  But oh my god, I am SO glad that I was selfish and did get myself a ticket as it was fantastic!

Usually it’s just him with his guitar, but this tour is with a special arrangement with a 16 piece orchestra – The Gothenburg String Theory (because he’s Swedish….you could tell by the name, couldn’t you?)  His voice is amazing – I’ve always thought that it’s beautiful…really ‘pure’ is the only way I’ve ever been able to describe it.

You might recognise this

There were a couple of points during the concert that I realised I was leaking – I was actually moved to tears by the music!  And I haven’t actually been to a concert where there has been a standing ovation during the concert – but it was the best rendition of Teardrops I have ever heard (and I have seen Massive Attack live – and they were shit).  But this was so gorgeous and haunting that it moved the audience to their feet and a 5 minute applause during the main gig!

Oh yes, and there was an empty seat directly in front of me all the way through – how bloody annoying? 😦

I have been looking for a good video of him with the orchestra, but they’re all done from the live concerts and you really lose the sense of drama when you’re not watching it live.  This one at least has brilliant sound, but is with a reduced orchestra.  I still love it though.

flesh and blood & fish and fowl

Geoff Sobelle & Charlotte Ford bring the outside in!

I’ve seen some weird stuff in my time.  I like weird.  I love surreal (have you met my daughter?).  So, when my mate suggested popping along to see Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl at the Barbican Pit Theatre when we were too late to get tickets to see Anaconda as part of The Bad Film Club, I thought “Hell, why not!?”

Soooo, what can I say about this play?  I was truly lost for words by the end of it.  I really wasn’t sure how to take it, what to make of it all.

Reading the Director’s Notes, it seems that the inspiration for it came when a photographer went to Pripyat in the Ukraine, to take photos of an ex-Soviet ghost town, 20 years after the Chenobyl disaster.  The area had become a post-apocalyptic Eden, with the town looking like it had just been abandoned – dried up coffee cups left on the counters in offices, among open notebooks and over-turned chairs.  and all around, nature was reclaiming the space.  Plants were growing into the buildings, animals were happily wandering around undisturbed and birds were nesting in filing cabinet drawers.

I can see where this influenced the play – the set is a dilapidated convenience store admin office.  There are gaping holes in the ceilings, walls and floors, vines and other plants are stealthily growing during the length of the play, and rather odd stuffed animals pop up periodically when not expected.

It starts when Jerry emerges (from a large wheelie bin!) rather ruffled but dressed in his work clothes, tidies himself up and sits at his desk.  He is eventually joined by Rhonda, his colleague who obviously fancies him, but he finds repulsive.  They are the only people in the whole thing.

The majority of the play is physical comedy with hardly any script.  A lot of it was quite amusing, but there were some very hit and miss parts.  Some of it descended into slapstick, and some of it was just WEIRD!!  Too weird even for me to find accessible.

There was a whole excruciating part where they were simulating sex in the wheelie bin where I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or vomit.

Of course, as you’d expect, it doesn’t end well, and nature is the natural victor!

This had great reviews from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – but personally, I am still torn.  I wouldn’t tell anyone NOT to go and see it, but I would certainly be advising them that it’s a bit ‘odd’. 🙂

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