Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire, Hampstead Theatre, 30 January 2016

We go to the Hampstead Theatre to see a preview of Rabbit Hole at the Hampstead – production details from the wonderful Hampstead website are here.

This was another sad evening at the theatre, making it four out of four for us in January 2016.  We are in the home of a couple a few months on from the tragic death of their infant son.  The ever-excellent Claire Skinner plays the grieving mother.  We also meet her husband, sister, mother and the young driver who ran over the child.  All roles were played very well indeed.  The multi-dimensional set (aren’t they all the rage these days?) was superb.

The piece won a Pulitzer when first produced and was made into a film in 2010 with Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckert and Diane Wiest.  Neither of us have seen the film.

Presumably it has never been performed as a play in the UK.  Edward Hall likes to seek out such lost gems and he might be on to a winner with this one (it has almost sold out its run in advance), although the relentlessly sad thread that runs throughout the play might mitigate against a West End transfer.

Ed Hall himself was in the audience our night.  As indeed were John and Linda – a couple we regularly see at the theatre although we unusually hadn’t seen them for a while before tonight.  It was nice to chat with them again during the interval.

Originally we were supposed to get Alison Steadman as the mother but she pulled out a couple of months ago and we had been told to expect Penny Downie instead. We think of her as Queen Zenobia, but we are reliably informed that she is officially now “Penny Downie of Downton Abbey”.  In any case she played her irritating yet ultimately sympathetic role very well.  I could imagine Alison Steadman doing it too.

Real reviews to follow – presumably the Hampstead link – here it is again will be updated with the more favourable of those.

How I Said ‘F*** You’ To The Company When They Tried to Make Me Redundant by Rohan Candappa, Z/Yen Offices, 28 January 2016

Moncada Barracks or the old Z/Yen offices? One or the other.

Back in December, Rohan Candappa wrote to me asking if he could by any chance use the big Z/Yen meeting room on 28 January to try out his latest piece of performance writing early evening on the motley bunch of Alleyn’s alumni (I include myself in that epithet) who gather occasionally in the City for beer, curry and old times’ sake.

Strangely, Z/Yen’s big meeting room is not much used at 19:00 in the evening, so it would have seemed churlish to say no, especially when Rohan agreed to sponsor some beer and nibbles. Linda Cook, our Z/Yen practice manager, was hurriedly elected an honorary Alleyn’s alum for the evening, so the organisation of the event was practically resolved, even with John Eltham out of the country for much of January.

It felt incongruous (in a pleasant way) to have the Alleyn’s gang at the Z/Yen office for the evening. For one thing, I didn’t realise how well behaved we could be when gathered together in the right environment. There weren’t even any teachers to keep us in check.

But to Rohan’s extraordinary piece. The title basically divulges the plot. Rohan expresses in poignant terms the emotions he experienced when told that he was being made redundant. There is nothing funny about the way being made redundant makes someone feel, but the circumstances of this attempted redundancy are quite ludicrous. In the hands of Rohan Candappa, who is highly skilled at bitter-sweet humour as well as the more standard comedy variety, this sad story generated a remarkable amount of laughter. It is a very funny piece.

The humour builds once Rohan reaches the point in the story where, having had time to reflect on his seemingly hopeless situation, he decides to try and win against the odds. He initiates this twist brilliantly by telling the story of the Cuban rebels attacking the Moncada Barracks in 1953 – click here if you want to see the Wikipedia version of the story – although Rohan’s version is more pertinent to his story and far more fun.

Click here if you want to see the pictures Janie and I took of the Moncada Barracks in 2007.  Indeed feel free to hang around in Flickr looking at our Cuba pictures generally.  It’s one heck of a photogenic place.  As long as you promise to come back here afterwards and finish reading this blog piece.

Once the “fight back” part of Rohan’s story starts to unfold, the piece becomes even funnier and has terrific momentum to it. I almost felt sorry for [Insert name here] (the boss behind the attempted redundancy) and his human resources hench-woman…

…I said ALMOST felt sorry for them. Cut me some slack guys. Or say how you felt about it with your own words in the comments section. Don’t just yell at the screen.

There are precious few pieces of theatre about the workplace and even fewer good ones. With all due respect to Vaclav Havel, who wrote several absurdist pieces about work places, I have seen more than one but never got much out of those Havel plays. Indeed, the only really good play about the workplace that comes to my mind is David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross.  In an intriguing echo of Rohan’s title, btw, the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross (which is a very good movie) has the phrase “F*** You” articulated in an infeasible number of different ways for a two-syllable phrase. But I digress. My point is that the workplace is a big part of our lives but is wicked hard to turn into good drama. Rohan has succeeded in producing some very good drama indeed in this piece, which is a commendable achievement.

In short, the piece is a triumph and I really hope that Rohan progresses with it and gets it a wider audience. It is really thought-provoking as well as entertaining.

We sat in the meeting room chatting for ages after the performance; some of the group are people who have been made redundant, others of us people who have been in a position where we have dismissed staff ourselves. Everyone had experiences, thoughts and points to make. Eventually we realised that we were late for our meal and that our restaurant booking might go south unless we quickly headed south to the Rajasthan. So we migrated and continued our conversations there. A very special evening.

Yen by Anna Jordan, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 23 January 2016

This extraordinary play and production completed our January hat-trick of marvellous but grim plays; the first being You For Me For You by Mia Chung, the second being The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch.

Before we set off, I looked up the details on the Royal Court website and called them out to Janie.  “It won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting in 2013,” I said…

…”hold on a minute, I thought The Rolling Stone was promoted as having that same prize, the same year.  What’s going on?”

Turns out, this wonderful (relatively recent) Bruntwood Prize is run biennially and is awarded to four winners each time.  So they had both won  in 2013.

Yen is in some ways even more troubling than The Rolling Stone.  It feels more “on our own doorstep” (not that proximity should make the issues and human suffering any more alarming) and had extraordinary intensity and sway of emotions.

The young cast’s acting was simply superb, Ned Bennett’s directing once again takes the breath away.  In short, this play/production deserves all the plaudits and rave reviews it has already received and more besides.  You’ll find those here in the helpful Royal Court area.

Janie found this play/production so troubling she said she didn’t sleep so well that night.  Very unusual; she is pretty robust and we’ve seen a lot of troubling plays in our time.  So this is not for “people of a nervous disposition”.  But if you like your drama strong, raw and top notch, try somehow to get hold of a ticket for this one if you can.


Indian Lounge, Dinner With Ant Clifford, 21 January 2016

Ant Clifford and his Creative Stream Team have been partnered by a client with me and the Z/Yen team for an interesting piece of joint work.  We’ll mostly be working remotely and indeed had already made virtual progress through Skype, but Ant and I wanted a bit more face-to-face time after the first actual meeting in London.

We hatched a plan to have an early evening meal between the meeting and Ant’s 19:55 train to Sheffield.  I summarise the e-mail exchange that hatched the plan:

10 January:

Ian: What sort of food do you like?  I’ll muse a suitable venue once I know a bit more about your preferences.

Ant:I have no particular preference but love different experiences with food! Anything interesting is great!

…so much, so straightforward.  A few ideas for dining without preconditions around the Bloomsbury/Euston/Kings Cross/Clerkenwell areas start formulating in my mind.

13 January:

Ant: I’ve just realised that, with horror, I am on a gluten-free diet for 2 weeks for a…documentary!  I realise that may reduce our options significantly!

Perfectly understandable, this; happens all the time.  I often suddenly realise that someone is making a documentary about me and I’m sure most people cannot remember from one week to the next who is making what documentary about them upon which subject.  It’s hard to keep track.

Ian: Indian food is a good bet for gluten–freemen – as long as they like Indian food.  Here’s one near St Pancras, Indian Lounge, which I’ve been meaning to try as it has good reviews…

…I made a couple of other suggestions too…

14 January:

Ant:That’s great – the Indian sounds awesome!

So, Indian Lounge it was to be.  We had a really good meal, which I have reported on TripAdvisor here.  We had a great chat about all manner of subjects, from Ant’s family and interesting collection of pets/livestock, to music, not least our shared interest in baritone ukuleles, although Ant is really an accomplished guitarist/musician rather than a hobbyist/tinkerer like myself.

When the food arrived, Ant took out a packet of white powder.   “These creative types have become even more brazen as the years have gone on”, I thought to myself, trying not to look disapproving.

“The powder might or might not be gluten; it’s a double-blind trial,” said Ant, perhaps observing my expression, “shame to throw this powder all over such a nice dish. Would you mind filming me doing the sprinkling?” asked Ant. “Naturally”, I said.

The waiters seemed completely unperturbed by a diner sprinkling white powder all over their food, smiling and laughing, while another diner films the act. Perhaps it is commonplace in the Indian Lounge – we are in Kings Cross after all.

The meal was most enjoyable and the time passed quickly. A couple of times I said to Ant “keep an eye on the time”, then the third time I said, “I’m not trying to get rid of you, but there’s now only 12 minutes until your train.” Hurried goodbyes, a decision to do it again sometime and Ant dashes off for his train. Before I have even finished settling the account, I receive a reassuring text to let me know that Ant made his train just in time.

A memorable evening in many ways.

Dinner with John White at Kiru Restaurant, London SW3, 18 January 2016

I hadn’t thought about an “eating out” section of Ogblog, but after our fine meal at Kiru on 18 January, John White (of Keele and Ogblog tank top fame) e-mailed me to ask if I was going to Ogblog eating out experiences.

A fair question and I did ask for comments and suggestions.

Not quite sure how this might work for the retrospective aspect of Ogblog, as neither he nor I have kept journal notes on the places we have eaten at over the years, (in my case I have previously only done that when Janie and I travel) but I might be able to do a partial reconstruction, certainly for the last few years.

For the current and “going forward” element of the Ogblog, I think the rule will simply be that if we think the meal worthy of a TripAdvisor review, it is worthy of at least a mention and a link through Ogblog.

This meal at Kiru was certainly worthy of a TripAdvisor review – here is a link to it.

Meanwhile I shall try to draw up a list of the places we have dined in the past few years and pick his brains next time we meet on what (if anything) I/we might do on Ogblog about those.  Not that John and I are usually scratching around for things to discuss when we meet, but John has (sort-of) asked for this.

The Rolling Stone by Chris Urch, Orange Tree Theatre, 16 January 2016

We seem fated to sit next to the luvvies this year. Last week Daisy ended up with Benedict Wong sitting next to her at The Royal Court. Then earlier this week, she took a call from the Orange Tree , to see if we minded shifting up one seat on our row to make space for an actors’ seat. I’m not sure what would have happened if we had refused this request. Anyway, I ended up with half the cast sitting next to me at one time or another (not all at the same time).

Don’t let the jovial start to this posting deceive you. This was another bleak piece about troubled people in a troubled place. This time the place is Uganda and the story is basically that of a young man who gets himself and his religious family caught up in the persecution of gay people. At no point in the play would you sensibly anticipate a happy ending.

The play has won awards and is another of Paul Miller’s canny transfers from Royal Exchange Manchester, where it was deservedly very well received – see synopsis, reviews from Manchester (presumably, eventually, also from Richmond – we attended the last Oraneg Tree Preview), cast and creative credits here.

This is only Chris Urch’s second play, so his is certainly a name to look out for in future.

The title, The Rolling Stone, refers to a newspaper in Uganda that acts as a focal point for persecution by naming and shaming homosexuals.  You’d need a heart of stone not to be moved by this production and the real life plight of gay people in Uganda (and indeed many parts of the world), which this play puts under the spotlight.

You For Me For You by Mia Chung, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 9 January 2016

We attended the last night of this quite remarkable piece at the Royal Court.  It was also the last night downstairs for Linda by Penelope Skinner , so the place was swarming with luvvies, presumably supporting their friends and/or sticking around for an end of run party.

We spotted Sam West (who I knew reasonably well at school) and Laura Wade in the bar.  We also saw Tamsin Greig and Richard Leaf, plus Benedict Wong and his date.  These latter four ended up in our upstairs show sitting close by.

Janie asked, “is that Ai Wei Wei?” just after Benedict Wong  squeezed past us, to which I said “yes,” thinking she meant “is that the bloke who played Ai Wei Wei?” rather than mistaking him for the Chinese artist himself. “Good job I didn’t congratulate him on his exhibition at the Royal Academy,” said Janie later when the confusion came to light, “he’d have taken me for a right divvy”.

As always now with the Royal Court (and many other theatres), the archive contains pretty much everything you want to know about the production including the reviews, which were universally and deservedly very good indeed.

This is not an evening of light entertainment, but it is a wonderful piece of original theatre, with superb acting, stage design, movement and all.  It deserves a transfer and sighting by a much larger and wider audience, but the bleak North Korean subject matter will, sadly, probably prevent that from happening.

Meet the Patels, Curzon Bloomsbury, 2 January 2016

You could be forgiven for assuming that we spend half our lives at the cinema (indeed the Curzon Bloomsbury) if you simply look at the recent posts on this blog.  Four of the last five things we have done being visits to movies at that place.

In reality, we haven’t tended to go to the movies all that much, but over the festive season we usually go at least a couple of times.  Not least, to catch up on the handful of art house films to our taste that come out over the autumn which we don’t get around to seeing until Christmastime.

The difference this year is that the new Curzon Bloomsbury really is specialising in such films and is very convenient for us to visit at holiday time.

This movie, Meet The Patels, is well documented on IMDb (and indeed elsewhere) so really doesn’t need our two-penneth. Suffice it to say that you learn more about ethnic arranged marriages/parental pressures and the like in 90 minutes than most people in the west get to experience in a lifetime. It is a heart-warming and genuinely funny movie.  Just what Janie and I needed towards the end of another traumatic “mother in hospital over the festive season” variety.

Could next year be a hat trick of those for us?  Who knows, but for 90 minutes we could laugh and cry with the young Patel siblings and their parentally-challenged search for love. Highly recommended.

Listen To Me Marlon, Curzon Bloomsbury, 1 January 2016

We’re back at the Curzon Bloomsbury again today, our first cinema visit of the year and I am now a proud member of the Curzon for 2016. I would have saved a bob or two had I joined before we started this season’s film feast.  Never mind.

This documentary is well explained on IMDb, so I won’t repeat the stuff that is so comprehensively reported there.  Suffice it to say that this film is long but fascinating throughout and well worth seeing.

Janie and I both subscribe to the camp that believes Brando to have been a fine actor. We neither of us realised how many lemons he made along with the great performances. We also didn’t realise quite what a mess he made of his life, despite (or perhaps because of) the fame and riches. He did support and work hard for many good causes, however, which is always a redeeming feature in our eyes.