Saturday, 18 July 2015

Death of a Salesman at Noel Coward Theatre

Death of a Salesman is a 1949 play by American playwright Arthur Miller. It was the recipient of the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances. Death of a Salesman is often numbered on the short list of being among the finest American plays in the 20th century.

I had heard a lot about this play, but had never got the chance to watch it nor had I read it. When we realised that 18 July 2015 was the last performance of this run of the play at Noel Coward Theatre, we quickly booked tickets for the penultimate show.

I'm glad, I didn't read up anything about the play before I went to watch it, because I could enjoy the story line as it evolved. The problem with well known plays for me, is that I know how things end before a performance even begins. I personally prefer the slow reveal.

In the land of the free, each man is in charge of his own destiny. But as old age begins to take hold of Willy Loman, the dream of retiring with his loving wife and watching his handsome sons continue his legacy seems further away than ever. Directed by Gregory Doran, this production of the Royal Shakespeare Company marks the centenary celebrations of Arthur Miller.

The 4 main characters are Willy Loman - a salesman in his 60's, his wife Linda and his 2 sons - Biff & Happy.

The play opens with Willy returning half way through a sales trip unable to carry on his journey. His troubles start out seeming quite commonplace - burn out due to overwork and wishing his sons had achieved more in life. But as the play moves forward, you realise that there are much more serious issues involved, dangerous secrets to be revealed.

This is most definitely a tragic play, and we came away feeling quite depressed.

Almost 70 years have passed since Arthur Miller penned this play, but the social, moral and consumerist issues are exactly the same today too. The line between reality and illusion is normally very clear in the present, but it gets a bit hazy when thinking of the past and in the case of Willy Loman, he embellishes his memories so much, that it seems that he can no longer distinguish between the two.

It is difficult to find sympathy for Linda, because it seems like she enables Willy's behaviour, no matter how irrational.

Death of a Salesman is a tragedy and depressing, but it is also thought provoking and covers topics that need to be discussed amongst the youth of today.
What is Success?
What is acceptable behaviour on the path to success?
What are the responsibilities of parents towards their children and children towards their older parents?
Should you follow your own dreams or those that others think you are capable of?

Its a lot to think about...

Monday, 13 July 2015

Peter Barnes - Noonday Demons - @King's Head Theatre

We absolutely loved James McAvoy in The Ruling Class, so when we heard that King's Head Theatre was putting up a performance of another Peter Barnes Play, we were really excited.

The fact that this play was being put up in a Theatre within a pub, just made the whole concept more interesting. This was our first visit to a Theatre within a pub and it was only later that I learned that there are more such Pub Theatres in London.

The idea behind the play was simple:

St Eusebius is living as a hermit in the Egyptian desert, alone but for a tower of his own excrement, and the maggots that live in his festering flesh.

With nothing to do but self-flagellate, he is quite content surviving on olives, water and self-righteousness until a second hermit arrives with an order from God. And so begins a contest as to who is the holiest.

The script itself is that of an anarchic black comedy. Sadly the performances couldn't match up to the script. It is an extremely difficult script and what we saw where the early previews, so I do hope that the group can tighten the performance and bring in more of that manic energy needed to portray characters in a Peter Barnes play. Or maybe our expectations were too high for expecting a James McAvoy level of performance.

The sudden appearance of a third hermit at the end of the play just for the curtain call threw us all for a loop, none of us could figure out where he came in from and what his role was.

The themes of religious zealotry, violence in Gods name, clash of extreme egos are all very relevant and current, but somehow this performance didn't manage to strike the right note for us.

The King's Head Theatre is a tiny theatre with free seating. The front row is literally on the stage itself. And the advantage was that we got a close look at the make up which was excellent. Torn knees, covered in dust from the desert, it was all very well put together.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Twelfth Night @The Actors Church / @IrisTheatre #iris12thnight

A Shakespearean Play set in an Actual Garden in the heart of the City with multiple locations and the audience moving around the garden with the actors? Whats not to love about that?

The minute I heard about the concept (from Anne Marie's twitter feed - We LOVED her in These Trees are Made of Blood), I knew we had to catch this play.

And so we found ourselves on a Friday evening, among a select group of people with access to St Paul's Church (also known as The Actors Church) in Covent Garden, while others contented themselves with street performers in the piazza.

The play by Iris Theatre was set out in 6 locations across the church and the gardens, each one more atmospheric than the other.

The Twelfth Night is a typical Shakespearean comedy with mistaken identities and love triangles / quadrangles etc. We had watched a recording of the play performed at The Shakespeares Globe on Star Arts, but that was so pale and insipid compared to this version.

This version, directed by Vik Sivalingam was light and airy and fun and even the young kids in the audience seemed to be loving Shakespeare. The music by Anne Marie Piazza and Nick Howard Brown was perfect at setting the atmosphere. The open air settings, the fairy lights, the minimalistic sets, the gorgeous church.

The cast was stellar - Anne Marie as Maria, Nick Howard as Feste, Henry Wyrley-Birch as Sebastian /Aguecheek, Pepter Lunkuse as Viola, Olivia Onyehara as Olivia, Tony Bell as Malvolio, Robert Maskell as Sir Toby and Julian Moore-Cook as Orsino.

I loved the costumes and how beautifully they were transformed from clothes that could be worn on the streets today with just a few touch ups.

I would heavily recommend this play to everyone, especially if you believe that Shakespeare is too heavy to enjoy.

And in case you were wondering why St Paul's Church in Covent Garden is called the Actor's Church :
It was designed by Inigo Jones in 1633 and is regarded as the masterpiece and focal point of his piazza. Inigo Jones was an architect, but also a set and costume designer to the court. Hence the name.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Gina Bellman in "Orson's Shadow"

Thanks to Antony from London Meetups, we caught another brilliant play at the Southwark Playhouse.

This one was again inspired by true events surrounding Giants of Stage and Screen Orson Welles (John Hodgkinson), Sir/Baron Laurence Olivier (Adrian Lukis), Vivien Leigh (Gina Bellman), Dame Joan Plowright / Baroness Olivier (Louise Ford) and Kenneth Tynan (Edward Bennett). Although its more in the realm of speculative fact based fiction.

Set around 1960 in Dublin and then subsequently at the Royal Court Theatre, Hollywood giants Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier have been persuaded to work together for the first time - in a production of Eugène Ionesco’s masterpiece "Rhinoceros" - the inspired idea of legendary theatre critic Kenneth Tynan.

But with Olivier’s eccentric wife Vivien Leigh and girlfriend (later wife) Joan Plowright added to the volatile mix, legendary egos collide both on stage and off.

The play was nominated for Outstanding Play of the Year in the Lortel Awards on its New York debut.

While most theater & movie goers would know the main actors/directors in this play, Orson's Shadow gives us a peek "behind the scenes", so to speak.

Rather than the perception of the individual in popular culture and the media, we see their insecurities, their egos, their frailties... We get to see the "person behind the image"

The dialogues, insults and barbs flew thick and fast. If you are familiar with that era of film and stage, there's a much deeper level of understanding, but even if someone has never heard of any of these names before, the play can be enjoyed for what it is.

Even though the theater was hardly occupied today (because of the tube strike), the cast performed as though it was to a full house.

John Hodgkinson as Orson Welles was absolutely brilliant. and Claran O'Brien as Shawn was great comic relief. I was wondering why Gina Bellman looked so familiar as I have never watched "Coupling", I then realised that I have watched her in "Leverage"

A surprise bonus was suddenly coming face to face with Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) when buying a coffee at the bar during interval - who was in the audience :)

Picture Credits : 
Antony from London Meetups
Southwark Playhouse

Monday, 6 July 2015

Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic & Emergency Service, London

Elizabeth Street Veterinary Clinic & Emergency Service
55 Elizabeth Street
London SW1W 9PP

020 7730 9102

The vets here are brilliant! As are its nursing staff! When we returned home late on Saturday night, our normally healthy cat had thrown up and continued to throw up at 3 hour intervals.

Our regular vets are shut on Sunday, but have a tie-up with this clinic for emergencies. The nurse on the phone was very helpful and helped calm us down. She gave us some recommendations, and told us to call again in the evening if the symptoms didn't abate.

We had to call them again and were given an appointment quickly. The nurse in the waiting room was efficient and calmed us down as well as all the other people who came in with their pets in emergencies.

The doctor when we saw her was brilliant. Attentive to all our input and handled our temperamental + sick cat beautifully. Given the problem we have getting a tablet down her throat, she gave us a paste to feed her in 2 hours and she has promised us that cats LOVE the taste. She also gave her an injection for the nausea and discomfort and put in a bit of a pain killer too to ease the cat.

As soon as we got home, our cat who was on 15-20% energy levels and 60% stubbornness for the past 24 hours, is now at 60% energy and 90% stubbornness ( in 30 minutes)

Very very impressed and happy with every interaction that we had with this clinic today.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Visiting the Lavender Farms @TheHopShop

We were headed to Kent for a picnic at Knole Park and our friend Sarah (the Fabulous Baker) urged us to come in earlier, so we could squeeze in a visit at the Kentish Lavender Castle Farm.

We were so glad that we took her up on this offer.

As we drove towards the farm, we spotted glimpses of purple patches that grew steadily larger as we approached. The minute we turned off the main road, the sweet smell of lavender wafted up to us and I knew that I was in a blissful heaven.

The kind folks at Castle Farm have left a small section of this working farm open, where passersby can pose and take pictures. We even met a couple who had brought their Afghan (dog), just to take pictures with him posing in front of a sea of lavender!

At Castle Farm, they grow over 95 acres of lavender and extract high quality essential oils on site. These are sold at the farm shop on the grounds. Other items on offer include Culinary Essences, toiletries, dried flower-heads, gifts and foods.

We tried the Lavender Cookies that were outstanding, but the ice cream was very low on Lavender flavour. We picked up some fresh apple juice on site, squeezed from their Norfolk Royal Apples. This is a rare strain and they even sell some young trees for 20Pounds. The juice was delicious and consumed rapidly even by a "certain someone" who said he hated apple juice :)

If you are so inclined, you can book a massage therapy session in the middle of the lavender fields (under a marquee or in the open), but they seem to get booked up very early. You might just have to wait until next year.

If you would like to learn more about how Lavender is grown and processed, they have a tour that takes you behind the scenes of lavender production, from the fields to the distillery, with an expert guide. Tours cost 4.5 / 5.5 on weekends/weekdays and last about an hour.

During Lavender season, they put up a second temporary shop to deal with the sheer number of visiotrs and increase in produce. The Hop Shop itself is a permanent structure and is open throughout the year.

The Hop shop stocks beef, Cox and Norfolk Royal apples, apple juice, hops, dried flowers, lavender and essential oils, honey, pumpkins and pheasants, all sourced from the farm itself. Others items are purchased direct from genuine local producers – cakes, jams, fruit pies, chutneys, ice-cream, sausages and bacon, meat pies, apple crisps and free-range eggs. In spring and summer they source local asparagus, strawberries and cherries direct from other Kentish farmers, as well as local herb plants.

Around September to October, the farm is open to pick your own apples and between September and November, you can even pick your own pumpkins and squashes.

Seasonal Produce - Exact dates change according to weather, but generally the below is on offer:

Strawberries: May – August
Cherries: July
Asparagus: End April – Mid June
Lavender Honey: Autumn
Sweetcorn: Early September
Norfolk Royal and Cox Apples: Pick Your Own orchard open September – October (weather dependent). Ready picked in the shop through November.
Kent Cobnuts: September
Pumpkins: mid-September – December
Fresh cut Lavender: on a daily basis from late June until early August.
Lavender Plants: Early May – early August.
Hop Plants: December – April
Turkey, Gammons and Christmas meats: December – to order.

The farm is gorgeous and whether you are interested in a massage or just taking pictures of the undulating fields or munching on some amazing lavender cookies - this is a wonderful trip to take. (Its just 20 miles from Central London)