A weekend of theatre

Theatre obsessive though I am, it’s not often that I find myself booked in for four theatrical performances over one weekend. In my defence, they were all completely different. They were also completely fantastic, every one of them, albeit for completely different reasons.

Little Angel Theatre
Little Angel Theatre

First up was Platero: Travels With a Donkey. This intrigued me as it was performed at a puppet theatre (the Little Angel in Islington). I hadn’t realised that there was such a thing as a puppet show for adults. The production appealed because it was based on a series of short stories by Spanish author Juan Ramón Jiménez, about a man and his donkey Platero.

The production was narrated by Mike Maran, a Scottish storyteller who held the audience in raptures with his gentle tales of life in a small Spanish town. Platero the little donkey was a marionette beautifully handled by Nino Namitcheishvili; adorable with a distinct personality, he appeared wonderfully lifelike. I fell in love with the production, and could almost imagine that I was in Spain myself.

The ending, though, was very sad. I won’t give it away, but it reduced me to tears. Impressive stuff for a puppet show!

Watford Palace Theatre
Watford Palace Theatre

Next I headed all the way up to Watford to visit the Palace Theatre, which was hosting a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. This play is my absolute favourite and I try to see as many different productions as I can.  This version by Headlong Theatre was challenging and fresh. It used an adaptation of the text rather than a strict translation, but I felt that the new script still kept the spirit of the original. The cast were brilliant and the whole thing was up-to-date without being gimmicky.

I did overhear a disturbing exchange during the interval:

First woman: “I don’t like it”
Second woman: “I know, there’s no plot is there?”
First woman: “It’s just about how great it is to be an actress”

Aargh! Clearly these people completely missed the point of Chekhov’s masterpiece. Doh.

Unicorn Theatre
The set of Mister Holgado at the Unicorn Theatre

Anyway, I digress. My Sunday began with a trip to the Unicorn Theatre near London Bridge. Now I know that this theatre is aimed at children, but I really wanted to see Mister Holgado, having read several glowing reviews of it. I was not disappointed. The play is about a young boy, Conrad, who tells his parents that there is a tiger living on top of his wardrobe (as if this is not strange enough, the tiger is named Sigmund and eats nothing but champagne truffles). His father – a child psychologist – invents a creepy man named Mister Holgado who, so he tells Conrad one morning, stole the tiger away in the night; in this way he hopes to get rid of the ‘tiger’ once and for all. However, things don’t quite go according to plan, and in the end Conrad’s father has to become Mister Holgado – a mustachioed man in a top hat with an evil grin, a mysterious box of glass eyes and a tendency to eat children – himself. What results is a macabre, unsettling tale with a great deal of dark humour: at one point Conrad’s father/Mister Holgado is chasing Conrad around the apartment in a bloodstained apron, wielding his knife and fork. The children in the audience loved it. I loved it.

Rosemary Branch Theatre
Rosemary Branch Theatre

Finally, I ventured north to the Rosemary Branch Theatre, which was showing a production of Jane Eyre. This is my all-time favourite book and I was hoping that the adaptation would be good. I was not disappointed. Performed by just six actors – two playing Jane and Rochester, the other four portraying every other character between them – the play was simply designed but beautifully executed. Jane and Rochester had fantastic chemistry and the whole thing was very moving.

Vestry House Museum
Vestry House Museum

I didn’t just go to the theatre this weekend. I also managed to tick off several tube stations, mostly at the north east end of the city. In Walthamstow, I also found the time to pop into the local museum, the Vestry House, for a look around. Interesting stuff!

P!nk – The Truth About Love Tour at the O2

One of my favourite singers, Pink, is touring at the moment and I went to see her at the O2 last night. Seeing as it was such a lovely day, I decided to take the scenic route and reach the O2 via the new Emirates Air Line.

Emirates Air Line
Coming in to land by the O2

This cable car takes you across the Thames from the Royal Victoria DLR station to the O2, and the views are fabulous. When I arrived I decided to pop into Tesco for a drink, hoping to avoid the ridiculously priced wine from the bar inside the arena. Unfortunately everyone had already had the same idea, and all that was left was red wine. I quite like red wine sometimes but this stuff wasn’t particularly nice. I drank it, though. No way was I going to waste wine.

Pink
Pink perching on a tower after one of her acrobatic feats

So, the concert itself – named The Truth About Love Tour after the most recent album. It was fantastic! The show began with a rather odd gent who seemed to be acting as a kind of Master of Ceremonies. He introduced Pink in a rather unexpected fashion and kept us entertained in between costume changes. Pink herself was on top form: she sang brilliantly and displayed some amazing acrobatic skills into the bargain, particularly when singing ‘Sober’ inside a large hanging cage and most impressively during the closing number ‘So What’ which saw her flying above the heads of the enraptured audience. I have so much respect for this woman: how anyone can demonstrate that amount of acrobatic activity while managing to sing live at the same time must be hugely talented and committed!

She’s a fantastic singer, though, even without the distracting acrobatic feats: some of the show’s  best moments came when she sat on a stool and sang accompanied by a sole guitar or piano (the latter of which she played herself). ‘Raise Your Glass’ got the acoustic treatment and sounded brilliant, while ‘The Great Escape’ (from the new album) sounded even more gorgeous with its stripped down backing. I also loved the cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’, which was completely unexpected but suited her voice completely.

Predictably, most of the songs Pink sang came from the new album: ‘Are We All We Are’, ‘Just Give Me A Reason’, ‘Blow Me (One Last Kiss)’, ‘Try’ (one of my favourites), ‘How Come You’re Not Here’, ‘Slut Like You’, ‘Walk of Shame’. There were some surprises too: at one point she launched into a medley of songs from her debut album – ‘Most Girls’, ‘There You Go’ and ‘You Make Me Sick’. I was pleased to see her sing ‘Trouble’, as it is one of my favourites, but gutted that once again she omitted ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’ – this is one of my favourite ever Pink songs and I’m yet to hear her perform it live.

Still, I loved the show – Pink still has what it takes, she is brilliant and frankly I don’t know why she isn’t even more popular!

Pink

2013 at Shakespeare’s Globe – the Season of Plenty

Yesterday, the 23rd of April, was significant for many reasons. It was World Book Night, and I was a book giver again this year, handing out 20 copies of The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde to bemused commuters at my local tube station. It was also St George’s Day, the day of the patron saint of England (who never actually set foot on these shores), and was (as is rumoured) Shakespeare’s birthday (and deathday, too, but I don’t want to celebrate that).

As far as I was concerned the day was special for another reason – it was the first day of the new season at Shakespeare’s Globe. Located on the South Bank next to Tate Modern, the theatre is a modern reconstruction of the Globe of Shakespeare’s time and presents plays over the course of the summer (since the theatre is open to the elements, performances don’t take place in the winter). There couldn’t have been a better day for it – the sun shone brightly and the air was warm. Though I’d taken my coat in case it got cold during the evening performance, I didn’t need it, which is incredible considering it rarely remains warm at ten in the evening even at the height of summer.

The Globe

The 2013 season has been given the name ‘Season of Plenty’, and the plays on offer this year include The TempestMacbethA Midsummer Night’s Dream and touring productions of King Lear and The Taming of the Shrew (which will have short runs at the Globe in between their touring schedules). The three plays in the Henry VI cycle will be performed, often on the same day. Non-Shakespeare productions include a musical celebration called Gabriel, a story about the first female undergraduates at Cambridge named Blue Stockings, and an adaptation of Euripides’ The Bacchae entitled The Lightning Child.

Poster for the 'Season of Plenty'
Poster for the ‘Season of Plenty’ – with many queuing groundlings underneath!

I was so excited about the new season that I booked for the very first performance, which happened to be of The Tempest. I got the tube to St Paul’s after work and wandered down to the river. Crossing the Millennium Bridge, I saw the wonderful, welcoming Globe, familiar and exciting.

The new foyer
The new foyer – large, bright and airy

Inside, however, things have changed. In less than a year, the new indoor Jacobean theatre (the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) will open on-site, and in preparation the foyer has been expanded. The coffee and cake stall that used to be next to the gift shop has moved downstairs, which has been developed into a larger seating area with picnic tables. This has freed up space for the shop to expand.

The Globe stage
Waiting for The Tempest to start

And what of the play itself? Well, this production of The Tempest is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Many of the varied characters, including Caliban and Gonzalo, were played by Globe regulars James Garnon and Pip Donaghy who always deliver strong performances. Roger Allam made a superb Prospero, and Jessie Buckley and Joshua James were excellent as the young lovers Miranda and Ferdinand. I usually find Ariel an incredibly annoying character, but Colin Morgan’s (Merlin in the BBC drama of the same name) portrayal made him sympathetic and multi-dimensional.  The production was a largely traditional one, employing simple costumes and props of the kind likely to have been seen four hundred years ago. This focused attention on the rich dialogue, which took on new layers of meaning when spoken in front of the Globe’s rapt and close-up audience. The storm that opens the play was evoked with metal sheets and other loud instruments, which were actually more effective than the bells and whistles of more modern productions with years of technology at their disposal.

Never mind the temperature or the number of flowers in the park: for me, the beginning of summer is signified by the opening of the Globe, and if last night’s performance is anything to go by, it’s going to be a good one.

London Transport Museum Depot Open Weekend – We Love Steam!

As a bit of a tube geek, I clearly wasn’t going to pass up the chance to visit the London Transport Museum‘s Acton depot on their annual spring Open Weekend. The depot is crammed full of all the things that won’t fit in the museum proper in Covent Garden, and there are plenty of gems to discover, such as this ornate arch:

The depot is basically a giant warehouse and it takes a good while to explore. I liked this rather sweet model of a steam train, and this fascinating cross-section of Westminster station.

There were countless maps, including this one from 1910, showing how the Underground network has changed over the years.


Several corridors were lined with old Tube signs, including those from now-defunct stations such as Ongar and Aldwych.

The largest part of the depot was filled with vehicles: examples of Tube trains and carriages from various eras, as well as several styles of buses.

My trip to the depot was fascinating and I’m glad I went along. London Transport Museum host a couple of these weekends a year, as well as various activities, which are displayed on their events page. I definitely recommend taking a look.

7 Hammersmith Terrace

2013 0413 Emery Walker House 02

The front of 7 Hammersmith Terrace

The other weekend I visited 7 Hammersmith Terrace, former home of Emery Walker and boasting an original Arts & Crafts interior. The house is only open at certain times via guided tour, so I booked my visit online and turned up at the house just before eleven. 7 Hammersmith Terrace is on the north bank of the Thames, near Stamford Brook tube station on the District line.

2013 0413 Emery Walker House 01

Emery Walker (1851-1933) was a printer and was a great friend to William Morris, who lived nearby at Kelmscott House. He also had contact with many of the other leading cultural and political figures of the period, including Philip Webb and George Bernard Shaw. His house is filled with authentic furniture and decorations from the period: William Morris wallpaper, furniture left to Walker by Webb, photographs, artefacts and personal items such as a lock of hair, as well as items he and his daughter Dorothy picked up on their travels.

2013 0413 Emery Walker House 03

Back of the house, seen from the garden

This is a beautiful house and well worth a visit – I definitely recommend booking a tour.

FACTS

Address: 7 Hammersmith Terrace, London, W6 9TS

Website: emerywalker.org.uk

Opening Hours: Guided tour only; visit emerywalker.org.uk/booking.