Sunday, 19 February 2012

Travelling Light

Fresh from seeing The Artist my latest theatrical adventure was to see this 'tragi-comic love letter to early cinema' at the National. With Anthony Sher in a lead role, it had mixed reviews but I decided to give it a try anyway.

Based around one young mans attempts to turn film into art and his experience of getting sidelined along the way into pleasing audiences, there were lots of sly comparisons with Hollywood which worked very well. I enjoyed the way that his skill was in taking the ideas brought forward by others, and working out how to use them to his advantage (and then pretty much taking the credit). There was a lot of warm humour, and the narration by the older, successful version of the young enthusiast worked well.

Regardless of the good bits, it didn't quite catch fire. The pulling together of the threads at the end was a bit too neat, and it remained far too gentle and steady, even when there were good opportunities to turn up the heat and pace a bit. Towards the end most of the tragedy happened off-stage, and in the the final denoument, without the increased emotional kick that was there for the taking.

The cast though, were good, despite the slightly dodgy east european accents and I was pretty impressed with Damien Molony. The movies that we see being made and produced are very effective, and the set with its back projections worked very well. So a bit of tweaking could really bring it to life I think.

Overall, despite the opportunities for more depth, it all travelled too lightly in the end.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

I love the internets

One in the eye to all those that claim that computers rot the brains of young people and that the internet is the work of the devil. How about this as a counter argument?

How would this have been possible without computers and the internet? Hmmm?

With thanks to Persephone

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Noises Off (and out of sight)

I bought restricted view tickets at the last minute to see Noises Off at The Old Vic, and it was certainly one of my most surreal theatre experiences. Obscured left hand of the stage meant precisely that, with the result that in the second and third acts almost all the main action happened out of our sight.

Strangely, after a while it didn't seem to matter. Each strange noise, thump, gasp, shout, burst of laughter from the audience was a new challenge, and I ended up laughing more than ever. Part radio play, part live performance, it should have been awful, but somehow I had a great time! Thing is, I daren't go back and see it properly in case it isn't as good as I imagined.

Here is one of the scenes I didn't see...

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Monumental Engineering

We took an afternoon out on the first day of 2012, and here are a couple of photos.

What I love about this is that this could be a church pretty much anywhere, but it isn't. This is the engine hall at the Kew Waterworks, now a museum, where the largest working engine of its type is still put through its paces a few times a year. What I particularly like is that it has been built with such love (my sons say 'over-engineered') with fluting on the columns and the 40 ton weight, together with bright, polished finishing which makes the steam pipes and levers look like a church organ. There might have been lots wrong with the Victorian way of doing things, but they built things beautifully.

Thursday, 29 December 2011


As a pre-Christmas treat we went back to see the great Uncaged Monkeys team at the Hammersmith Apollo on 14th December in A Night of 200 Billion Stars. This was perfect timing, as the day before had been Cern’s moment in the limelight with their hints of the Higgs particle. I was a bit worried that there would be a bit too much repetition from the show we had seen in May, with many of the same names appearing, but this was a whole new geek-fest.

The preshow of music and powerpointy images was suitably interrupted by a computer error message, and then Robin Ince opened the show and performed his compere role beautifully.

Things got off to a good start for me with Simon Singh illustrating how the people that think there are messages encoded in the Bible have misunderstood things a bit. My favourite bit though was when he showed us his own Enigma machine in action, taking it apart to show us how it works, then putting it all back together and doing some more typing, with an explanation of how the codes work and can be broken.

Ben Goldacre had a fairly short and angry slot for this show, talking about publication bias and what he sees as a massive medical scandal. The next big highlight was Adam Rutherford’s video tribute to all of the Space Shuttle missions, played very loudly. I saw one of the shuttle launches in the late 1990s, and it brought back some of the exhilaration I felt then. Here it is – play it loud for best effect.

After the interval we had the twitter Q&A which produced this lovely image of the oldest and geekiest boyband in history

We then got on to Brian Cox who, in honour of the Cern events had ditched his planned lectures to replace them with an explanation of what the findings could mean. This he did admirably, so that at the end I understood what the Higgs particle does, and why it is important. Unfortunately, every time I moved my head from then on, bits of understanding leaked out of my ears, so I’m afraid all I can tell you now is that you need to get Brian to explain it to you, and it will make perfect sense. We also got a skype link with a couple of the scientists in the Cern canteen. Hearing the Hammersmith Apollo applauding scientists was a lovely geeky thrill.

Tim Minchin took the last slot and performed a new song Woody Allen Jesus written for the Jonathon Ross show, then produced Ed Sheeran to sing Prejudice with him

The evening ended with Brian Cox accompanying Tim Minchin to White Wine in the Sun which sent us out feeling suitably mellow. We had a lovely time and it was a joy to find so many other people finding the ideas around science inspiring.

A few days later, there was a mini twitter storm when Tim Minchin’s Woody Allen Jesus song was cut from Jonathon Ross’s Christmas show.

I don’t think that the song was offensive, although not one of his best, and if it was cut to avoid a Daily Mail storm, then ITV was truly cowardly. Coincidentally, but with perfect timing, I happened to be reading Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods over Christmas, and think that maybe he has the right attitude.

Perhaps it is time to relax a bit, so here is Tim Minchin giving a sentimental explanation of why he loves Christmas, accompanied by Prof Brian Cox. Joyful, a bit cheesy and contains no gods unless you count sex-gods.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Jumpy at the Royal Court

I knew it was coming so there were no excuses for the fact that this was sold out completely by the time I got around to checking for tickets. The only option was the Monday ticket scrum, where a chunk of the tickets are sold for a song, or more accurately, a tenner. I sat poised at my computer at 9am, frantically clicked the links and after half a dozen failed attempts as someone else got there before me, I ended up with back row balcony tickets. I then had to wait for 20 minutes for the payment system to catch up, but I returned from my internet hunt proudly brandishing my booking reference number. The thrill of the chase without getting cold or wet.

The actual play is a romp through a female mid-life crisis, painfully funny, but with real emotional truth, played expertly by the amazing Tamsin Greig as Hilary. She seems to have funny bones, being able to naturally balance pure, laugh out loud comedy with sensitivity, so that by the end, I really cared about what happened next. Doon Mackichan's comic clowning was a triumph, although, as she showed us tiny hints of something deeper, it made me feel that I would like to see what she could do with something more serious.

Bel Powley, as the teenage daughter Tilly, had the attitude just right and some very sharp lines*, but was a bit one-dimensional, irritatingly shouty all the time. Although, for getting under the skin of what it feels like to be the parent of a bolshy teenager, that may have been the point.

As a study of middle-aged marriage, it felt spot on too, so a bit of a masterclass from April De Angelis in how to do falling-down-funny but meaningful theatre.

Tamsin Greig was undoubtedly the star of the piece, and deservedly so. A dame-in-waiting?

*'What did you wear?' ...(pause for look of dawning horror)....'You didn't wear your jeans?'

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

One Man, Two Guvnors

Well I had a bit of a palaver getting the tickets for this, as they were officially sold out, so finding a day when I could get up at 5 to queue for day tickets was a bit tricky. The day finally arrived, I got up well before dawn, logged in to my computer whilst drinking my wake-up coffee to find that a large number of returns had been added to the website. So, if I was prepared to pay four times the day seat price I would be guaranteed a seat and a couple more hours back in bed. Obviously I paid up.

The play is about to transfer to the West End, and deservedly so. It makes full use of its Commedia dell’Arte roots, managing to give everyone a roaringly good time whilst clearly and intelligently pointing out what it is up to. At one point my face ached with laughing, not something that happens often enough at the theatre. James Corden appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself and Oliver Chris gave him a great double act partner. All the performances were spot on, and the ad libs and improvisation were so seamlessly handled it wasn’t always clear whether they were scripted to appear off the cuff. Clever, whilst making sure no funny bone was left untickled, this was a slick and perfectly executed event from beginning to end.

I can’t leave this without mentioning the brilliant pastiche 60’s music from Grant Olding and ‘The Craze’ and the musical ‘turns’ by the cast, used to smooth each scene change. Oliver Chris’s musical number was perhaps my favourite, although Daniel Rigby’s acoustic chest beating came a very close second.

I bet this will run for years, so probably no need to hurry, but this cast is fantastic so definitely one to catch if you can.