follies – rose & crown, e17

Follies @ Rose & Crown

After seeing The Importance Of Being Earnest at Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub a couple of weeks ago, we decided to go and see the next offering there which was ‘Follies’ – a Stephen Sondheim musical.

I went with four other lovely E17’ers and it was not a musical that any of us was familiar with.  To be honest, that probably should have set our inner alarm bells ringing.

What can I say about Follies?  Hmm…  Actually, I’ll start with what I can say about the production.  The stage and ligting were good with the space that they have;  the musical arrangement was brilliant, and they sounded great;  the costumes and make–up were fitting for the play.  I think they did really well with what they had to work with – REALLY well.  It felt a lot ‘bigger’ than the space they were actually performing in.

The general plot is that a load of old showgirls have come back for a reunion at The Weismann Theatre where they performed about 30 years before as the theatre is about to be pulled down.  Two of the girls are there with their husbands who they met at the time, and the ghosts of their young selves are haunting them – stirring up old feelings and playing out what happened all those years ago.  roughly – in a nutshell as far as I could make out.

Some of the performances were particularly good.  I liked Weismann, Buddy and Phyllis in particular – and also the woman who was playing in a green dress and was the lead on the Mirror Song.  In fact, I have to admit I LOVED the mirror song routine – where the older women were recreating the song & dance and then ‘faded’ into the background and performed alongside their younger selves.  I found it quite rousing (especially the woman in the green dress!).  I also quite liked the Broadway Baby song which I’m sure I’ve heard before – but thinking about it, it might have been parodied by Family Guy – I’m sure they did a Prom Night Dumpster Baby, which sounded very similar!

However, there were quite a few niggles.  The main guy, playing Ben, had a great singing voice – but I found his acting extremely stilted and unbelievable.  Sally was a little too screechy, both acting and singing and there were a couple of the older ones who really shouldn’t have been singing or dancing – so much that I felt a little embarrassed for them.  On top of that, some of the songs felt very difficult to ‘enjoy’, and the main storyline was extremely blah.  These two facts of course were of no fault of the production – and probably just more that it wasn’t to my taste.

When we came downstairs for the interval, I found that my companions were even less enthralled by the show than *I* was – so much so that they refused to go back after the interval.  Personally, I hate giving up on things (and someone I spoke to did say that the second half was apparently a lot better!) and so if I had been on my own, or with people a little more, well, ‘forgiving?’, I would have gone back for the second half.  But I wasn’t going to go back on my own as I wasn’t enjoying it enough to leave the people I was with, who were FAR more entertaining!

The only thing that made me uncomfortable though is that one of the staff personally came over to me to ask if we were going back up as they know me, and I had to say that we weren’t.  I was mortified!!  I SO hope they didn’t take offense, as it really wasn’t the fault of the production!

It’s not going to put me off seeing anything else at the Rose & Crown (or Pose & Frown as we affectionately call it), or from the same people – but it WILL make me think twice about just going along to anything.

benihana, piccadilly

The onion ring 'volcano'

Every 4-5 months, I meet up somewhere for dinner with 4 of my ex-colleagues from the job I left 3 years ago.  we make sure that we go somewhere different each time we meet, and for some reason, it tends to be me who chooses and books where we’re going.

We met on Wednesday and I had booked us in at Benihana in Sackville Street, just off of Piccadilly.  A friend took me and another mutual friend to Benihana for a joint birthday lunch about 4 years ago…and I remembered loving it, so thought it might be something a bit different.

Benihana is all about the theatre – it is a real ‘dining experience’.  It’s not just about the food, it’s about the entertainment.

They do a promotional £22 ‘8 course menu’ which is what I would advise getting as it is really good value for money, and also ensures you get the full Benihana experience.  8 courses is pushing it a bit as a description, as most of them are more ‘elements of a dish’ than a course.

It says October special - but I'm sure we had the same menu when I went before!

The restaurant isn’t laid out with tables in a conventional sense.  There are a number of

large hotplates, with 8 seats placed around three sides.  A waitress will take your order (if you’re having the promo menu, you get the choice of two main proteins from steak, seabass, black cod, chicken, prawns or salmon).  you will be brought your 1st course of

a clear onion broth which is surprisingly fresh and flavourful, and then each set of 8 then has their own Benihana chef who will come along with a cart of ingredients.

We were lucky that we had quite a theatrical chef who was very talkative (I spotted a couple who were less engaging).  You’re brought a fresh but uninspriring iceberg lettuce based salad with a tasty dressing and a couple of different dipping sauces ready for the food from the hotplate.

the chef will start with veg – onions, mushrooms and courgettes in our case.  There’s no marinades or flavourings added – everything is very simple – but you have the dipping sauces.  The first bit of theatre comes when the chefs make a ‘volcano’ from the onion rings – meticulously building them up in descending size order, and then back out in ascending, pouring brandy in and lighting it – always to surprised but delighted applause!

the waitress brings everyone three yummy little california rolls and then there are various tricks from the chefs with eggs – juggling them on their spatulas, landing them in their hats etc and then cooked within egg and veg fried rice.

The meat & fish are all of good quality – and however you ask for your steak, that is exactly how you get it.  The steak was actually of a decent size, and we had orders of rare, medium rare and medium and they were all perfect, and steaky and tender!  Make sure someone on your table asks for prawns as they knife skills displayed are fantastic – slicing tails and butterflying in seconds and giving everyone a chance to try to toss the tail-ends into the ‘scrapings hole’ as the chef demonstrates perfectly again and again!

Unfortunately all the showy stuff is over then, and you are left with a small but quite rich perfect ending of a chocolate mousse/cake dessert.

Nothing too heavy, but filling without making you feel stuffed.  Everyone loved it.  It really is an experience that I think people in London should try at least once!  It’s not a restaurant I would go back to again and again as I think the rest of the menu is slightly overpriced, and personally, I think it’s the theatre that makes it!

a game of two halves, hen & chickens

A Game Of Two Halves

Last night I went to see my mate in another play that he starred in and directed.

It was A Game Of Two Halves and was on at the Hen & Chickens at Highbury.  If you haven’t been to the Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar, it’s tiny.  Teeny teeny tiny!  If you aren’t comfortable with an ‘intimate’ setting, don’t go as there’s only a maximum of 20 seats up there and the stage is very close!  It’s less than half the size of the King’s Head Theatre Pub round the corner.  Surprisingly, Frankie Boyle still plays there quite a bit, usually practicing his new material before he goes on tour – I treated The Man and my mate to tickets to see him there a few months ago – and obviously there was no escaping his attention – and we ll know what Frankie Boyle is like!  The Man LOVED it 🙂

Anyway – A Game Of Two Halves was brilliant.  My mate was brilliant…and even though he reckoned he cocked up a couple of times, none of us really noticed – we were captivated 🙂

It’s very much a ‘Sliding Doors’ play with just two people in it, Ed Lawrence, a football manager whose team are doing well in the FA Cup.  There is a pivotal moment when an insignificant choice is made (whether to have a cup of coffee or not) that creates two very disparate ‘futures’.  Ed and his PA Sophie show alternating scenes from the same ‘time’ but in the parallel futures.  It was written very cleverly (by Eloise who played Sophie) and the two different ‘Eds’ were played very convincingly by my lovely luvvie mate 🙂

I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does next – I’ve not seen him in anything bad yet.

Hen & Chickens, Highbury

alternative? to what?!

Today I watched the video below in which Miranda sawyer (The Observer’s Radio Critic) gives her argument for why BBC 6Music should be saved.

What was the most interesting thing for me in this video (apart from her obviously brilliant and eloquent way of arguing the point – put so much better than my blog post a few weeks ago!) was that she suggests that ‘alternative’ is a mindset that you can’t get out of.

I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘alternative’ before – but I’m thinking perhaps I am in my mind.  It’s not a conscious decision but big Hollywood blockbusters don’t interest me.  I watch a hell of a lot of foreign films (especially J/K-horrors) – in fact I have a couple of French ones to watch this weekend from Blockbuster.  And theatre-wise, I am always more likely to go and watch something a little ‘odd’ at Barbican than go and see something like Cats (which I hated every moment of).  In fact, I would only really consider something like that because I’m taking The Girl or going along with somebody else (eg when i went to see Oliver! back in January).

I guess that also accounts for the fact that the thought of going to Disneyland/world fills me with a sense of absolute dread, makes me feel nauseous and therefore I’ve never really considered it.  Although that could be just because I’d probably stab someone.  Probably someone dressed up as an animal of some type.

Does that make my friends alternative too then?  Do they have to be alternative to like me?  Do THEY have to be alternative for me to like THEM?  Or is everyone alternative to something?

My brain is now confused.

like a teddy bear

I always seem to keep my tickets!

Last night, I made my way into the uncharted territory that is South London.  I think people make too much of the UK North/South divide (although it makes for hours of entertainment in my house – me being an Essex Girl, and The Man being a Boro Boy).  The REAL divide is that of Old Father Thames.

North London and South London seem to be totally different beasts – and people tend to be extremely loyal to which part they are in, and will argue to the death (or the hoarseness at least) as to why ‘their’ side is better.  Once you have lived in one part, you don’t tend to stray to the other.

Anyway, I digress.  I ventured to Putney, which amused me when I was on the train as I just finished reading The War of the Worlds, in which of course most of the action occurs in the places where the train I was on was visiting.  I kept thinking “Martians!” and then giggling to myself (not very loudly though, as I was on the quiet carriage, and hey, this was South London – there was no telling what might happen to me!).

One of my lovely friends is in a play at Putney Arts Theatre and me and a few of his other friends met up to go and see him do his thing.  The play was Round & Round The Garden by Alan Ayckbourn which is apparently part of a trilogy called The Norman Conquests which can all stand alone.

It was actually really really good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Parts of it bordered on farce, but it was never really full-blown ‘whoops there go my trousers’, but just gentle and funny.  The cast were great and my mate was obviously the star of the show, playing a gentle slightly dim vet who kind of bumbled along and didn’t have a single clue about how to deal with women (not too hard a stretch for my lovely gay friend!).

I thought it was great.  I love the venue (it’s a converted church – I have been before as another friend is heavily involved in the theatre) and the company was fantastic – I love it when you can relax into easy camaraderie with your friends’ friends!

I came home all warm and glowing…and then opened a letter that was a parking fine that The Man had got.  I am still not talking to him.

the manganiyar seduction @ barbican

Indian Celebrity Squares, anyone?

For my birthday present, one of my mates asked me if I fancied seeing something at the Barbican (as I love going there).  of course, I jumped at the chance, we decided on a show and for the past few weeks, I’ve been looking forward to seeing The Manganiyar Seduction, which is an Indian music and song troupe.

I always feel so ‘at home’ at Barbican – in fact I had been there  with The Man &  The Girl on Friday night to see Alice in Wonderland (but more on that in another post).  We had something to eat first (spicy lamb meatballs in a thick, tangy tomato sauce with coconut rice and mango chutney – absolutely scrummy just like their food always is!), and a lovely bottle of wine and then skipped down to the theatre where we soaked up the wonderful air of expectation that I love.  There’s nothing like sitting in a theatre as it fills up, the excitement building up steadily.

The set is as in the photo, but the squares all had their curtains pulled across, and they only opened them the first time they played/sung.  There was always this little frisson of excitement that you could pick up across the theatre as you noticed another set of curtains rustlign slightly, and you knew the square was going to open, and what was it going to be in there?  The last square didn’t open until about 15 mins from the end, and when finally all of the lights were on, and the full crescendo hit, it was breath-taking!

They were fantastic – if you can ever get along to see a show, I highly recommend it.  You’ll never see anything else like it.  Although from the moment we first saw the promotional pics, it did put me in mind of something from my childhood… (notice Bob Monkhouse’s wonderful 70’s style!)

i would NOT do anything!

Oliver! the musical

Now, just to get it straight, I do really like musicals.  And i adore the theatre.  It doesn’t matter how often I go tot he theatre, i love the thrill of excitement before it starts – the sudden hush as the curtan goes up etc etc.  I’m a Londoner, and have access to a wide array of different theatres with so many different types of shows that I could probably go every week and never get bored with it (although I would be VERY skint!)

So, when I asked The Girl what she wanted for ‘home-coming’ (no Christmas for us, remember!) she said that she wanted to go to see Oliver!  My heart sank.  Not just that it would be SO expensive, but because I can’t stand things with too many kids in – and I really can’t stand the film of Oliver!  And there was no way that The Man was going to take her, so it would be just me, listening to some whiny boy screeching at us asking where love is.

Which is exactly what it was.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were koads of things I did like about it.  The sets were fantastic, Griff Rhys Jones was a pretty good Fagin (although I’m pretty gutted that I only missed Omid Djalili by a couple of weeks), Nancy was brilliant, Bill Sikes was brilliantly gruff and manly (apparently the actor was in Press Gang!), the costumes were fantastic, and I did get goosebumps on some of the ensemble bits where the whole cast were singing (I’ve got a real thing about choirs etc)…but generally I wanted to slap all the kids, block my ears to the awful put-on accents and stab Oliver in the eye when his thin reedy voice popped up asking who would buy this wonderful morning.

Argh!!!!  My ears are bleeding!!

Anyway – the main thing was that The Girl loved every minute of it and sang along to the songs that she knew best.

Oh yes, and the only way I could afford it was by going right up in the balcony – oh my GOD that was high up.  That was quite scary really – I’m not very scared of heights, but I did experience a bit of vertigo when we were walking down to our seats.  And really £27 each to be right up there??   I haven’t paid that kind of price for theatre tickets for years and years and I was quite shocked.  I guess I go to more ‘B or C-rate shows’ than the big West End spectaculars – but obviously find them FAR more entertaining, for half the price!

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