Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Grinning Man - Trafalgar Studios

The Grinning Man Musical
Trafalgar Studios
14 Whitehall,
London SW1A 2DY

In April 1869, Victor Hugo published a French Novel L'Homme qui rit. The English translation was The Man Who Laughs. It has since been adapted for stage and screen.

In 2016 a musical adaptation titled The Grinning Man opened at the Bristol Old Vic, followed by a transfer to the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End from December 2017. The writer is Carl Grose and Tim Phillips & Marc Teitler are the Composer-Lyricists. The tragi-comic musical is directed by Tom Morris who co-directed War Horse.

The adapted story tells of an orphan boy Grinpayne who finds another orphaned baby girl in the freezing forest. They are rescued by a wolf Homo and taken in by a carnival vendor Ursus. Grinpayne has a mutilated face (and is perhaps the inspiration for the Joker in the Batman series) and Dea (the girl) is blind. They grow up together, with Grinpayne's disfigurement being used as a carnival attraction.

The carnival comes to London where royalty happens to see Grinpayne and instead of being horrified or disgusted or treating him as an object of humour or ridicule, Prince Dirry-Moir arrives at some kind of self-awareness and self-actualisation which pulls him out of his ennui. He introduces Grinpayne to Princess Josiana who wants to marry him.

But who is Grinpayne?
How did his face get so thoroughly mutilated as a child?
Why can't he remember his past?
Whose love is true? Dea's or Princess Josiana's?

The story itself is a tale about class differences and the vagaries of Royal edicts. Originally set in 17th Century England, under the reign of King James II it was also a political commentary of the times.

At the Trafalgar studios, the stage sets encompass the whole theater and it feels as though you are actually under the big top of a carnival. The sets by designer Jon Bausor are stunning, the music hummable and memorable, the acting is very good and the story makes you laugh and cry in turns. However, THE stand out of the show for me is the outstanding puppetry by Finn Caldwell and Toby OliƩ for Gyre & Gimble (best known for their work on War Horse). The puppets aren't caricatures, but characters themselves. The wolf and the younger versions of Grinpayne and Dea. So life like and relatable, it is very easy to empathise with them.

Louis Maskell as Grinpayne and Julian Bleach as Barkilphedro are phenomenal. Amanda Wilkin as Josiana hits some fantastic notes.

Definitely a must watch. Whether you enjoy, theater, musicals or puppetry there's something here for everybody. Its running until April 2018 at Trafalgar Studios.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Marriage of Figaro - Hackney Empire

The Marriage of Figaro

Hackney Empire
291 Mare Street,
E8 1EJ

After an initial disastrous experience at the English National Opera in 2016, the husband has been quite adamant against watching another live performance. So I've had to be content with watching recordings on Sky Arts of some of the performances that I was interested in. However, after visiting Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at the Victoria & Albert Museum in January this year, he was willing to give it another chance.

He said that he would be open to watching a live performance as long as it was in English and had subtitles and was preferably a comedy. His other addendum was that he didn't want to have to get 'all dressed up' for it. So I had been keeping my eyes open to find a live opera in London that fulfilled these criteria.

So I was very excited when I saw that the English Touring Opera was taking The Marriage of Figaro on tour, and would be playing at Hackney Empire on 28th February and 3rd of March.

Since I was familiar with this comedy, I knew this would be a much better introduction into Opera for him. Set in a single day, Figaro and Susanna have to overcome every obstacle put in their way by Count Almaviva and his cronies before they can finally be united as husband and wife.

We braved the melting snow and got to the theatre early and had time to admire the stunning building. We didn't have time to go to the Empire Bar next door, but there was a concession stand behind the seating area in the theater, where we were able to get some hot black coffee and chips.

When we got to our seats, we realised that the online chart was a bit misleading, what I thought were forward facing double seats were dual sideways facing seats with a table between them. What made it even more awkward was when another couple said they had the same seats and we figured out that the seat numbers were duplicated. Fortunately someone from management came over and sorted it out, giving them a different table and we could stretch out more comfortably to watch the production sideways.

The hall itself is beautiful and its one of the loveliest stage curtains that I've seen. The sets by Neil Irish were in a lovely Wedgwood blue and moved around a bit to keep up with the change in settings. The ensemble directed by Christopher Stark was lovely.

The beginning was a bit disconcerting, with the music being accompanied by actors preparing for a play, rolling clothes lines along and taking selfies. But once the actual performance began, things settled down and we were able to enjoy the rest of it.

The absolute stand out performances for me were Ross Ramgobin as Figaro (especially when he continues singing as he performs push-ups) and Katherine Aitken as Cherubino. Rachel Redmond as Susanna, Dawid Kimberg as Count Almaviva and Nadine Benjamin as his Countess were also very good.

It was a good evening well spent and worth the multiple train changes in the freezing cold. The husband agreed that he did enjoy this performance much more, but given a choice, he would still prefer theatre any day.

The Marriage of Figaro tours to Truro, Poole, Chester, Buxton, Guildford, Snape, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Canterbury, Norwich, Bromley, Sheffield, Durham, Perth, Exeter, Leicester, York, Stoke-on-Trent, Ulverston and Blackpool until 9 June. Check dates and book on the English Touring Opera Website.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Dry Powder - Hampstead Theatre

Dry Powder

Hampstead Theatre
Eton Avenue,
Swiss Cottage,
London, NW3 3EU

Rick runs a private equity firm. The play begins with him caught in the middle of a publicity nightmare since his firm forced massive layoffs at a supermarket chain at the same time as he was celebrating a lavish engagement party, which even had a live elephant.

His two partners Seth and Jenny have completely differing views on how to salvage their reputation. Seth has brokered an opportunity to buy a firm called Landmark Luggage. Seth believes they need to do something to develop the firm and improve its market share, increase jobs within the country and which will bring them positive publicity to outweigh the negative, but Jenny is all about maximising returns, by any means necessary.

The title Dry Powder refers to marketable securities that are highly liquid and considered cash-like.

The set was different. The mirrors in the backdrop reflected the audience, very unique.

I originally bought the tickets blindly as a chance to watch Tom Riley (whom we loved in Da Vinci's Demons) and Hayley Atwell (who we admired in Conviction much more than in her role as Agent Peggy Carter - but then I also think that Captain America and Agent Peggy Carter are the weakest superheroes in the Marvel universe) live.

It was a thrill to watch them live and Hayley Atwell's performance as Jenny was brilliant. While it would be easy to turn Jenny into an evil caricature hellbent on profit at any cost, Atwell humanised her as a mathematical genius, albeit one for whom the human cost (jobs, emotions, families) is irrelevant to any calculations. In fact, it is Riley's Seth who ends up looking naive in the end, especially given Joseph Balderrama as Jeff's about face in the end.

Dry Powder has plenty of moments that make you laugh and others that make you think. We quite enjoyed Sarah Burgess script. I can't remember the last time we watched a play which felt like a dramatised version of office life. This hedge fund drama is a good peek into the life of private finance. Anyone who is fairly aware of financial markets would enjoy this performance. There are a lot of technical terms bandied about and if numbers and finance make your head spin, then you would lose out on a lot of the dialogue.

Given that the Hampstead Theatre is a newer theatre, the seats are all comfortable and have a good view of the stage. No pillars in the middle of seating to create one of those dreaded "restricted view" spots.

Edited to Add : Dry Powder has been nominated for Best New Comedy at the 2018 Olivier Awards

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics - Victoria & Albert Museum

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics

Victoria & Albert Museum
Cromwell Road,
London, SW7 2RL

Exhibition runs from 30 September 2017 to 25 February 2018

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics is being held at the V&A museum with the support of the Royal Opera House. It explores the history of opera from its origins in late-Renaissance Italy to the present day. Told through the lens of seven premieres in seven European cities, this immersive exhibition takes you on a journey through nearly 400 years, culminating in the international explosion of opera in the 20th and 21st centuries.

As with some of the previous exhibitions at the V&A, there is a major auditory component to this exhibition. But this time, they have partnered with Bowers & Wilkins and the quality has improved dramatically.

Each section highlights some of the main operas of that city and goes on to describe how the politics and realities of that period influenced the opera or vice versa. From the stunning ostentatious operas of Europe to the starkness of Russian opera in the 1930's, it takes you on a whirlwind tour of history around the world.

The final audio visual amphi-theater is very good, but its difficult for any other exhibition to live up to the Pink Floyd finale section.

I'm not a huge fan of the opera, but this exhibition is amazing. The husband until now has been much more strongly set against watching opera. But after this exhibition, he says he is open to watching a live performance as long as it is in English and has subtitles and is preferably a comedy. So that's my next mission, to find a live opera in London that fulfills these criteria.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Blood Rite at Guildhall Courtyard

The show was advertised as A spectacular, digitally-animated new outdoor dance show. Set on the site of London’s Roman amphitheatre, an explosive fusion of urban dance, music and video projection transforms the facades of Guildhall Yard. Using the latest technology in motion tracking, combined with live dance and cutting edge hip-hop music, Blood Rite shows an unforgettable series of provocative scenes that both reveal the horror of the arena and celebrate the perseverance of the gladiatorial spirit. Commissioned by the City of London Corporation.

We had watched other digitally animated shows at this location and were quite excited about it.

This year (20 & 21 October 2017), the animation was beamed across 3 sides of the square rather than just one and there was a large stage erected in front of the museum for the dancers.

The information we saw was that the show would last 20 minutes, so we expected the show to be repeated at every 30 minute interval. However when we reached there at 7:30, the show was half way through, so we caught the tail end of it.

The dancing was nice, but I don't know how much it added to the experience. Plus there was very bright light from the side near the church, so all the ambiance and the magical feel of previous shows here was kind of missing. It felt like you had arrived at the rehearsals of the show rather than the show itself, if that makes sense. The animation wsan't very informative either.

City of London puts up some amazing shows, but unfortunately this one, did not take our breath away like some of the shows that preceded this.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Rum Masterclass at Cottons - Vauxhall

When Joanne from Love Pop Ups London mentioned that Cottons at Vauxhall (the newest of four branches - opened last month) was looking for some bloggers to sample one of their Rum Masterclasses, I jumped out of my eating/writing ennui and applied.

Every single rum that we tried was amazing enough to be drunk on its own. The experience has forced me to rethink rums as just an alcoholic base which needs a mixer, to something that can be savoured on its own. They are great in cocktails and some rums go partuicularly well with certain specific mixers - like Ginger beer. But a lot of them can be slowly sipped on and enjoyed for just what they are.

Read the entire post on my Food Blog - Kim Eats n Blogs.

There's such a large variety out there, that an experience of a masterclass like this one really helps start you down a wonderfully interesting path. Priced around £20 per person for rum masterclass only or £35 per person which includes a 2-course dinner after the class, its money well spent.

Cottons -Vauxhall.
Unit 12 Flagstaff House,
St Georges Wharf,
Vauxhall, SW8 2LE
T: 0207 091 0793

Read the entire post on my Food Blog.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Peperami presents Beefsy: A Study in Sausage

I was very intrigued when I saw this event pop up on facebook. My favourite pork snack makers Peperami were launching their new beef snack and had a 2 day pop up art exhibition featuring this new product. #beefsy

The promos said "An art exhibition for people who like their culture a little meatier.

Unlike the pretentious rubbish peddled by so-called “modern artists”, BEEFSY: A Study In Sausage gets straight to the point with creations that actually mean something, at least to die-hard meat-lovers.

The world is suffering from an over-exposure to pictures of lentil lunches. This exhibition is an injection of unashamedly beefy brilliance."

This obviously tickled my funny bone and tantalised my meat lover palate.

It was a quick visit. We wandered around the area a bit before arriving at the venue at 15 Bateman Street, a small art gallery.

There were about 10-12 exhibits 'inspired' by famous art works and they are all up for auction. The proceeds all go to the Glass Door Homeless Charity. While the exhibition was a 2 day popup, you can still participate in the auction until 31st October at - for a great cause. Prices are currently at around £50.00

I also took part in the #beeflipschallenge and became a part of one of the art works.

"Hooray! I'm gonna be famous!"

It was quite fun, but I had the smell of beef sausage in my nose for the rest of the evening. hehehe.

There were plenty of free samples, but no rubbish bins. We were told to throw the wrappers of the ones we ate on location in the unmade bed exhibit.

It was a quirky exhibit and a fun 20 minute detour on our walk around Soho / Carnaby street areas. But I have to admit that my favourite is still the spicy pork peperami.