Ramona Tells Jim by Sophie Wu, Bush Studio, 14 October 2017

This is the third time we have been to the new Bush Studio and the third time we have been thrilled by the results there. From our point of view, this is akin to the wonders of the Hampstead Downstairs as a source of top notch fringe theatre.

Click here for a link to the Bush’s on-line resource for the Ramona Tells Jim play/production.

Spanning 15 years, the play depicts the fumbling, youthful love between Ramona and Jim as teenagers, as well as the lingering aftermath of those fleeting but life-changing events.

Here is an embedded trailer for the production, which shows snippets of the junior scenes:

The playwright, Sophie Wu, is a new name to us. Apparently she is more TV and film actress  than playwright at this stage of her career. We’ll certainly be looking out for her plays again. Ramona Tells Jim is a charming, short piece – very impressive as an early effort.

This search term – click here – digs out plenty of reviews. In truth the reviews speak more highly of the production than the play, claiming some lack of depth and/or plausibility in the latter. But what do the reviewers know? We thought this was 80-90 minutes of high quality, thought-provoking, dark comedy.

Extremely well acted and directed too; the reviewers certainly agree with us on that. Director Mel Hillyard wowed us as recently as March with Scarlett at the Hampstead Dowstairs and also last year with the Brink at the Orange Tree. She is certainly a director to watch.

We had also seen Ruby Bentall before, although I had to look this up to recall where; in DNA and The Miracle at the Cottesloe yonks ago. All of the performers were very good indeed.

The audience had their moments on the night we attended. The Bush was very quiet that evening, as the next production in the main house (Of Kith and Kin – we’re going to that in a couple of week’s time) has not yet opened. Just before the doors were due to open (15 minutes before scheduled the start of the play), two members of staff went through and locked the door behind them. One couple, seeing people go in, went running up to the door and banged on it fervently, thinking that they had missed the start of the show, perhaps unused to 19:45 start times for the new studio rather than 19:30 in the main house.

“We must be the most stupid people on earth”, said the door-banging chap as the couple joined the rest of us in a sedate drinking/milling around mode for a few more minutes.

Actually, the most stupid people on earth award for the evening might go to the woman next to me who left her mobile phone on, noisily pinging through texts and e-mails during the 1998 scenes – very incongruous noise – until she realised the problem was her, at which point she tried to rectify the problem discreetly, hoping no-one would notice that it was her. Plenty of people noticed, love.

Next up for a stupid award was the woman who insisted on rattling her voluminous drink ice around in her glass like a teenager noisily munching popcorn in the cinema, then later cackling like a hyena at the fumbling sex scene which was surely whimsical pathos humour rather than guffaw humour to anyone old enough to know better, which this woman surely was.

Crumbs, the above paragraphs infer that we had an irritating evening but we really didn’t – we came home truly delighted with the play and the production. We had a light supper of salami and cream cheese baguettes with some salad stuff, washed down with a very jolly Dão red.

Highly commended by both me and Janie – we’ll be looking out again for the talent that was on show – writing, directing, producing and acting.

Catharsis, Xavier Sabata, Armonia Atenea & George Petrou, Wigmore Hall, 9 October 2017

Our Daisy is partial to a bit of countertenor singing and this Wigmore Hall concert looked a bit different and interesting, so I booked it.

We quite like Monday night concerts at The Wig, not least because they are a darned good excuse (not that we need excuses) to take a Monday off.

Goodness knows where the Monday went…indeed where the whole weekend went, but there you go.

Here is a link to the Wigmore Hall resource on the concert.

It started with a rather jazzed up version of one of Vivaldi’s well-known concerti. We thought the whole concert might be jazzed up, but in truth only that first piece was.

Then enter the countertenor, Xavier Sabata, who is a rather big and fearsome looking chap. Very dramatic delivery style. Wonderful voice.

The ensemble is Greek, of course, but Xavier Sabata is Catalan. He looked as though he might make a unilateral declaration of independence any moment and frankly no-one in the hall looked able to stop him if he were to do so.

Daisy got the sense that the ensemble were not in the best of moods, either with each other or their situation. That certainly didn’t reflect in their playing, which was excellent. Perhaps it was the multiple encores at the end that bothered them and left Daisy with that sense; George and Xavier might well have gone on for an extra half hour were it not for the Wigmore Hall aficionados calling time after the second encore.

It turns out that this line-up has recently recorded an album named Catharsis, basically a collection of these full-tilt countertenor arias.

Here (or the image) links to Catharsis on Amazon – other retailers are available.

Much as we very much enjoyed the concert, we weren’t motivated to buy the album, but it would be a good way to hear what this beautiful music sounds like if you weren’t at the concert.

Erica Jeal in the Guardian reviewed the album – here.

David Vickers reviewed the album in Gramaphone – here.

Barry Creasy on www.musicomh.com gave the concert a superb review – here.

We ate light after the concert, back at the flat; open smoked salmon sandwiches and a very jolly bottle of Austrian Riesling. Nothing baroque about the supper…unlike the delicious concert.

A Return Visit To Paradise by way of Kensal Green, 8 October 2017

No comedy moustache this time…
…nor festive cracker hats!

We returned to the scene of last year’s Christmas festivities (those December 2016 ones depicted above).

It was almost the same group of us too, except was around and Micky joined us this time.

The place is probably better suited to a regular Sunday lunch feast rather than the Christmas feast. The regular Sunday lunch is gargantuan enough, but within a tolerance that doesn’t require several days of overindulgence-recovery-time.

Good food too. Janie and I both especially enjoyed the crispy belly pork. I found the Sunday roast trimmings (not least Yorkshire pudding) went surprisingly well with it. Yummy starters too – mine was a seared tuna salad, Janie’s a crab thing.

But of course it was the company that really made the day so good. Even after Micky, Max and Kim had gone, Janie and I stuck around chewing the fat with DJ until long after dark. Winter is setting in!

The March On Russia by David Storey, Orange Tree Theatre, 7 October 2017

Back in the late 1980’s. when I read a heck of a lot of plays as my “commute fodder”, I remember wanting to like David Storey’s plays but never enjoying reading them. I wanted to like them, because I knew his son, Jake, at University, which was as close as I got to actually knowing a playwright back then. But I always found the plays themselves naturalistic to the point of being dull.

But I had never seen a David Storey performed and now he has died and Daisy liked the sound of this one and it is supposedly one of his most autobiographical ones and it was the Orange Tree…

…so off we went.

I’m going to guess that this is about as good a production of a David Storey as one might find. Excellent cast, fine young director in Alice Hamilton, whose work we have enjoyed before. (Although German Skerries,which she also directed, was a naturalistic, dull, late 20th Century play which sent us to sleep.) Plus, the Orange Tree “in the round” treatment suits this type of naturalistic chamber play.

This production of The March On Russia has had excellent reviews – quotes, links and other resources about the production can be found on the Orange Tree’s site – here.

But I did find the play dull. It was borderline for me whether we stayed on for the second half, but Daisy guessed, correctly, that the drama would unfold in a rather more interesting way second half. I’m glad we stayed. I’m glad I’ve seen a David Storey. Neither of us will be rushing back to see another of his, though.

We debated this and more over a delicious Spanish meal at Don Fernando after theatre, as is our habit post Orange Tree, making the evening as a whole worthwhile and enjoyable.

Middlesex End Of Season Lunch And Player Awards, Lord’s, 6 October 2017

Another year, another player awards lunch at Lord’s.

Different mood this year. Last year we’d won the county championship and even Angus smiled most of the time…

…this year, relegation.

Still, the sun smiled on us at the top of the Mound Stand for the pre-lunch reception. That is one stunning location for a drinks party when the sun is shining on Lord’s.

I played tennis before the reception, a very good game by my very patchy standards, arriving about 20-past twelve. Janie arrived about five minutes later.

We chatted with several interesting people over drinks, then soon enough were being shepherded to the Nursery Pavilion for lunch, where we joined a rather jolly table for a very jolly lunch:

Our rather jolly table

It looks all male in that photo, but of course Janie (Daisy) was on our table and took the photo. Libby was also at our table, but somehow avoided the group photo:

Ian and Libby chat after lunch

After the player awards had been handed out, there was a light-hearted Q&A hosted by MC David Fulton with Phil Tufnell, Angus Fraser, John Embury.

Tuffers, Gus, Embers and…

…we can’t call David Fulton “Fullers”, otherwise he might be confused with Middlesex’s own James Fuller, whose dad, Julian, had come half way round the world for lunch and can be seen on the far left of our table photo.

Daisy tells me that Julian Fuller should be nicknamed “The Anaesthetist” because after talking to him for five minutes…

…you discover that he IS an anaesthetist. I can think of other people who deserve that nickname for a different reason, but mercifully no-one like that was at our table.

After lunch, Daisy spotted that all of the players were wearing matching suits and shoes.

Finny looking dapper in his synchronised whistle and Scoobys

She didn’t get to quiz Finny on the subject, but did extract some vital information from a small group of other players, who told her that the clobber is sponsored by a fashion house.

Daisy explained her theory to the sartorially synchronised trio of players, which is that one of their mums takes it upon herself to determine the appropriate fashion items for young men and thus co-ordinates their attire for them. That’s what her big sister, Hilary, did when a nephew of ours got married earlier this year.

When Daisy’s family co-ordinate their outfits, it’s bound to be Hilary’s doing…

Naturally, the three young players in question broke down under such intensive interrogation and confessed that Carolyn Gubbins is indeed such a mum, although they did also persist with the (frankly, nonsensical) rumour about sponsored suits.

It is very hard to pull the wool over Daisy’s eyes, even when it is the finest suit wool and Daisy has had a few glasses of vino.

It was a very enjoyable lunch in most convivial company to end the Middlesex season. Now we need to sustain ourselves through the winter.

Class Of ’92 Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinner, Café Rouge Holborn, 5 October 2017

Partly inspired by my chance encounter 18 months ago (and subsequent re-encounters) with Chris Stanton at the real tennis court at Lord’s

…partly inspired by the fact that many of us who gather for these Ivan Shakespeare Memorial Dinners have been hanging around NewsRevue now for 25 years…

…John Random decided to theme this get together around the notion “Class of ’92”.

I didn’t realise that John had actually persuaded Chris Stanton to come along this time, which was a very pleasant surprise. Chris brought a couple of ringbinder files with scripts from his 1992 runs, including the late Spring run, directed by John Random, in which I (or rather, my material) made its NewsRevue debut:

Seeing those files, it made me realise what a challenging job it must be for performers to do NewsRevue. The sheer volume of scripts, the mixture of sketches and songs, the changes to the show every week…

…Chris showed me one running order, for example, in which there was an unbroken sequence of fourteen or fifteen pieces in which he appeared.

John Random brought along a photo album which had lots of photos of NewsRevue types…even one of me and Janie from our very early days together…most people in the room were represented by at least one photo.

Mark Keagan was there, as was Barry Grossman, Nick R Thomas, Colin Stutt and Gerry Goddin, the latter of whom produced a particularly fiendish version of his “quiz” game and tortured us with it at the end of the evening.

Prior to this evening, when chatting at Lord’s, Chris Stanton had been threatening to have a bonfire of his old scripts. Part of my purpose was to help John Random to rescue this treasure trove for posterity. But by the end of this evening, Chris explained that he did not want to part with his scripts and had no intention of destroying them.

On the way home, my song “Coppers are Dressed as Hippies” popped into my head, as did the notion that I too have a ringbinder file at home with correspondence and one or two old running orders and programmes.

In the morning, I copied/wrote up “coppers” (click link here or above) and found a running order, programme and writers’ newsletter from Paula Tappenden’s summer run; the run that followed the John Random/Chris Stanton one.

In some ways, I thought, I had blooped by not bringing those artefacts to the evening. But in other ways, it seems more fitting that I use Ogblog as a medium, following up on the Class of ’92 evening, to circulate copies of my 1992 artefacts, shown below:

  • the programme for that Paula Tappenden run (late June through August 1992);
  • the running order from week four (late July 1992);
  • John Random’s writers’ newsletter w/e 31 July 1992…who was your visitor from Idaho, John? Do tell.

Postscript. In response to my request for details on the mystery visitor from Idaho, I received the following beautifully-crafted missive from John Random a week or so later:

…the friend from Idaho was my former flatmate Janet.

One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t spend the whole of 1986 simply writing down everything she ever said. Here was comedy gold, narrative gold right under my nose and I didn’t recognize it for what it was.

Without ever trying to be funny, without even KNOWING she was being funny, Janet contrived to be one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. This was chiefly because everyone she’d ever known was either barking mad or the victim of some cruel yet ludicrous twist of Fate.

I recall she had a pioneer ancestor who was run over by the very train that brought his family out West to join him. Apparently, he had started the celebrations a little too early and was a little too merry by the time the train pulled in.

Not that this should be taken as meaning she was catty or scabrous. On the contrary, she was a big motherly woman of the sort you might get if you crossed Jenni Murray with Claire Rayner.

Sadly, Janet’s not much of a writer, so I have very few letters of hers, and she seldom even e-mails. However, she recently broke a seven-year silence indicating that she might be coming over in a week or two. I do hope so.

My own offerings from that Paula Tappenden Week Four are all now up on Ogblog, btw, all clickable below:

If anyone wants a better quality copy of the artefacts, just message me and they can be whizzing your way in next to no time.

Will You Go Walk The Woods So Wild? Paul O’Dette, Lunchtime Concert, Wigmore Hall, 2 October 2017

I used to say that there are only two places left in the world where stewards and patrons still call me young man; Wigmore Hall and Lord’s.

Today I must sadly report that I went to both places and was referred to not once as young man. This is becoming a pattern. What is going on?

Still, apart from my awareness of my fast disappearing “youth”, the lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall was an absolute delight. Janie and I both very much enjoy the relaxing nature of this type of music…perhaps it’s our age?

Paul O’Dette is no youngster either – indeed he looks a little like father Christmas these days, making his press photos a little dated, perhaps.

But boy can he play the lute, jamming good with Byrd and Dowland…

…here is the Wigmore Hall resource on this concert, so you can read all about it.

There was a rather lovely Bacheler Pavane and Galliard between the two pieces listed for Bacheler on the above resource.

This was a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert, so still available at the time of writing for another four weeks or so if you are in  the right country or can convince the BBC iPlayer that you are – click here.

There was a delightful encore of an Italian Renaissance piece – sadly I missed the name of it and the broadcast missed the piece completely. It was lovely.

As was the whole concert. Very soothing music. I realised that this type of music would suit me very well for when I’m working or relaxing, so I downloaded some and bought a couple of CDs on-line too.

The above double CD was the closest I could find to the concert we heard (and lots more besides). I snapped up the last currently available copy at a sensible price on Amazon, but you might want to look occasionally and/or elsewhere for it.

Janie and I enjoyed a fine lunch at The Wig after the concert, then on to Lord’s (via Noddyland) for the end of season Middlesex Forum and drinks party, not that there was anything to celebrate. Still, the forum went as well as can be expected and it was good to see people at the end of the season.

This evening (the next day), I am mellowing out, listening to Paul O’Dette on the lute, while writing this Ogblog piece. Such sweet sounds.

Harvest Festival Play Street, Hanger Hill Garden Estate, 30 September 2017

Photographs by Janie, words by Ian.

Mini Tennis In Our Street

Every month or so, we have “Play Street” in our street. Some of the grumpier residents don’t like it, but we do, even though it takes place right outside our house. We like the sound of children enjoying themselves and the community coming together.

Normally the event really isn’t for us. Not even as a couple who inadvertently ended up at Young People’s Night at the theatre yesterday – click here for that story – can we claim eligibility to join in Play Street…

…until this time. This event was also designated to be a mini harvest festival for the whole community, so all and sundry were invited along. Yes, Janie and I are most definitely sundry.

Arts and crafts tent
Nim – one of the tireless community organisers
A bear in a bear suit – escaped from Edgbaston’s Eric Hollies Stand, perhaps?
Lots of mingling in the street
Three generations, one family, long-time locals
Councillor Nigel flogging his home-made jams for the cause
Many different ways to chat and enjoy the afternoon
Ian chats with local pharmacist Dion about photography

We thought the afternoon was a great success. We hope the community organisers arrange more such events in the future.

Postscript:

Aleksandra Turner kindly sent me a few more photographs, including some with Janie – which is a definite plus. Here is one of Aleksandra’s…

…and here is a link to my Flickr collection of photos from the event, which shows all of Janie’s (20-odd) and includes Aleksandra’s pictures (individually credited) at the end of the set.

Don’t be bemused by the first photo in that Flickr album; it is not from the street fair, but one I took at the theatre the night before.

Many thanks, Aleksandra, for sending me those super pictures of the street event.

The Unknown Island adapted from a short story by José Saramago, Gate Theatre, 29 September 2017

Ellen McDougall is the new artistic director of The Gate and this production is a great start to her role.

Based on The Tale Of The Unknown Island, an allegorical short story by Portugese writer José Saramago, four actors enact the piece. It is a very simple story with many-layered themes; to some extent the unknown island is an individual’s capacity to explore personal horizons, to some extent it is an allegorical tale about bureaucracy, leadership, power and colonialism.

Sounds heavy but honestly it isn’t. It is a one hour piece full of fun and little coups de theatre. There’s even a tiny bit of audience participation…but not of the “embarrassing pick on one person” kind.

Here is a link to The Gate’s resource on the play/production. The production has deservedly had superb reviews, links to which can be found in this resource, saving me the trouble.

Janie and I thought we were the oldest people in the audience…

…turns out I had inadvertently booked for “Young People’s Night” – it was simply the only Friday evening we were available!

Still, we are young at heart.

There was a short Q&A session after the show for Young People’s Night. As we were honorary young folk by then, Janie and I stayed on, finding the discussion interesting.

But back to the play/production – it is most certainly well worth seeing; for the story, for the production and for the quality of the performances, all four performers being excellent.

At the time of writing (the next morning), this production still has a week to run; Janie and I would thoroughly recommend it. Hopefully the piece will transfer and allow a wider audience to enjoy this thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable production.

Dolphins And Sharks by James Anthony Tyler, Finborough Theatre, 24 September 2017

Interesting play this, an award-winner from New York, getting its first airing in Europe at the Finborough.

The Finborough on-line resource describes the play and production well – here.

It is a comedy and it is a funny play, yet the issues in the play about unfair work practices and about attitudes between different minority communities in New York are both poignant and prescient.

The tiny Finborough had been turned into a sort-of Harlem copy shop with the audience all on one side for a change.

The young woman who checks your tickets took pains to ask us not to throw our rubbish in the bins because they are props. We though it was so obvious that they were props that it was almost embarrassing for her to have to tell us this.

But some dumb mf’s has bi dumpin’ dair trash in de set.

In truth, it did take us both a while to get used to the Harlem street talk used in the play, but either it or we settled down quite quickly to that aspect.

The plot was quite slow to build, but by the end of the first half (which was probably two-thirds of the play in fact) the plot was simmering and we were keen for the second half.

That shorter act, after the interval, was very pacey and well done.

The cast were excellent and you can see why this play won awards in the USA.

We picked up some Persian food from Mohsen on the way home. Janie was in a bad mood at the injustice of life as depicted in this play. So it is fair to say that the play was more than a little affecting.

Well done Finborough – another high quality find, well produced.