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Friday, 31 December 2010

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

I’d never heard about the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park before, but now I work so close by it’s difficult to miss. The colourful Christmas fair takes up a massive area of the park, with an ice rink, flashing fairground rides, food and drink tents, gift stalls and even a Zippo’s Circus. I must admit that I was deceived into thinking that its gigantic Ferris wheel was in fact the London Eye.

Desperate for some winter ice-skating I tried to book tickets for Somerset House’s idyllic rink, unfortunately they were fully booked, and so Winter Wonderland seemed like the next best option. Hyde Park has never been busier, the hoards of tourists all eager to be part of the action. It costs nothing to enter, but anything bought inside costs a small fortune.

I was hoping the whole place would be more romantic, like the real German markets. We walked round, stopped and listened to the German singing reindeer, and smelled the various pungent pretzel, churros and hot chocolate stands, and walked past many tempting Mulled wine stands. Unfortunately the snow had rather dampened the mood, and walking through muddy sludge made me too cold to concentrate properly. We eventually reached the ice rink, which was much further than I had expected. I pathetically decided I was actually too cold to skate and so we just watched for a while instead.

There are hundreds of stalls, each begging for your custom. I was almost persuaded by a few of the jewellery stands before realising their goods were a bit tacky. The poor stall holders looked fed up and bored, and they must be freezing outside all day in these conditions. After a while I began to feel a little disillusioned by all the lights and noises and decided it was time to go home. Winter Wonderland is a great idea, and must be fun for kids, but it made me realise how much better markets work in summer when it is light enough and warm enough to actually enjoy the occasion.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

An Ideal Husband at The Vaudeville Theatre

The brilliant reviews for An Ideal Husband made me particularly excited to see the play. As the programme comments: Oscar Wilde’s play is a ‘stylish critique of politicians and social morality’. I was immediately reminded of the J. B. Priestley play I saw a few weeks earlier, ‘When we are Married’. Both productions have a Victorian grandeur and an eloquent comedic buzz.

The action happens over forty-eight hours when a devastating political scandal about successful Government minister, Sir Robert Chilton is brought about by the conniving Mrs Cheveley. A secret from the distant past manages to turn all their lives upside down, with agonisingly hilarious consequences.

Elliot Cowan is absolutely delightful as the smug Viscount Goring. The play is a mixture of serious subject matter and farcical script and Cowan captures this combination beautifully. He strides about the stage with an air of calm charisma; he is clearly enjoying himself and that makes him very likeable. Rachael Stirling is powerful as the ‘ideal wife’ Lady Chiltern, but I found her a tad irritating to watch after a while. Stirling and her onstage husband, Alex Hanson as Sir Robert Chilton both give measured secure performances, but whenever they were on stage with Cowan my eye was immediately drawn to him. I was pleased to see Fiona Button as the chirpy Miss Mabel Chiltern, I previously saw her in TV series Lip Service and she interacts adorably with Cowan. Samantha Bond certainly causes a stir as blackmailing Mrs Cheveley, known for her part in the Bond films she is a familiar face to the audience. She occasionally stumbled over her words but is impressively powerful and commands real attention in her glorious gowns.

I found the play a little too long; the first half dragged and lacked the energy that grabbed my attention after the interval. Perhaps with a little less of the idle socialising in the first hour the play would work better. Despite this Lindsay Posner’s new production is delectable and complements the strong cast, he definitely does justice to Wilde’s piece with stunning costumes and set very reminiscent of popular BBC period dramas.

An Ideal Husband continues at The Vaudeville Theatre until 19 February 2011, book tickets here.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

the world the way i want it - Pop-up shop

‘The world the way I want it’ was a magical pop-up shop on Redchurch Street near Brick Lane. Open for just a month, there wasn’t long to catch a glimpse of this little gem, but I luckily managed to find a spare half hour to visit last weekend, and I am so glad I did.

Keggie Carew certainly created her own world in this little shop. Every inch of the space was decorated with her artwork, findings and other mysterious bits and bobs. I could have spent hours in there exploring everything.

She has an obvious interest in the great outdoors, I particularly loved the ‘pink shoes with Dorset hills and sheep and bird gazers in the trees’. Appropriate to the theme, half the profit is going to ‘Kiva’ for micro-loans to sustainable farm projects.There were plenty of unconventional gifts for sale too: poetry rubber stamps, bug pots (I bought one for my dad), ‘true story’ t-shirts. The insect necklaces seemed to be a good seller, as you can see from the images, they come in different bug varieties, and are eerily beautiful. Carew assured me, these necklaces are wearable, but with care. I think they are the perfect Tim Burton-style present for the lady that has everything.

These temporary pop-up shops are becoming more and more popular, and seem to be cropping up all over the place. After visiting ‘The world the way I want it’ I bumped into another pop-up store, where two creatives from Madrid were showing their work, jeweller Karen Hallam and artist Fernando Herlop. These quirky little shops are worth looking out for, they are brilliant for picking up one-off items and often at much lower prices than you would expect.

Visit shop website here.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Taylor Wessing Photography Prize 2010 at The National Portrait Gallery

My lunchbreak today cost me £2, and it was one of my most productive yet. I am lucky to have a tube station right outside my workplace which makes getting into central London quick and easy. Lunchtime lasts an hour, but deciding how to spend it can often be a whole morning's activity. Being so close to Harvey Nichols and Harrods, shopping is inevitably a regular excursion, but... this week, feeling the financial strain of Christmas, I decided to do something a bit different. I took a trip to The National Portrait Gallery to see the Taylor Wessing 2010 Photographic Portrait Prize.

Entrance to the exhibition is £2, a fee that some attitude-y teens were trying to dodge as I went in. The prize presents the very best in contemporary portrait photography, showcasing work from amateurs and professionals and even photography students. From the 5,984 images submitted only 60 were chosen to feature in the show, with four of those being the prizewinners.

The photographers vary immensely in subject matter, style and approach. The collection is powerful, some images are particularly moving and others are very clever in their realisation. Many reveal an underlying story, or an insight into a person’s life. I loved the photograph by Toby Coulson called ‘Jack’, it pictured a young boy holding a small tortoise, his pet that had been bought with the savings he collected from mowing the lawns of friends and neighbours. Such a sweet story and equally endearing image.

Some of the pictures depict famous figures: Tony Blair by Kalpesh Lathigra, Charlie Watts (drummer of The Rolling Stones) by Michael Donald and the artist David Hockney with his dog by Jonathan Root. I found the photos of random people interesting too, Oliver Reed took a photo of an unknown girl on a train texting, just because he felt compelled by the composition; images like this show an intriguing moment in time. Third prize went to Jeffrey Stockbridge for his photograph ‘Tic Tac and Tootsie’ of twin sisters Carroll and Shelly McKean. The girls had been homeless for a year and consequently turned to drugs and prostitution. It is a confrontational image, worryingly disturbing. First prize was awarded to David Chancellor for his picture ‘Huntress with Buck’ it shows 14 year old Josie Slaughter, a skilled hunter from Birmingham, Alabama. It is part of the artist’s project documenting hunting and hunters. The picture is arresting with a stark contrast between the vivid foreground and serene background. See above.

Despite only having an hour off, I managed to spend 25 minutes looking round this exhibition and even had time to grab a coffee from Nero on my way back. I got back to my desk with 5 minutes to spare; 55 minute lunchbreak, well spent!

On until 20 February 2011, more info here.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 31

Let’s be honest buying clothes in the winter is never quite as satisfying as in the summer season. Every item you buy is likely to get rained on and will have to be worn with hundreds of layers that will, inevitably hide the real beauty of shape, style or fit. Dresses are a particular victim of this – even at work indoors, I am unable to wear a dress without at least a thin jumper over the top.

So in order to fight the winter blues we must arm ourselves with thicker, stronger, warmer materials, and that’s where Zara’s dresses come in. Zara has never been my favourite highstreet shop, but this December I can’t deny that they have really upped the ante. Earlier this month while passing, I was stunned by their window display with at least four dresses I would happily own. Needless to say, I went in to browse properly.

There in the corner was my dress. Very simple but perfectly designed, with an elegant classic feel. I glanced quickly at the price tag before allowing myself to fall in love... £39.99! The dress has a flared skirt and little sleeves that will keep you warm while adding a stylish touch to the look. With three colour options there is a choice for every occasion; I bought the beige (shown above) but it also comes in black and red. Made from thick cotton, it has kept me warm through many cold snowy days, without needing to put anything but a coat over it. There is nothing not to love about this dress!

It was only when I started this blog post that I found Zara’s website... which I never knew existed. So now you can order all those pretty dresses online rather than trekking through London's icy streets to find them.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at The Shaw Theatre

Every year I try to see one pantomime. This year I was invited to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Shaw Theatre, near Euston. I can truthfully say I was the only audience member without an accompanying child!

All the typical panto elements are in the show, the evil queen to boo at, the innocently pretty girl to pity, the handsomely dim prince and the funny dippy clown. I was most impressed with Andy Fleming as the joker, Muddles. Aside from being a fantastic impressionist he is natural on stage and improvises most skilfully. Unfortunately the rest of the cast make the production feel rather amateur. Snow White played by previous EastEnders star, Madeline Duggan is so awkward on stage it is uncomfortable to watch her. She wanders around with little energy and seems to barely know what she is doing. Duggan’s singing is mostly in tune, but sounds very childish and unrehearsed.

The Prince is played by Danny Rhodes who featured in the TV programme ‘Grease is the Word’ as a semi-finalist. He too is dull to watch, however makes up for it vocally, his voice is strong with a nice tone and he sings with an ease that reassured me that there is some talent in this production. The adorable little dwarfs are the highlight for me, jumping about the stage with massive heads on that make them look a bit like teletubbies. They mime along to pre-recorded voices which surprisingly works well.

The music is bearable and the dancing is better than average, despite feeling a bit out of place at times. I noticed quite a few parents texting on their phones during the performance, but most importantly the children in my audience seemed to enjoy the show. I’m sure several of the little ones were feeling rather tired by the end – it lasted for a staggering 2 hours and 45 minutes, much too long for a kids show. There were some classic responses from a few particularly confident (and loud voiced) children. One screamed ‘kill her!’ when we were asked what should be done with the Wicked Witch; absolutely hilarious at the time.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs continues at the Shaw Theatre until 3 January, 2011.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Aware: Art, Fashion, Identity exhibition, and Sketch pop-up cafe at The Royal Academy of Arts

Last Friday I had another successful lunchtime trip, this time to the Royal Academy of Arts specifically GSK Contemporary: AWARE ART FASHION IDENTITY. The GSK Contemporary building is located round the back of the main RA Gallery, and to get there you walk through the very tempting Burlington Arcade, which at the moment feels like it has captured the very essence of Christmas.

The show explores the use of clothing and fashion as an important marker of individuality and social identity, illustrating how fashion can communicate and reveal along with its more obvious practical function. The collection is divided into four sections: Storytelling, Building, Belonging & Confronting and Performance. With work from more than thirty international makers, there is a massive variety to admire. Among the artists there are a few names I recognised: Yoko Ono (see image above), Grayson Perry and Alexander McQueen all contribute.

The work is spaced apart, in fact I feel it gets a bit swallowed up by the very large dark rooms, and so becomes a bit lifeless. There are some amazing feats of patient craft, for example Susie Macmurray’s ‘Widow’ 2009, a magnificent silver dress made from leather and adamantine dressmaker’s pins. The garment is elegant, feminine and seductive and yet painfully repelling, with the connection of female craft and pain. Another mysterious dress hangs wilting in the first corridor. ‘Say Goodbye’, 2010 by Helen Storey is a soluble frock that hangs stagnant melting into a pot of water. I love Grayson Perry’s work and his piece in this show is no exception, his embroidered artist’s robe stands tall, decorated immaculately with big blue eyes.

I found the rest of the work a little lack lustre, although felt oddly calmed by the exhibition. There is an intriguing installation by Hussain Chalayan, ‘Son of Sonzai Suru’, 2010. It uses a traditional form of Japanese puppet theatre to examine the manipulative element of the fashion industry. A female stands in a beautiful lit dress, dark figures surround her, intruding into her space and peering within the dress. It is a haunting display that brings together different cultures and creative disciplines.

Downstairs Mayfair’s renowned restaurant, Sketch returns with its RA Sketch pop-up cafe for a second year and it has never looked better. Pierre Gagnaire has created a menu inspired by Parisian dining available for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. I had just eaten a big meal so couldn’t quite manage one of the beautiful looking cakes, but will definitely be returning to try their treats out. I loved the waitresses outfits too, they skip around in ‘labour of love' patterned jackets, fluorescent pink Converse and dinky skirts made by trendy Brick Lane designer, Twin Diverses. Their clothes are less of a uniform more of a fashion statement, very apt considering the exhibition. Despite not feeling quite as exclusive as the Mayfair joint, this pop-up Sketch is a lovely addition to the gallery space.

AWARE: ART FASHION IDENTITY and Sketch pop-up cafe will be open until 30 January 2011.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Nutcracker at The Coliseum

Everyone has something that makes them feel specially festive around this time of year. Maybe it’s the Christmas lights going up around London, or your first mince pie, for me it is the English National Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Every year The Coliseum hosts this wonderfully Christmassy show, and this year is their best production yet.

My first experience of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker was at the age of 12, when I performed in the chorus with my choir. We stood in the massive orchestra pit to sing the short snowflake chorus part, which comes just before the interval. I sung in the ENO Nutcracker for the next three or four years, a magical experience; it always felt like the start of the Christmas season for me. When the production changed and they no longer needed children singing live, I was sadly out of a job, so I went to see the ballet instead. This has been a tradition ever since.

Now, at the age of 22 I thought I knew what to expect, but this year was honestly more sublime than all the other productions that have come before it. The show celebrates 60 years of The English National Ballet in true style and splendour. This year the ENO welcomes a new production, a World Premiere - the creative team must be congratulated on their vision, which is perfectly realised on the great Coliseum stage. Wayne Eagling’s choreography is meticulous but measured and shows the dancers to be confident and daring. The players are as stunning as ever, but this year, with a new lease of life from a fresh production, they seem renewed. Even the youngest dancers stand out as having exceptional talent, tip-toeing their tiny feet across the massive stage. I was delighted to find that the production is, once again, using live singing for the snowflake chorus... twenty or so kids stand tall in the box closest to the stage singing their hearts out.

Peter Farmer has created a magical design for the story that plays with the central themes of fantasy and fun without the vulgarity of Gerald Scarfe’s previous production. Last year The Nutcracker had a cartoon feel, this is replaced by Farmer with an image of Victorian elegance, and an air of romantic nostalgia. I am so glad that this classic has been returned to its rightful character, attempts to modernise it damage the magic of the show.

The Nutcracker is on until Thursday 30 December, with Matinee and evening performances on most nights, book tickets here.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010


With Lady Gaga comes a whole new kind of star; she is certainly one of a kind and has become a worldwide pop phenomenon in a flash.

I soon realised as I walked up to the epic O2 arena that I had never seen a gig at this venue, but had only visited it in its former life as the Millenium Dome. Inside I couldn’t believe the space and quantity of restaurants and bars, and then of course there is the 20,000 seat concert hall in the centre, unbelievable. I had on a new pair of big brown feather eyelashes for the occasion; as expected there were some other outrageous eccentrics dressed up for the gig wandering about. At one point a girl so perfectly identical to Gaga walked by that the crowd behind me momentarily thought they’d spotted the star herself.

Her show, ‘The Monster Ball Tour’ at the O2 is supported by Semi Precious Weapons, who are friends of Gaga’s that she spoke fondly about onstage. The performance she gave was a tour de force, physically and mentally. She certainly involves her audience, and at times even threatens us screaming: ‘don’t leave here loving me more...leave loving yourself more’. In fact the lectures continued throughout the show, shouted aggressively at the desperately keen listeners. There was a real feeling of vengeance in her speech, under all the make-up just a little girl who felt she needed to gloat at all those who have put her down over the years.

The most exciting thing about seeing Lady Gaga is the group speculation about what stunt she is going to pull next, how mad her outfits will be and how grotesquely great her staging will look. And she seemed to please her fans on all counts. The show was set out as a kind of musical reminiscent of the Rocky Horror Show and the gothic Addams Family, to give you an idea. Bright neon words hung from a brilliant twisted staircase and a car sat centre stage soon to be opened out into a keyboard. As the show proceeded the stage transformed frequently as did Gaga who seemed to have a different skimpy outfit for each and every song. The musicians played along with Her Highness, all live and yet prancing around the stage like possessed creatures. At one point she grabbed a Santa toy from a presumptuous fan only to stand on stage decapitating the poor little thing with her killer stiletto.

Beneath the wild character is a very talented musician, a fact that can easily be forgotten when watching such a devilish and daring performance. It seemed at times to be improvised on the spot, a pretty scary idea with 40,000 beady eyes watching your every move. I was reminded by my friend that little Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta started out as a pianist and this is a skill she still very much uses in her music. Towards the middle of the show she sat, or rather squatted, at the piano to play two calmer songs. At times her body was contorted or horizontal or strapped into a uncomfortably tight costume and yet she seamlessly sung every note, bang in tune; it was impressive to say the least.

‘Poker Face’ was the highlight number for me, the atmosphere just soared when those first notes beat out. It was the song that Gaga seemed to enjoy most too.

Thanks to my lovely friend for the tickets, and a spectacular night.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 30

It is five days till Christmas and I’m sure there are some frantic shoppers out there trying to find last minute presents for girlfriends, or maybe helping Father C get those final stocking fillers. This week’s Hot on the Highstreet is the perfect girl’s Christmas gift. It costs only £25, but looks like it costs much more... Agnes B’s Le b’ perfume.

This delicious scent comes in the prettiest heart-shaped bottle; it is quite small, holding 30 ml, so easy to fit in even the most petite of handbags. This eau de toilette combines orange flowers, lemon leaves, water melon seeds and jasmine. The smell is light and fresh and will make you feel summery even in these cold winter months.

I spotted it while browsing in Covent Garden, I hadn’t been into Agnes B for a while and was pleasantly surprised by their array of beautiful and individual items. Also on my wish list from this shop are the black fingerless gloves (from the Men’s department... I think) and the glorious striped tops that mimic Dennis the Menace’s classic look! I sampled ‘Le b’ as I walked in and was pleased to find the smell was just as strong on my wrist as I left 25 minutes later, the sure sign of a decent perfume. I remember thinking that this is a smell ideal for both young women and the more mature lady - elegant with a touch of fun.

Stylish Agnes B stores can be found at:

35/36 Floral Street, Covent Garden; 31/32 Duke of York’s Square, King’s Road; as well as in Marylebone and Spitalfields.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Godolphin Carol Service

A few nights ago I returned to my old secondary school to see my little sister’s carol concert. Being so busy, I missed her previous showcases and was pleased to be going back for this annual traditional service. Godolphin has quite recently acquired the neighbouring church and can now hold all its concerts in the fully equipped, wonderfully restored space.

I look forward to this carol service every year as the one real chance I have to belt out the classic carols. Annoyingly I seem to get ill just as the concert approaches each year, making the descants frustratingly challenging to sing. This year I opted for some harmonious alto parts instead, to complement the dulcet tones of the school choir. My parents standing nearby were wholly unimpressed.

The evening comprises readings, choir performances, carols sung by ‘all’ and a few inspiring words from Religious Studies teacher Dr.Wolfe, who I remember fondly from my schooldays. Familiar carols such as ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ rocked the church and it was encouraging to look around and see so many people singing along. My favourite songs were ‘Veni, veni Emmanuel’ and ‘On this day earth shall ring’ with which the choir processed and recessed with just candles to light their way through the darkness; it was beautiful.

I left the church with lifted spirits, feeling the excitement of Christmas.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Establishment in Clapham

The Establishment is situated on Battersea Rise, near the open spaces of Clapham Common Smart. It has a stylish open plan lounge and bar and a cosy restaurant area; and in warmer temperatures the alfresco terrace can be nice too. The interior of the venue is relaxed and has a definite focus on comfortable dining and drinking: the ideal place for a catch up with friends.

The Establishment boasts an impressive drinks list, with a selection of exciting sounding cocktails. I must particularly mention the hot cocktails - I tried a Woodford Reserve Bourbon based warm concoction that was fruity and delicious and very soothing after my long cold journey to the Establishment. I would definitely recommend these hot drinks. If cocktails aren’t your thing there is also real British ale, continental lagers and a reasonable wine list on offer.

The menu is made up of contemporary and classic British dishes that are sure to cheer you up on a cold winter’s evening. I chose sirloin steak that arrived with a dollop of garlic butter, and chunky yet crispy chips; it was delicious. Judging from the silence that fell around the table, I think my friends enjoyed their food too. The ingredients tasted extra fresh; I later found out they are all specially delivered by the chef, Scott Tillott.

The service was rather slow, luckily the conversation was good enough to distract my tummy from rumbling too much. The Establishment isn’t cheap, and you might find better value for money elsewhere, but if you want a satisfying yummy meal in a nice environment then it’s a good bet. For pudding I had the chocolate fondant with poached pears and vanilla ice-cream – a lovely combination of flavours and a perfect end to the meal.

Find out more here.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Frisky and Mannish at The Bloomsbury Theatre

I had a peek at Frisky and Mannish at Latitude Festival earlier this year; I couldn’t get more than a snatched look because their tent was overflowing with fans. I decided I would try and see them properly on the next F & M tour, and this I did. The final date of their tour took place in London at the Bloomsbury Theatre, a popular venue for established comedy acts. Frisky and Mannish presented The College Years, a sequel to their critically acclaimed debut ‘The School of Pop’.

The eccentric duo stormed the stage and immediately commanded the attention of the Bloomsbury audience. It was soon clear that many of my fellow audience members were seasoned F&M supporters, accustomed to the pair’s favourite tricks and jokes.

I would describe the act as a collage of songs with an injection of attitude and comedy. The College Years focuses on lessons about collision theory and grammatical errors in pop music, as well as some hilarious poptastic pairings, including Lily Allen with Noel Coward and Florence and the Machine with Peter Andre – Frisky belting out Florence (uncannily accurate) and Mannish taking on the role of ‘the machine’. The performance was polished and great fun to watch. There was some audience participation, but none so brutal that it was embarrassing, thank goodness!

Frisky and Mannish are brilliant comedians, but more than that they are very talented musicians, and this aspect makes their act unbearably addictive.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

When we are Married at The Garrick Theatre

The Helliwells, the Soppitts and the Parkers were all married on the same day in the same chapel. Twenty-five years on they meet up to celebrate their joint wedding anniversaries together. Recreating the special moment is all going to plan until the local organist comes to deliver some shocking news: the minister who conducted the service was not authorised to do so and consequently they are all single and carefree.

The thick red curtain lifts to reveal a stunning Victorian sitting room setting (courtesy of Simon Higlett). The audience gasped in admiration. The play, When we are Married, is just over two hours long, but despite the length it feels slightly rushed towards the end, perhaps because the story is brought to an unsatisfactory, abrupt conclusion with little explanation.

The cast are strong and seem to enjoy frolicking about the Garrick stage. They seem to perfectly understand J.B Priestley’s wit and farcical naughtiness. Maureen Lipman is particularly thrilling to watch as the uptight Clara Soppitt. Her character undergoes a mortifying change as her newly unmarried husband realises he is no longer obliged to accept her bullying. The other star is Roy Hudd as the hysterical drunken photographer Henry Ormonroyd. He dances and sings with bounding joy seemingly unaware of what is going on around him. One last mention must go to Ruby Birtle who is a tour de force as the energetic maid Jodie McNee, she is absolutely hilarious to watch.

A most entertaining comedy - definitely worth going to see, Book here.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky sing Purcell at The Barbican

A few nights ago I trekked across London to the Barbican Centre again to see Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky sing their hearts out. The two esteemed counter-tenors were singing a programme of Purcell with the lively Ensemble Artaserse accompanying them. I have seen both men perform before, and have always loved the otherworldly sound of the countertenor voice, and as a teen I was obsessed with the phenomenon of castrati in baroque Italy.

The auditorium was full to the brim, the busiest I have ever seen the Barbican. Luckily my super organised mother booked us tickets almost a year ahead, otherwise I’m sure we wouldn’t have got seats. The musicians began the evening with the Bonduca overture, bounteous and jolly. Scholl and Jaroussky sat behind the players walking up to the front of the stage when required to sing. We heard suites, arias, and duets, all perfected and immaculately presented.

Vocally these two singers sound quite different: Jaroussky has a brighter, higher, clearer sound, which is sweet in tone and sounds not dissimilar to a woman’s voice. Scholl’s voice has a darker timbre, which I feel suits the more melancholic arias. This was particularly evident in ‘O Solitude’ and ‘Music for a While’ in which he sang the descending lines with moving phrasing. The Barbican acoustics are dreadful but I also thought Scholl sounded much quieter than usual, and wondered whether he was suffering from a cold or sore throat.

Jaroussky is adorable to watch, and the audience clearly loved him. His voice is so bright it almost sounds electric, and I felt shivers down my spine on the held top notes. His rendition of ‘Bid the Virtues’ from ‘Come, ye sons of Art, away’ was memerising. He accomplished complex vocal acrobatics with clarity and ease and there was some wonderful interplay with the obbligato oboe part.

The duets were the highlight of the evening; there were seven in total. The men were sweet on stage together, working well as a team. Scholl always took the lower part and this unfortunately meant he was occasionally drowned out while Jaroussky soared above with the higher part. They seemed to be having a lot of fun on stage together especially in the more upbeat pieces. ‘Sound the Trumpet’ was brilliant; both singers rose to the challenge of singing this familiar tune. Due to the staggering reception the men came on to do not one, or two, but three encores, including a hilarious final duet where they jumped between their manly low voices and their higher countertenor voices, playing up to the laughter and joking along. It was great fun to watch and a fantastic end to the evening.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 29 - The Boys are Back in Town

Courtesy of a very special boy, this week I will be taking on a male Hot on the Highstreet. It’s been a long time coming and at last there is a subject(s) worthy of this post. So, I introduce to you: two innovative men’s (sort of) highstreet shops: Pretty Green, and Sandro – Paris, both new to the London scene.

Pretty Green is Liam Gallagher's clothes shop on Carnaby Street. All the pieces are designed by Liam himself and have a real sense of his character about them. There are two distinct collections making up the brand. The Green Label is a casual range for everyday wear – signature pieces, well put together. The Black Label features classic British tailoring, with real attention to detail, using only the finest fabrics. I particularly love the khaki cotton parka, £245 (shown above) which has a vintage feel but with real quality, and has logo patches sewn on and engraved buttons. Pretty Green is doing so well they are all set to open branches in Manchester and Glasgow any day now. I’d like to say well done Liam, we always hear about female celebs creating fashion labels but for a male celeb it’s rather more impressive; who said fashion was just for girls?

On 25th November Sandro – Paris launched their first menswear store in the UK, on Westbourne Grove. On offer is classic Paris elegance with an injection of fun... check out the website here. I have always admired this designer and am currently lusting over their black playsuit, £160, that Alexa Chung wore to the store’s launch party, paired with a casual white tee – she looked painfully cool. Their men's clothes are just as unique as the ladies'. Smart slimline trousers and beautiful patterned silk scarves can be found on the boys' clothes rails. The pieces aren’t cheap but for such stunning staples they are worth every penny.

Watch out ladies, the boys are back in town, and they’re looking seriously stylish.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Fela! at The Olivier Theatre at The National

I have mixed feelings about Fela!, the new musical that is currently showing at the National Theatre, on the Olivier stage. This vibrant show is all passion and politics and tells the life of Fela Kuti, Nigerian musician, human rights activist and political maverick.

The show is unlike anything I’ve ever seen at the National before. It is an explosion of colour and noise, the whole theatre is adorned with pictures, lights and projections. As the audience walk in, the exuberant band is already jamming away on stage, it is like walking into another country, and has a carnival-like atmosphere. The high level of energy and spirit continue right through the three hour show, which eventually became quite exhausting to watch. I would like to have seen a little more variation of tone; it would have perhaps made the intensity a little more manageable.

The action takes place at the Shrine, in Lagos, 1978 where Fela is giving his final concert. This musical feast tries to cram in the entire span of this revolutionary’s fascinating life. His upbringing in London, and then his return to Nigeria where he strives to make a difference with his music. We see the impact of the dreadful death of his mother, which haunts him throughout the story and are also made aware of his infamous womanising. I felt the narrative to be a little muddled and the incessant dancing (as brilliant as it is) slightly takes over the story. The show is long, and by the two hour mark I started to get restless and a little bored.

The star of the show is Sahr Ngaujah who gives the performance of his life as Fela. Nagaujah comes straight from playing the role in the original Broadway production. He really is as extraordinary as the legend himself, singing and dancing across the stage, playing the trumpet and sax phenomenally and even joking with the audience with an alarming ease and charisma. During the performance he gets the audience up on to their feet to sing, dance and join in with the Clock pelvic thrusts – it was hilarious to see the National crowd attempting this move! Nagaujah is supported on stage by Melanie Marshall as his sweet voiced mother, and Paulette Ivory as the American girl who wins his heart. The rest of the company is equally energetic, and it is exciting to see the players having such a good time, even if that is running amongst the audience screaming at the top of their voices. The band is spectacular, how they played continuously for such a length of time is a marvel to me.

Fela! continues at The Olivier Theatre until 23 January 2011, book tickets here.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Love Story at The Duchess Theatre

Love Story
was, for me, an emotional marathon, completely draining and yet enjoyable. This musical play has recently transferred from Chichester Festival Theatre where it made its debut earlier this year. This stage version is inspired by Erich Segal’s best selling novel which was later made into the famous film.

There’s not really much to the storyline, girl and boy meet, fall in love, girl dies... sorry to be blunt. We are told of Jenny’s sad fate at the start of the show and then spend the rest of it painfully waiting for it to happen. There are a few happier moments, for instance when the besotted couple cook pasta and tomato sauce together on stage... singing joyfully as they chop the garlic and onions. What a sensation to smell cooking food in the middle of a stage play.

Before the performance started we were alerted by one of the producers that the electricity supply had been cut off and so the show would have limited lighting. A strange experience it was sitting in the illuminated auditorium watching a play in the same slightly clinical light. Occasionally the bulbs would flicker, almost like the faltering life of the girl on stage. The lack of lighting variation meant the actors had to create atmosphere and tension without any help, and they succeeded admirably.

Howard Goodall’s music is the best thing about this adaptation. The band is visible on stage throughout, and they are a complete pleasure to watch. Goodall’s music is romantic without being sentimental and there are some powerfully lilting melodies, which were, incidentally the culprit of my aching tear ducts.

The acting is mostly convincing, although by the end I did feel myself getting rather irritated by the loved up duo. Emma Williams as Jenny Cavilleri and Michael Xavier who plays Oliver Barrett IV have great chemistry on stage and seem very comfortable together. Both also have very promising voices, like much of the cast. Peter Polycarpou is endearing as Jenny’s father, Phil; it is genuinely moving watching him grieve for his daughter.

Love Story continues until 26 February 2011, book tickets here.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Black Watch at The Barbican

Black Watch was recommended to me by a friend at work, who swore it was the best piece of theatre she had ever seen. After that bold statement I couldn’t resist going to experience it for myself.

The Black Watch is an esteemed army infantry battalion from the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Their obscure name allegedly came from the dark tartan they used to wear to watch over the Highlands. This regiment has an important history which is explored within the action of the play, a truly fascinating timeline. I particularly enjoyed the sequence in which we watched one soldier being dressed and undressed continually by all the other men to display the regiment’s changing uniform over time. It was quite beautiful demonstrated in this way.

The music that occurs intermittently throughout the show is haunting and moving: various clips of Snow Patrol and Michael Nyman as well as authentic regimental songs are cleverly used. And then of course there are the constant sounds of mortars, IEDs and C-bombs. Often the men sing enthusiastically along to the tunes, with an endearing pride. The language is crude even filthy throughout, and yet it soon feels natural to hear the men speaking in this way. There is an element of dance in this production too, although it is more like atmospheric abstract movement. Violence is shown through stylised miming that is quite balletic, a dramatic juxtaposition with the hard army demeanour.

The narrative focuses on the Black Watch’s involvement in Iraq. Jack Lowden is superb as Cammy, he is devoted and yet understandably bitter. Jamie Quinn is sweet playing Fraz, a strangely evocative performance as a less fortunate soldier. The rest of the all male cast are similarly commendable, and as a whole create a powerful and intense piece of theatre.

I forgot these men are actors, I completely believed, for the 110 minutes that Black Watch runs that the men were soldiers. The Black Watch is known for its exceptionally strong sense of identity and camaraderie, a mindset that is portrayed immaculately by the boys on stage.

Many nights are already sold out, so be quick about getting your tickets for Black Watch, this is a play not to miss.

Black Watch, at the Barbican Arts Centre, until 22nd January. Tickets £35/40

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

All Star Lanes Bowling

Why I had never heard of All Star Lanes Bowling Alley before I do not know, it felt like the place was made for me. My friend had her 23rd birthday outing there last weekend, and we all had an absolute ball, despite none of us being any good at bowling!

All Star Lanes was founded by Mark von Westenholz and Adam Breeden who opened their first venue in Holborn in January 2006. The second All Star Lanes followed in 2007 in Bayswater with the third opening on Brick Lane in November 2008. They are expanding further afield in the next three years with more branches set to open all over the country.

‘Inspired by a passion for bowling and the changing-face of going out in London, boutique bowling was born - a marriage of bowling, cocktails, the finest cuisine and unforgettable music.’

We turned up around 11 pm to discover the place very much alive. Most people were dressed up for the occasion in thick rimmed glasses, headscarves, floral print dresses, or cropped trousers. Once again I was shamefully under-dressed and under-costumed, although I was wearing my favourite Sara and Zoe rabbit waistcoat, so my outfit attracted a little bit of attention. The decor, the waitress' uniforms, the music – all of it screamed ‘Grease’, I loved it.

There are only four bowling lanes, so obviously this limits the number of people who can use them. The organised birthday girl had just managed to book us in, but the only slot available was at 1am. For those who aren’t lucky enough to get a bowling spot, there is a bar with fabulously retro cocktails and a dance floor that was completely full of impressive jivers. I couldn’t help but stand and watch the enthusiastic dancers, who all seemed to be having such a good time.

We were split into teams for the bowling, our team seemed a little more interested in sharing round the red lipstick than winning the bowling game. We tried our best, and yet many of us (me included) consistently knocked zero pins over. The jubilation when someone did get a few down was indescribable; I soon lost my voice. We danced too while our teammates had their turns. At the end of the night my final score was 66; amazingly the best female score in the team.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 28

Yet another fantastic collaboration hit the London highstreet this month, Valentino for Gap. The collection that is sold in only two stores (the flagship shop on Oxford Street near Selfridges and Dover Street) came out a week ago.

These clothes are all about ruffles and khaki. There are only seven designs in the capsule collection, and as ELLE magazine neatly put it, they are ‘ultilitarian basics with a romantic twist’. The items are all quite sturdy looking, no cutesy dresses a la Lanvin for H&M, in fact these pieces are completely the opposite. Expect to find parkas, boleros, cargo trousers, little jackets, frilly jumpers and big skirts, all with lots of structured ruffles.

Valentino designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pier Paolo Picciolo explained: ‘we love mixing cultures and have been excited to mix Gap’s timeless essentials with our Roman culture of couture. The collection brings together the iconic world of Valentino and Gap’s fashion staples, synthesizing the current trend of combining luxury with basics.’

When I went along a few days ago I managed to get one of the remaining khaki green skirts, it sits high on the waist with thick layers of flowing material, a dainty Valentino bow at the top. I will be wearing it with a black leotard, or a cropped white t-shirt, and can definitely see it being a staple in winter and summer. Prices are reasonable, my skirt cost £69.50, and the other pieces are a similar price...high fashion outfits at a fraction of the cost.

Judging by the depleted rails I saw, everything might be gone now, but if you really want a piece from this special collection apparently there are some being resold on Ebay.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

End of the Rainbow

Tracie Bennett deserves every one of the five stars she has been receiving for her rendition of Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow, however the play does not. This bio-play relives the final sad days of Garland’s life when she struggled through a five week season at the Talk of the Town in London. The storyline is flimsy with no explanation of how Garland got to this disastrous stage in her life, and no mention of the dreadful ordeal child stars of her era went through. In fact the play consists mostly of ferocious arguments and is, as a result, rather grim to watch.

I have never been to the Trafalgar Studios before; it is a one tiered theatre, that for the audience is a bit like looking in on a shoebox. The stage is nicely decorated as Garland’s London hotel room, although with no set changes throughout, it looks stale by the end. The band are cleverly located behind the back wall of the stage, and are revealed for musical numbers.

Bennett truly is a tour de force, belting out Judy’s most famous songs with power and yet a unique vulnerability, that makes you want to listen. She manages to conquer even the trickiest of Garland’s songs: ‘The Trolley Man’ and ‘The Man That Got Away’, with real power and emotional intensity that must be hard to sustain on stage for two hours. Occasionally Quilter’s play allows for a little humour, and Bennett masters this too, most memorably when she realises she has swallowed drugs intended for a Cocker-Spaniel and starts to do hilarious canine impressions.

Starring alongside the diva are her fifth husband-to-be, Mickey Deans (Stephen Hagan) and her sympathetic gay pianist, Anthony (Hilton McRae). McRae is faultless, and is a pleasure to watch with Bennett, he also proves to be a very accomplished pianist, playing alongside her live on stage. I felt sorry for Hagan whose role in the play is not particularly meaty, but he does what he can with the part.

End of the Rainbow continues at The Trafalgar Studios until 5 March 2011. Book here.

Friday, 3 December 2010

L & F London: Vintage Clothes Launch

I feel very proud of my friends, who all seem to be making their mark on the world in creative and unique ways. Last weekend I went along to the launch party of L&F London, a bright new company selling finely picked vintage and second-hand clothes, at insanely low prices.

L & F stands quite simply for Lizzie & Florrie, the names of my two friends who have recently brought their whimsical fashion idea to life. It’s a plan I’m sure many have considered; I for one regularly take my unwanted clothes to the retro shops that litter the Notting Hill area, unfortunately only receiving a fraction of the amount I paid for them but definitely getting a sense of satisfaction from the transaction... the point is, very few people have the stamina, motivation and flair to put the idea into motion. The realisation of L&F turned out to be quite spectacular on Saturday afternoon, I was wholeheartedly impressed.

Located at Florrie’s house in Fulham, the collection of vintage clothes and accessories filled an entire room. Immaculately set up, the colourful array was extremely tempting. Being a bit of a shopaholic myself, I had disciplined myself to resist, but this good behaviour lasted a mere two minutes. Once I’d slurped down the last of my hot spiced cider (yes they were offering drinks and handmade canap├ęs too), I went to look through the rails. I picked up about eight items before heading to the makeshift changing room. After an hour of umm-ing and ahh-ing I decided on five items: leather boots £8, butterfly patterned shorts £15, flowery dress £16, Spotty shirt £12.50, and corduroy cropped trousers £20. All of which now have special places in my wardrobe, in fact I’m wearing the spotty shirt as I write this, and can honestly tell you I have had at least two compliments on it already today.

There is definitely an extraordinary quality to these clothes – Lizzie and Florrie have a keen interest in the history behind the garments, rather than just appreciating their prettiness, and this ethic can be seen on their own blog. The walls of the studio were covered in pictures of their models – stunning, but approachable; I felt guided by them to pick clothes that might look good on girls who are not lucky enough to have never-ending limbs. It seems a novel idea – vintage clothing that can actually flatter your figure! Each piece had a personalised touch too – a cute ‘Picked By L & F London’ label, lovingly sewn on by hand.

The L&F sale was accompanied by beautiful foodie treats from entrepreneurial chef, Georgia Doherty, who is talented both in the kitchen and on the design side of things; her presentation is rivalled by no-one. I bought some Christmas presents, and a few chocolate snacks to munch on the way home.

Lovely to see so many old friends and encounter L & F London for the first time. Visit their blog here.