If It Ain’t Baroque…Don’t Fix It, A Day Out With John Random, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich,18 January 2018

John Random sits on the “Sounding Board” for the Old Royal Naval College. I’m not entirely sure what that means…

…I’m not sure John is entirely sure…

…but one thing it does mean at the moment is that John has the right occasionally to take a guest to tour the Painted Hall Ceiling.

This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the ceiling of the extraordinary painted hall up close and personal, while scaffolding is up as the ceiling is being conserved.

How could I possibly say no when John offered me such a tour?

John dons a hi-viz vest and a hard hat

John went the whole hog, safety-dress-wise, whereas I, on learning that the hard hat was voluntary, declined the offer to wear one of those.

We were part of a small group, led my the intrepid Martina; a young, pint-sized Italian woman who seemed to know an awful lot about the ceiling.

Meet William and Mary

We are very much in the baroque period for the painted hall and ceiling. We are also steeped in the politics of the Glorious Revolution. So William and Mary take centre stage and sectarian symbolism abounds.

Symbolic characters…not the sectarian ones I am glad to say…I should have listened & memorised…River Thames & London I think…

To be honest, the detail was a bit much for me, but the awe-inspiring opportunity to see this extraordinary work up close and learn about the conservation project was extremely interesting and memorable.

I would thoroughly recommend a visit while there is still time – still several months at the time of writing this – I suggest you do it sooner rather than later.

It was a sunny winter’s day, so after the tour we strolled a bit and I especially wanted to see the chapel, where I had attended at least one concert in the past.

Scrubs up nicely, that chapel

The chapel looked especially splendid in the sunlight – I hadn’t seen it on such a day before – plus it had clearly been through a clean up and refurb of its own since my last visit, perhaps 25 years ago.

As an aside, John Random seems to specialise in memorable days in Greenwich – my previous visit to the place, 20+ years ago, was with Janie to meet John and Jenny on an unforgettable day – click here or below:

Lunch With John Random And Jenny Mill In Greenwich, “The Day That Princess Diana Died”, 31 August 1997

John and I pondered whether any royals had (or would) die on the day of this Painted Hall visit. We decided that, if the worst did happen, we really should abandon any future plans to meet in Greenwich.

Next stop, lunch. John said he’d never tried an eel pie place before, so we chanced our luck in such a traditional place – Goddards – click here. The fact that John doesn’t much like mash and had never tried eel before did not daunt him:

John looks very happy with his grub

I personally am keen on eel, although usually in the smoked form…

…indeed as soon as I have finished writing this piece I shall sup on smoked eel and salad…

…so let me press on.

John found the eel a bit difficult to navigate, because the stewed eel served alongside the pie has the bone still in. I told John that I seemed to be managing the geography of the eel pieces better than him, which he found a curious turn of phrase.

I was reminded of Charley the Gent’s nerve-wracking encounter with my smoked eel at Lord’s in September 2015 – written up for King Cricket – click here or below...goodness knows what Chas would have made of it if I hadn’t carefully filleted the smoked eel for him:

Middlesex v Yorkshire at Lord’s – day one match report

Anyway, John and I both found the eel pie shop food a little bland – not least the meat in the pie and the parsley sauce – indeed the eel was far and away the tastiest element.

We thought we might enjoy some tea/coffee elsewhere more than we’d enjoy it in the eel pie house, so we went around the corner to Red Door Cafe – a quirky place which was very much to my taste.

The proprietor, William, played a very interesting and eclectic mixture of music, ranging from Leonard Cohen to Arvo Pärt.

Red Door served a very good cup of coffee and also had an intriguing collection of teas…I sampled the white which was very nice. John tried some cake which he said was also very good. I’d certainly go to that cafe again like a shot.

John and I chatted until we realised that hours had gone by in this jovial fashion, but we both really did need to get on and do some other things before the end of the day.

A very memorable and very enjoyable few hours.

My Mum’s A Twat by Anoushka Warden, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 13 January 2018

Janie and I loved this short piece. It was funny and intelligent and emotionally complex…

…a superb debut play for Anoushka Warden. It turns out that Anoushka Warden is more or less telling her own story – about growing up with a mother who transforms from a loving parent into an all-but estranged mum running a cult’s outpost in Canada.

It also transpires that Warden works for the Royal Court as head of PR – explained in the interview/preview piece linked here. That might explain why Vicky Featherstone chose to direct it herself but also brought in the very promising director Jude Christian to co-direct.

Here is a link to The Royal Court resource on this play/production.

It’s a one woman show – this must be the first time we have ever been to see a brace of one woman shows in the same weekend – the other being Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 at the Gate the previous day:

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith, Gate Theatre, 12 January 2018

Actually I think we should start an actress emancipation campaign on the back of this weekend’s experience. In Twilight, Nina Bowers had to play 20 different parts and also serve the intermission tea and biscuits – yes really…

…while My Mum’s A Twat, albeit a less physical show, is running twice nightly, so poor Patsy Ferran will be on the stage for in excess of two and three quarter hours each night with not much more than 30 minutes break between performances.

And what a fine performance My Mum’s A Twat was too.

Here is a link to resources and reviews generally for this play/production. The reviews have mostly been good but not great reviews. We actually rated the piece and the performance very highly.

The main criticism seems to be that monologue itself is a limited dramatic form. I see that point, but it is also a very powerful form when done well…and this one has been done very well. The mixture of humour and sadness really works; you sense that the character/author has been both strengthened and emotionally damaged by her maternal experience.

We don’t have a picture of Anoushka Warden’s mum, so here is a picture of Janie’s mum instead. The use of this picture to illustrate this Ogblog piece does not in any way suggest that we think that Janie’s mum is a twat…
…so in the interests of balance, here is a picture of my mum (who also wasn’t a twat)

At the time of writing, My Mum’s A Twat only has a few more days to run at the Royal Court and is sold out. I hope it will get its deserved extension or transfer so that more people can get to see it.

Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith, Gate Theatre, 12 January 2018

I’m so often saying how wonderful The Gate Theatre is under Ellen McDougall’s new regime, I’m starting to bore myself by saying it.

We loved The Unknown Island…

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

…we loved Suzy Storck…

Suzy Storck by Magali Mougel, Gate Theatre, 10 November 2017

…and now I’m not going to surprise you by saying that we thought this production of Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 was also superb.

We nearly didn’t book it – we wondered whether this was overly heavy subject matter for us on a Friday evening and whether the 1991/1992 news aspect of it (the aftermath of the Latasha Harlins killing, the Rodney King video/policemen’s trial and the resulting riots) might make this verbatim play seem dated.

But in this post-truth, crazy era of ours the piece seemed eerily topical and prescient.

We arrived to a heaving lobby – there was a large party of Americans on a London Theatre marathon who had virtually bought out the house for the night.

Turned out the Americans were an exceptionally friendly and polite bunch who pretty much pushed us to the front to collect our tickets, apologising for the fact that they were a huge bunch of visitors preventing the locals from getting their tickets. Perhaps Janie and I had “make way/Brexity” expressions on our faces when we came in from the wind-chill-factor-enhanced bitter cold.

When we got to the front, apart from the ticket desk chap, the only faces that looked as though they might not be the American party were Daisy Cooper from the Gate production team (whom I mistook for an actress) and Caoilfhionn Dunne who had played Suzy Storck, but to whom I couldn’t say, “good evening Caoilfhionn” because I couldn’t remember how to pronounce her name; it’s pronounced “kay-lean”, btw. I did get a chance to congratulate her on her stellar Suzy Storck performance just before we all went in.

The ticket man didn’t give us tickets, he gave us badges to wear and a pen with which to label up the badges. I emblazoned mine thus:

At Janie’s request, I emblazoned hers with the name, “Daisy”, plus her talk about topic, “life”.

Daisy Cooper pointed out that her name was Daisy too.

On to the show, which is a one woman performance.

The actress, Nina Bowers, was superb. I have had to do some real detective work to discover her identity, though, as there was no leaflet on the night and at the time of writing (14 January 2018) the Gate website is silent on that matter.

There is an excellent preview piece by Ellen McDougall – click here – which says watch this space for cast…

…but on the main resource for this production – click here – at the time of writing, only the creatives are listed, not poor Nina Bowers, who has to play 20 parts all by herself and plays them brilliantly well. I guess the piece is about injustice and powerlessness in the face of such injustice, so perhaps Nina Bowers will enjoy the irony of her credit’s omission…

…or perhaps the injustice will have been put right by the time you read this Ogblog piece.

Nina even serves intermission drinks and biscuits to the audience – yes really. In fact, this is a performance without a real interval, but for 10 minutes towards the end of the show, the piece itself has a short intermission for tea, biscuits and conversation around the subject matter on our badges.

Janie and I chatted with a charming young American woman who turned out to be one of a handful of the audience who, like us, was not with the large party of New Jersey-folk. She was in fact from Orange County – not too far from the location of the riots but far too young to remember them. She must have been mighty confused when she asked about my fish, because I told her that my pet goldfish, Simon, had died and Daisy told her that my koi carp was named Peter and had gone down the plug hole.

No-one asked Daisy about life, probably because she had put her badge on upside down which made it quite hard to read.

If this all sounds silly and superficial, please do not be deceived by my ramblings and please do not be put off this play/production.

It is seriously well worth seeing – a very well-crafted piece of verbatim theatre about the terrible injustices that played out in Los Angeles in 1991 and 1992 which led to the riots, some further injustices and eventually an element of correcting some of the injustices and reconciliation. The USA has not eradicated the culture that led to those injustices and the subject matter seemed all-too relevant today.

I cooked a pasta dish for Janie after the show, using an excellent Speck sauce. We did not talk about fish and we did not talk about life – we were talking about Twilight: Los Angeles 1992.

Highly recommended, this play/production.

Cast – Nina Bowers – playing all the parts – remember where you read her name first.

Walk With Me, Curzon Bloomsbury, 7 January 2018

Hmmm.

Janie was very keen to see Walk With Me – she had heard great things about Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen master who is said to be the father of the modern mindfulness movement. Janie very much enjoyed some of  his lectures on YouTube and thought the film would go deeper.

So much so that Janie was even prepared to schlep to the Curzon Bloomsbury on a Sunday evening, as that was the only slot that worked for us during the film’s opening weekend.

Here is the IMDb resource for the movie.

The film irritated us both for different reasons. In Janie’s case, because the film didn’t go deeper – in fact it didn’t really provide much insight into Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas at all – it just showed his Plum Village community and a tour beyond…at a snail-like pace.

Mindfulness is one of those concepts I like in theory, but in practice – and I did try a mindfulness course few years ago and did stick it out – I found mindfulness itself a bit irritating.

Add to that general irritation an infeasibly slow movie, the condescending tones of Benedict Cumberbach and a young man sitting next to me who seemed to have brought a lifetime supply of noisy nosh into the cinema with him…

…you get my point.

For me, the only interesting part of the movie was when the monks go on tour to the USA, so you see the slow-moving, mindful monks up against the no holds barred, fast pace of New York City.

Janie missed much of the USA tour part of the movie because she started nodding off at that juncture.

Disgraceful.

I had done my nodding off and missing chunks of the movie during the earlier, unbelievably slow passages.

This link will find you reviews and other information resources.

Below is the trailer:

You might wish to judge for yourselves, but Janie’s advice would be to click through to some of Thich Naht Hanh’s mini lectures on YouTube – e.g. this one – click here – rather than waste your time with the movie.

Finns Ain’t What they Used To Be, Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Wigmore Hall, 6 January 2018

OK, this baroque concert didn’t really have that dreadful pun as its title – but it did have a tongue-in cheek humour to it, certainly in the first half, which was dedicated to Telemann’s work.

Here is a link to the programme and basic information from the Wigmore Hall site.

Both of the Telemann pieces are relative rarities, new to the ears even of Telemaniacs like me and Janie:

  • Ouverture burlesque in B flat major TWV55:B8
  • Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarienvogels (Canary Cantata) TWV20:37

The Helsinki Baroque is a very together orchestra; seemingly a group of dedicated musicians who enjoy playing with and riffing off each other. We suspect that Aapo Häkkinen is metaphorically “gentle yet strong glue” for this Finnish combo.

Carolyn Sampson was the soprano for the evening. She stood right in front of us and sang magnificently.

The Canary Cantata – in full “Cantata of Funeral Music For An Artistically-Trained Canary Whose Demise Brought the Greatest Sorrow to his Master”, really is a most unusual piece.

Click here (or the embedded YouTube below) for a recording of a young American soprano, MaryRuth Lown, singing the piece;

My so-called friends who thought my German singing sounded like Yiddish in my Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen performance the other week should click through and hear this aria.

Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

It begins with the following line oft-repeated:

O weh! mein Canarin ist tot

…which means, for those who need a translation into lingua franca…

Oy vay! in drerd mein feygele.

…but I’m diving too deep into detail. Actually if you want to read the whole cantata in English, click through the YouTube link above (not the embedded vid) as a full translation is there on YouTube. Weirdorama lyrics.

The second half of the concert was more “regular” in terms of familiarity and style, but still hugely interesting and enjoyable. J S Bach for this half:

  • Concerto in D major for harpsichord BWV1054 (from Violin Concerto in E major BWV1042)
  • Cantata: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV51

I don’t think I had heard that concerto with the harpsichord as lead instrument before; I have recordings of it on violin and piano.

The cantata was spectacularly good; Carolyn Sampson on top form, as was Nicholas Emmerson on baroque trumpet, going red in the face trying to get such a complex string of notes out at pace on that challenging instrument.

The encore was a complete change of mood, from the jubilant Bach “Jauchzet Gott” cantata to the mournful Handel “Eternal Source Of Light Divine” cantata.

The encore was also a triumph; albeit a calming one rather than an uplifting one. Here is a YouTube of Iestyn Davies singing it:

All in all, it was a wonderful gig; a delicious start to the year for our concert going.

I cannot find a YouTube of Carolyn Sampson with the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, nor of that orchestra performing any of the pieces we heard, but the following YouTube gives a feel for that orchestra’s work at that scale (16 or so members) on a work of that period with a fine soprano…

…while the following is a YouTube of Carolyn Sampson with a different super orchestra – The Sixteen: