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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Clybourne Park at The Royal Court

The Royal Court is rapidly becoming one of my favourite theatres. Situated just next to Sloane Square station, it is conveniently close to my Hyde Park Corner office. I have always been intrigued by its arty red neon sign but for some reason have never got around to seeing anything there. This all changed last Saturday when I was invited along to see the matinee performance of Clybourne Park.

The interior of the venue did not disappoint, a cosy but interesting bar/restaurant area and a fabulous little book shop are additions to the very comfortable and pretty theatre. And it seems this theatre has quite a following – I spotted a relaxed looking Emma Thompson amongst the crowd in the stalls.

The audience roared with laughter throughout Bruce Norris’ clever comedy. Sophie Thompson steals the show with her hilarious rendition of housewife Bev. She is the perfect 1950s stereotype, all flowers and baking, and I couldn’t help but warm to her smiley face and super sweet outlook on life. Bev and her husband, Russ (Steffan Rhodri) are moving neighbourhood after a harrowing family death leaves them yearning for a new start. Russ is rather less chirpy and sits melancholic, spooning Neapolitan ice-cream into his mouth, stopping occasionally to join his wife’s increasingly one-sided conversation. Their black maid, Francine (Lorna Brown) continues to pack up their possessions nonchalantly. The neighbours come round and reveal that a black family with be moving into the house, this is the first black family in the all-white Clybourne Park community. The neighbours are less than pleased and aggressively try to convince Bev and Russ to stay, but to no avail.

Initially it seems there is nothing more to this play than the domestic goings-on of everyday life. However as the story proceeds cracks appear and the neighbours seething racist opinions are revealed. The play presents a bizarre mix of jolly stereotypical 50s life and nasty racist jabs, exaggerated by the presence of Francine and her husband, who witness the argument. At times it is very uncomfortable to watch, but impossible too not to laugh.

After the interval, we are brought right forward to 2009 and the contemporary condition of the very same house, now part of an entirely different community. A white couple are wishing to buy the property, the discussion suggests that the area is now predominantly black. The same issues come to the surface but more overtly.

I enjoyed Clybourne Park. If anything the acting is so entertaining it draws one's attention away from the issues with which Norris is concerned.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Stravinsky and Walton at The Barbican

The Barbican is a wonderful concert hall to perform in, I used to sing the great St Matthew Passion there every Easter. As I sat in the choir waiting to sing I remember looking out into the vast audience trying to count everyone wearing red, a surprisingly fun game.

I’ve been to the Barbican many times since and last Friday went to see a concert of Stavinsky and Walton, kicking off the Guildhall’s new orchestral season. Three of my good friends from University were performing in the second half: Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. The first half was rather less inspiring than the second; Stravinsky can be quite a challenging listen. The Soldier’s Tale, his virtuosic morality play, is a strange piece of music with a libretto based on a Russian folk tale. The music is unbearably repetitive and after about twenty-five minutes I fell asleep. I enjoyed the speakers however, especially the role of narrator played by Director of Drama, Christian Burgess.

The stage was full for the second half, with a massive choir and orchestra. The students kept flooding on and it took me a long time to spot my three friends. I was delighted to see my cellist pal on the first desk, leading the way for her section. Belshazzar’s Feast is an oratorio and remains one of William Walton’s most celebrated compositions, as well as a popular piece in the English choral repertoire. It was performed on Friday with great gusto and the sound filled the Barbican like I’ve never heard before. This was helped by the extra brass sections that played from both sides on the upper level of the hall. The soloist was 2009 Gold Medal Winner Gary Griffiths, and although his voice didn’t completely win me over, he tackled the powerful part with admirable confidence.

A compelling start to the new season at the Barbican.

Chicago and the Triple Threat

Chicago is the musical that has everything. The brilliant ‘triple-threat’ performers (singers, actors, dancers) storm the stage with such confidence that one trembles with excitement.

Currently showing at The Cambridge Theatre in the heart of Covent Garden the show oozes sassy style. The stage is dominated by the 14 piece band led by the very jolly Ian Townsend, who occasionally chirps up to introduce the acts. The interaction between musicians and actors throughout makes you feel a bit like you’re in Ronnie Scott’s jazz bar round the corner in Soho. Apart from the band and a few chairs the set is almost non- existent, which surprisingly works really well. Ensemble characters lurk on the edges of the stage for the majority of the show, becoming the musical’s set.

The dynamic between the show's two divas - Roxie Hart (a Marilyn Monroe esque Sarah Soetaert) and Velma Kelly (the sexy Vivien Carter) is brilliant to watch; they spark off each other to produce great theatre. For me it is the dancing that is most impressive. Chicago is an important piece when you consider the history of musical theatre, especially the choreography and the Bob Fosse phenomenon. With sharp, stylised movements, Fosse gave his dancers something to think about during their numbers.

As much as I love the show, I feel I should mention the shortcomings of the theatre it calls home. I found the Cambridge very uncomfortable and chilly. Despite sitting in the central stalls the seats were cramped and there was a persistent breeze that annoyingly distracted me. The nature of the musical lends itself to a smaller, more intimate venue, but because of its popularity, of course ends up in a large theatre. Perhaps it would be more suited to one of the more petite West End establishments like The Duchess.

Chicago is a timeless classic that everyone should see once. It is a true piece of musical theatre history.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

THE PRINT ROOM - The Imaginary Painters Workshop

The Print Room, a new venue hidden away in Notting Hill, specialises in promoting experimental theatre, music, dance and visual art collaborating with some of the most exciting creative talent around. I went along this weekend to see their first exhibition: The Imaginary Painters Workshop.

Within a newly renovated 1950s warehouse, the space is clean and spacious with an enchanting garden outside. I was immediately captured by the character of the building and noticed the versatility of the main performing room. The work on display is by two inventive artists, Sofie Lachaert and Luc D’Hanis. There are a few themes that seem to link the different pieces: the artist’s palette is the most visually obvious. The handwoven ‘Palette Rug’ takes up a large area of the floor and the brightly coloured edible painting (also in the shape of a palette- see image above) is very appealing in another corner of the room. The other work is intriguing and pretty to look at, although the reasoning behind the pieces is sometimes impenetrable.

I cannot wait to see some drama in this space, although the visual art works well here I feel this is a venue that will thrive on the power of live theatre. Definitely one to watch, check out the website to find out about exciting upcoming projects.

Michael Gambon in Krapp's Last Tape

It is a pure delight to see Michael Gambon perform on stage in London in a one man play. Krapp’s Last Tape is a miniature, a 50 minute piece written by Samuel Beckett. It is said to be biographical of Beckett’s life. It is being performed in the cosy Duchess Theatre, and was full to the brim on the night I went. The first fifteen minutes is silent, with no speech, we see a hapless looking Krapp sprawled across a table, he gradually rises and begins fumbling around the stage as the audience fidgets impatiently in their squeaking seats. This makes his eventual words much more emphatic and lasting in the memory.

The set is minimal. On stage is a small desk, a chair and a light that shines over the weary man and acts metaphorically too, a spotlight on his life. Every year on his birthday he records himself talking on a reel of tape. Then he listens to a previous year, choosing at random from the large dusty collection. We listen to excerpts from box 3, spool 5, learning about his former life, his loves, his realisations. He mumbles his regrets and recollections, getting increasingly frustrated and obsessing about the past.

The frank stream of thought reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s writing, complete with beautifully articulate descriptions. At times Krapp is endearing, sometimes even witty, but most of all he seems dejected and alone, and I couldn’t help but pity the character.

This is an unusual production for London’s buzzing West End. I found it refreshing after the two and three hour shows I have seen recently. It allows you to have a relaxing meal either side of the show, and leaves you pondering the drama you have just seen. Best of all, you can be home in bed by 10 pm.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 18

On the 16th September Selfridges opened their new Shoe Galleries. This emporium displays 5,000 pairs of shoes and has up to 100,000 in stock, making it the world’s biggest woman’s footwear department. The title previously belonged to the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and before that Saks Fifth Avenue in New York.

The inspiration behind the Selfridges extravaganza came from a conversation the store's creative director, Alannah Weston had with a colleague regarding the effect shoes have on women. Following this Weston told her photographer friend, Bruce Weber the tale of her three-year-old daughter Maia’s favourite game: trying on and admiring all her mother’s shoes every morning. Weber was captivated by the story and that’s where the Shoeperhero idea all began, hence the photo above.

Shoes are an undeniably important part of a woman’s daily life: looking, choosing, ordering, comparing, buying, wearing, and wishing. More than 150 brands are represented in Selfridges, from high street names such as River Island and Topshop to the world’s top designers, like Jimmy Choo and Prada. Prices range enormously from a £25 pair of Havaianas flip-flops to £1,750 for a sensational pair of platform Balenciagas. There really is something for everyone. It is worth visiting just to see this shoe phenomenon, it is as beautiful as an art gallery.

The £10 million Shoe Galleries are said to be larger than the great Turbine Hall in Tate Modern. They are arranged into six unique ‘salons’ each with a different theme and feel. Each brand has had full creative direction of their ‘apartment’; I particularly like the Repetto mimic ballet studio and the Christian Louboutin room that recreates the designer's Paris home.

We already loved Selfridges but now there’s another reason to visit this magical London store. Dreams really do come true in the Shoe Galleries, go and find the pair that will make you feel like a princess. And remember to drop off the man before entering, you don’t want his whingeing distracting you.

Check out the Selfridges website for more info here.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

B-Tempted Gluten-free cakes

B-Tempted is an inventive company that freshly make and sell gluten-free cakes. Sarah, who set up the business, used to work for an investment bank in the city but decided to leave to start something she truly believes in.

Although Sarah herself is not a Coeliac, gluten doesn’t agree with her and so felt it to be an area of food she therefore wanted to improve. I have a friend who is Coeliac and I feel so guilty going out for meals with her and tucking into a meal when she is so limited in what she can eat. As more and more people discover they have an intolerance to gluten and wheat it is important that there is food on the market that makes people feel good as well as tasting good.

Sarah's passion shows in B-Tempted food. I tried some dinky little lemon and cashew bites and also some dark chocolate and hazelnut ones. They were delicious, just as good as gluten based cakes, the difference is frankly unnoticeable. The food is bursting with flavour, and so light that I found it quite easy to eat several cakes without feeling ill afterwards... I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not?!

B-Tempted boasts an impressive chef too, Eric Rock joined the company in November 2009 after completing a pastry stage at The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire. He is responsible for production and new product development.

Look out for these yummy little cakes in stores all over London, and check out the website here.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Eating at Kitchen W8

I have to say I was a little disappointed with Kitchen W8 this time around. My first visit to this restaurant was great, me and my foodie friend chose our meaty mains well and then for dessert, well we couldn’t decide, so we got three between us, so what, we hadn’t had starters so felt we were entitled to it. I can’t remember exactly what our delightful desserts were now, but I do remember that it was this course that made the meal entirely worthwhile. It was a lovely dinner, and I thought the restaurant was perhaps on its way to getting a Michelin star.

Making the decision recently to try more nice restaurants at lunchtime (cheap set menus) meant another trip to Kitchen W8 this weekend. The set menu is great value - £17.50 for two courses, £19.50 for three at lunchtime Monday – Saturday. An offer it's hard to refuse. Due to three later bloggable activities we had to go early so I booked the table for 12 noon. We were the only people there for a good 45 minutes, and I found the silence quite unnerving, despite being tucked away in our own little corner.

The set menu was quite limiting, with only two options for each course. I had a bizarre cauliflower soup, quite nice once I forgot what it was! My friend had some, apparently good, ham with apple relish to accompany. The bread that came our way was, by the way, divine , especially the warm onion and pumpkin bread. For mains we both had the pigeon, which had a delicious flavour, but I was put off by the tough texture, impossible to cut through. Pudding, as it previously had, made up for the meal's earlier shortcomings. I had the most wonderful melting vanilla mousse with a thin crunchy oatmeal biscuit to contrast, and a touch of blackberry compote. On the other side of the table was a sweet brioche dessert with ice-cream. Both utterly amazing, I remembered why I had loved this restaurant so much the first time around. Fresh mint tea and complimentary chocolate truffles concluded the meal.

More information on Kitchen W8 here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Saving money with The Taste London Card

Eating out in London can be ridiculously expensive. As I am regularly out seeing shows and concerts in central London it is often necessary for me to buy supper out; normally I’m starving and so want a proper hot meal.

The Taste London Card is the way to go... it gives you 50 % off or 2 for 1 meals at over 2500 restaurants across the capital. This little card has saved me a fortune, and also makes the perfect gift for someone who enjoys dining out. With from popular restaurants like Pizza Express and Prezzo to not so familiar pubs and one-off eateries, there really is a huge amount of choice.

Look out for the occasional restriction though - most restaurants exclude Saturdays, and even Fridays. These are clearly stated on the website; they are not trying to catch you out! A twelve month taste membership will cost you £69.95, and as Timeout have said before me, ‘it is an unbelievable money saving tool.’

Buy your very own Taste London card here.

The Woman in Black

I know I am very affected by emotive shows, but at the end of a week of terrifying productions my emotions have reached new extremes. After Ghost Stories I vowed I would not let myself get so scared by a performance again. That pledge evaporated almost immediately when, a few nights ago I went to see The Woman in Black.

The Woman in Black is currently celebrating its 21st year at the Fortune Theatre in Covent Garden. With only two parts (and the unknown actress playing the ghost) the play is a real showcase for the two male actors: Michael Mears (Arthur Kipps) and Orlando Wells (the actor). Mears is fantastic on stage, capturing the atmosphere of the piece exactly. Wells also is great fun to watch, he seems to know the part so well that he can play with it as he desires. His little quirks are matched by Mears and together they are a great duo.

The Fortune Theatre is rather dingy and dangerously intimate for a show like The Woman in Black, especially when, once again I had the creepy aisle seat. In fact before the actors came on I was reminded of the interior of a cheap hotel in a stereotypical scary movie. The stage is slanted and covered in gauze-like material. The performance combines theatrical illusion and trickery with a disturbing narrative, scaring even the coolest of hearts.

In comparison to Ghost Stories this play is more realistic and therefore more believable. There is an interval and a traditional dramatic structure, unlike Ghost Stories, but the underlying message is more sinister and upsetting, and the chilling final outcome left me shivering for hours after the play had ended.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Gounod's FAUST at The ENO

The opera to see this month, in my opinion, is Faust, Gounod’s five act epic. Marking the start of ENO’s exciting new season this production is directed by award-winning director Des McAnuff, and conducted by the charismatic Edward Gardner. The opera is based loosely on Goethe’s Faust, Part I with a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre and is an entirely new production for the English National Opera.

With a running time just over three hours and with two intervals, you definitely get your money’s worth. This is a show that will appeal to both opera fanatics and those less confident with the form. The music is dramatic and the lyrical tunes will grab your attention, furthermore the narrative is unusually easy to follow! It is rare that I particularly notice an orchestra during an operatic performance, but in this case I did. They play with great vigour and energy, perhaps thanks to Gardner’s diverse experience conducting both West End bands and large operatic orchestras.

I cannot fault the singing either, Toby Spence leads the cast as the scientist Faust, a tiring tenor role that requires real talent; several of his arias were breathtakingly beautiful. There are only a few more soloists, I think Anna Grevelius as feeble Siebel and Iain Paterson as demonic Mephistopheles stand out. The set is perhaps a little nonsensical, but I found it easy to overlook this as the other effects on stage are of wonderful. Throughout the performance a giant projection of Marguerite’s face is shown, reminding us constantly of Faust’s leading lady and of the important love story that holds the narrative together. This face is particularly unnerving when it occasionally moves or blinks at you.

This ENO season also introduces a series of pre-performance talks called Join The Conversation: Live! They are hosted by the epic new Apple Store in Covent Garden, taking place on the opening night of each of the Autumn 2010 productions at 5pm. Curated and introduced by broadcaster and journalist Christopher Cook, these events will raise topics surrounding each production with a panel of experts from different operatic fields.

Faust continues until October 16, 2010.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

20/21 ART FAIR

Every year I try to see London’s main art fairs. There is something about these events that brings an extra frisson to the art.The fairs are always filled with people, some of whom might not usually go to see art, and the atmosphere is buzzing with interest and intrigue. I think it is a creatively healthy way to see art.

The 20/21 BRITISH ART FAIR takes place every September at the Royal College of Art in Kensington. This is its 23rd year. 20/21 is the only fair specialising exclusively in modern and contemporary British art. Some of the greatest names in 20th century art can be found here: Bacon, Freud, Hepworth, Nash, Moore, amongst many others. The fair also presents the work of contemporary artists, both new and established. Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry have all been shown here. I loved the devilish decorated Perry ceramic plate (see picture above) on display this year at the England & Co stand.

There are around 60 stalls at the fair every year and, though much of the work passed me by, there is the occasional gem. Some of the pop art excited me – I love Peter Blake (he did the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover), and was pleased to see a selection of his prints.

An art fair is a great place to start if you want to begin collecting art, with prices from the low hundreds to hundreds of thousands; it is perhaps less daunting than visiting a gallery.

More information here.

PUNK ROCK goes on tour

I am so relieved that I managed to see Punk Rock, just in time. I had heard brilliant things about its run at The Lyric, and knowing one of the cast members suspected the positive rumours were true... I really enjoyed it.

The play, written by Simon Stephens is set in a grammar school in Stockport. A group of outspoken teenagers are preparing to take their mock exams. The set remains unchanged throughout; we are in an old dusty library, a room that becomes increasingly claustrophobic as the story unfolds. The group are joined by a new girl, self-harming Lilly Cahill. We watch as the dynamic changes between the students as they struggle to grow up. Punk Rock introduces us to character types that we can all sympathise with.A cast of nine outstanding actors gives a powerfully expressive performance. These young promising actors, a few of them debuting in Punk Rock, command the stage with maturity way beyond their years.

I want to draw attention to this show as it embarks on a large scale national tour. It returns to the stage after a very successful sell-out run at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. Visiting theatres all over the country, a show not to miss... it is one of the most gripping plays I have ever seen.

More information on Punk Rock's tour here.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010



This is the warning given before you attend GHOST STORIES, dubbed the scariest show in London. As the final curtain falls the audience are asked (over the PA System) to kindly not give away any of the show’s secrets, so I’m afraid I can’t go into too much detail, instead I thought I would talk about the effect of the show on me and how this is achieved.

The show sets out as a lecture in which the audience are all involved. Andy Nyman is brilliant as Professor Philip Goodman and reminded me slightly of Ricky Gervais. The other three men that make up the cast are also very convincing, but I think that’s about all I am allowed to say! The professor talks to us directly from the stage and asks us to participate at times. The audience is lured into a false sense of security and laughter which only heightens the anxiety. Physically we are involved too – with elements of the story around us in the theatre. You become part of the scene. This is thanks to writers and directors, Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, who have done a miraculous job creating this deeply unsettling script and production.

Ghost Stories takes you away from theatre conventions. The auditorium is decorated (if you can call it that) with rubbish and tape and plastic to look appropriately dark, dingy and uncomfortable. As you take your seat, there is no light or programme sellers to welcome you in, instead a dimly lit theatre is haunted with a soundtrack of drips and rumbles and eerie screeches. There is no interval which builds up tension and you are warned: if you leave the theatre during the performance you will be unable to return.

I came away from the Ghost Stories experience with a strong opinion: this show aims to scare and shock and it definitely succeeds in both missions. It uses the power of the senses to manipulate the audience. Hearing is used most prominently think of the overwhelming effect of film music. The use of silence also contributes to the ambience. Sound is thrown around confusing you and constantly making you worry about what is behind you (I must have looked round several dozen times). Sight is the most overt of the senses used to frighten – and the special effects and lighting contribute enormously in this show. Smell and touch are also used during Ghost Stories, more subtly. At times a gentle wind is blown through the audience. They also manage to send aromas associated with the story across the theatre, for instance, when bleach is mentioned in the script the smell of bleach gradually wafts through the auditorium.

All these elements combined with the hype in the audience and I was properly terrified. It didn’t help that behind me sat two St John’s Ambulance staff, I quickly asked them if they were attending for fun or work and was disturbed to find out that they were here ‘just in case’. Then as the show began I noticed the seat next to me was empty, and began stupidly to convince myself that it was to be used during the performance. Maybe a person would suddenly appear, or a hand would reach up from it and grab me. The only sense that remains is taste, and although it wasn’t used directly, I definitely left the theatre with the taste of fear in my mouth.


Monday, 20 September 2010

The Coolest Liquer in Town

CHAMBORD: A five-star liqueur, made with 'black raspberries' and other bramble fruits, infused in aged cognac. Perfect for dressing up desserts or sweetening a cocktail.

I spent Tuesday night at The Inaugural Chambord Rendezvous, chinking glasses with only the most experienced of cocktail drinkers. The decadent party at London’s Cafe de Paris celebrated this stylish drink. I was invited along! Edith Bowman was there playing a DJ set and Claudia Winkleman was hosting. Canapes and luxurious Chambord cocktails were served throughout the night.

I had a special new frock for the occasion, a beautiful dark pink ‘hammered satin party dress’ from designer Rebecca Taylor at Harvey Nichols. And with my sparkly pink diamante eyelashes from Selfridges and face rhinestones on, I was ready to go. I realised ten minutes into the party that in fact my dress was the perfect Chambord dark raspberry colour, and quietly congratulated myself on this clever coincidence.

Chambord is used in more cocktails than you’d think, and despite the strong flavour it goes excellently with other fruity liqueurs and mixers. My favourite use for it is to colour other drinks, like making your own pink champagne! The cocktails made at this event were the winning recipes from competitions, my favourite was the fresh and fruity Belle Poire.

The cocktails were great but my favourite part of the evening was dancing the night away with my brilliant dance partner.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 17

I hate jeans shopping. In fact I hate wearing jeans, so I rarely have to shop for them. I find them uncomfortable, unflattering and, most of all, ill-fitting. Most jeans shopping trips end in me despairing to the poor friend with me... ‘Why don’t ANY of them look nice on me?’ And I go home empty handed and frustrated.

Could Levi’s Curve ID be the answer to our cries for help? In the end it’s the fit that matters, even if a pair of jeans makes you look amazing, if they don’t feel amazing they’re not going to stick in your wardrobe. FINALLY women of all shapes and sizes can look good in jeans, with the new custom fit jeans from Levi’s. The launch arrives after Levi’s has spent two years researching body shapes; apparently a massive 87% of people they talked to wanted better fitting jeans than the ones they currently owned.

Curve ID jeans come in 3 styles, designed to fit the majority of women. Slight curve for those with straighter bodies, Demi Curve for those with proportionate curves and Bold Curve for those with smaller waists and curvier hips or bottom. I love the campaign which shows Lykke Li (slight curve), Pixie Geldof (demi curve) and Miss Nine (bold curve). I got measured in Levis in Westfield, and am apparently between Slight curve and Demi curve. I tried both on and the Demi felt more comfortable. These jeans are being welcomed into the fashion world just at the right time, as curvier models hit the catwalk and voluptuous role models like Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) inspire normal women to be more confident.

All you have to do is visit a Levi’s store, get measured (no stripping down to underwear necessary, phew). A lovely sales assistant will be on hand to take two measurement round your hips with a piece of ribbon, the difference between the two numbers determines which of the CURVE ID jeans are for you. They are quite low-cut so may not be for everyone, and at around £80 aren’t cheap. But if they do feel right you can be a lot more confident that you’ll get them home and STILL like them. And let’s be honest £80 is a small price to pay for the perfect pair of jeans.

Check them out on the website here.

Saturday, 18 September 2010


The SAATCHI GALLERY sits among the dainty shops and cafes of the fashionable King’s Road. Inside the gates the atmosphere is calm, quiet and airy and there is a sense of understated luxury that emanates from the large clean white rooms. My visit felt a bit like a detox after the busy, hyper streets of Chelsea.

It is always encouraging when you go to a gallery and find art students sprawled across the floors joining in the creativity; it shows an active response to the work. It also reminds me fondly of being a keen art student myself. The Saatchi gallery staff ooze coolness, I was envious of their hip t-shirts which I later found out were available in the gallery shop, another item for the wish list.

The Saatchi aims to be a platform for innovative art and a springboard for young unknown artists to launch their careers. The current exhibition: NEWSPEAK BRITISH ART NOW, is split into two parts, the first is on now. I loved all the work and found that it came together as an exciting eclectic mix. Steven Claydon’s sculpture stood out – a quirky head with a peacock feather as an eye patch. I visited the gallery in my one hour lunch break and found I didn’t have nearly enough time. With the free admission it’s nice to know I can go back at anytime. As I left small neatly-uniformed school children were running and laughing on the grass surrounding the gallery building. All in all an idyllic London lunchtime.

The Saatchi Gallery is open every day, 10-6.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Closer than Ever at The Landor Theatre

The Landor Theatre in Clapham is one hell of a cool haunt. Recently refurbished, this venue has never looked better. The theatre is above the Landor Pub, a friendly space with an expansive beer garden perfectly convenient for interval drinks. Artistic Director Robert McWhir keeps the focus on housing musical theatre.

This production marks the 21st Anniversary of Closer than Ever. The show is an award-winning musical revue, featuring 25 memorable songs by composers Maltby and Shire. The show, which contains no dialogue, was described by the writers as a ‘bookless book musical’. It presents the lives of four friends, and through self-contained songs tells of diverse real life topics like: mid-life crises, working couples, unrequited love, aging. The intimate nature of the theatre space means you are just a metre or two away from the actors on stage all the time. I could see every little expression and gesture making the show a lot more believable and affecting.

The cast is made up of experienced West End stars – Clare Burt, Michael Cahill, Ria Jones and Glyn Kerslake. Ria Jones was, for me the most striking, but then again she has all the best numbers. ‘Miss Byrd’, which is surely the most well-known song was delivered with devilish charm and cheek and was a complete pleasure to watch. I also loved ‘Patterns’ in the second act, a stark realisation about life and its inevitable let-downs.

The West End is evolving slowly with familiar classics like The Sound of Music and Cats making way for new musicals like Legally Blonde and Sister Act. I was hugely disappointed to see Spring Awakening come off the stage early here, and knowing the brilliant score well, can’t believe it didn’t interest audiences enough. It is great to see a new American musical making an impression on London audiences, hopefully Closer than Ever will get the recognition it deserves.

Closer than Ever runs at the Landor Theatre until Saturday 9 October.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Dreamboats and Petticoats

I can’t believe that I had never heard of Dreamboats and Petticoats before I went to see it last night. And so I’m guessing perhaps lots of other people haven’t either. The show is full of classic 1960s hits, sure to get you tapping your feet. And despite being born twenty years later I still recognised nearly all the songs as if they had been in the charts yesterday. Just goes to show pop music was definitely more catchy back then.

The narrative is very predictable and exists to thread around the songs, there is little imaginative about it. The acting too lacks sparkle. The reason for going to see this show is the music. As we sat down we found that we were, BY FAR, the youngest, in fact almost everyone around us was over 60. They all loved it and it seemed to be the oldest audience members that were first up on their feet to dance!

Now is the time to see Dreamboats and Petticoats as currently Tony Christie stars in the show as Phil and 'Older Bobby'. Christie is very entertaining and has a surprisingly powerful and in tune voice. The daft song that made him famous, ‘Is This the Way to Amarillo?’, is featured towards the end of the show. The audience went wild for it! I guarantee there will be at least one song that you recognise, some of my favourites were: Shakin’ All Over, Teenager In Love, Let’s Twist Again, At The Hop and wonderfully lyrical Roy Orbison songs that act as a small motif throughout. I couldn’t help singing along, which I’m sure annoyed the people either side of me.

Bad boy Norman is played by Ben James-Ellis who I have previously seen in 'Hairspray' as suave Link Larkin. Lorna Want is sweet as Laura, and is by far the most convincing character on stage. The story follows her quest to win over the boy (Bobby) and win the National Youth Songwriting competition with him. This is an energetic, light-hearted show, with nearly forty songs played live with a band. Dreamboats and Petticoats has a silly story and bad puns, but I still found it fun to see and dance along to.

Book tickets here.

ART IS SCARY - Earthquakes in London at The National

I have decided that art is scary. Gone are the days when an abstract painting would cause a stir, now you need to create something far more shocking in order to be noticed. Does something really have to be repellant or disturbing to impress the audiences of today? I am beginning to think it does. As a society we seem obsessed with extremism and cynicism in art, subtlety is long gone. Artists and actors and others in the creative world seem intent on pushing themselves to the edge physically and emotionally, often with dangerous consequences. This is exhausting and harrowing for both the performer/artist and the audience/observer. This realisation of mine has been brewing slowly but surely; it began when I experienced the work of Stuart Brisley. He is widely regarded as a seminal figure of British performance art. The videos of his performances show the extent to which he is willing to go to make his point. I found Arbeit Macht Frei (1973) which was on display at Zoo Art Fair this year, particularly disturbing. In this video Brisley deliberately makes himself vomit continuously to represent an analogous representation of the objection to genocide. I found this literally unbearable to watch, and difficult to comprehend.The same can be found in music too - often music that is discordant and unpleasant to the ear is considered to be the most promising 'new music'.

I went to see the critically acclaimed ‘Earthquakes in London’ at the National Theatre last Friday. It is being performed on the Cottesloe stage, the only one of the three National’s theatres that I haven’t been to before. It is a three hour long play and we had standing tickets; I was a little worried about tiredness setting in after a long week at work. Turns out I didn’t need to be worried, the play captivated me from start to finish.

‘Earthquakes in London’ was commissioned by Headlong in 2008 under the artistic directorship of Rupert Goold. Headlong collaborates with adventurous theatre artists, and supports and helps them to bring their most challenging and provocative work to the stage. ‘Earthquakes in London’ is a new play by Mike Bartlett, a promising young playwright, who is only 29 years old. This epic play about climate change and corporate corruption is very impressive for such a young writer.

The staging was quite unique, a shoebox-like stage at either end of the auditorium, and then an elevated path through the centre of the theatre, which most of the audience stood surrounding. Often during the performance the actors leapt from the stage into the standing audience to continue the action amongst us. I was amazed by the energy from all the cast, which incidentally was very large. They really threw themselves into the drama, which is why the disturbing message was so forcefully conveyed.

The play spans from 1968 to 2525 and appropriately begins with the famous song about that year. The first half was slick and exciting, there was so much going on it was difficult to know where to look. Interestingly it tackles domestic issues as well as more serious environmental themes. The sinister twist to the story only became evident towards the end of the first half when an estranged father suggests his daughter should terminate her pregnancy. His research leads to his doomed, and completely extreme opinions, scary but eye-opening for the audience, since they are based on real scientific evidence. It is difficult to pick out any of the actors for a special mention, they were all brilliant. The second half was not quite as convincing and unfortunately fell into ridiculous ‘futuristic whimsy’, to quote Guardian critic Michael Billington. I felt the last twenty minutes was completely unnecessary and detracted from the overall poignancy of the piece.

I enjoy being challenged by art, and this was a refreshing play for The National. But being someone that gets very affected by things, I would like occasionally to see a new piece of theatre, or performance art that aims to provoke positive thoughts. People can be precious about new art; I believe theatre can be groundbreaking and thought-provoking without being completely depressing and soul-destroying. I left The National in floods of tears but would urge you to try and see the play... if you are thick-skinned.

Book tickets here.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

BECKI BIGGINS at The Bull's Head

Becki Biggins is a multi-talented musician and singer songwriter. I know her best as a wonderful teacher.

Becki has been Grammy nominated and won the 2009 American Billboard ‘Best Smooth Jazz Artist’ Award with Paul Hardcastle, and the ‘Best Newcomer’ Award at the 2008 Marlborough International Jazz Festival.

The Bull’s Head Pub in Barnes is lucky enough to have Becki once every couple of months, performing classic jazz numbers with her band. I have been along to several of these occasions, to listen, have a drink, and meet up with friends. It is great fun and a lovely way to spend an evening.

This Wednesday 22 September you have the chance to go too. Doors open at 8 pm and tickets are £10 on the night.

Check out Becki's website here.

SARGENT AND THE SEA at The Royal Academy of Arts

John Singer Sargent
(1856-1925) was born in Florence and is best known as a portrait painter; sculptor Auguste Rodin called him ‘the Van Dyck of our times’. The current exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts focuses on Sargent’s marine paintings that are less often displayed.

The show was crowded, and I felt slightly out of place as stuffy women walked past obviously judging my presence. I didn’t take long to look round because it was difficult to get to properly see a lot of the work without getting tutted out of the way. Why do galleries display art in near-darkness? I find it so irritating when I have to squint through dim light to properly see a piece of work.

On a more positive note: some of the seascapes are beautiful. A sense of immediacy is captured within Sargent’s tumultuous waves, sometimes just through a few clever brushstrokes. And despite only being in his twenties when he painted most of the paintings, his visual description of water is skilful and enchanting. I especially noticed the delicate reflections in the puddles on the beaches that make the pictures so romantic. I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of some of Sargent’s sketchbooks- a real insight into how this artist thought through and executed his ideas. Towards the end of the show there are a few watercolour paintings on show. These present a different facet of the artist’s output and show his intimate relationship with the sea.

Overall I was disappointed, the show as a whole is bland, and I left struggling to remember any one picture that particularly impressed me. The exhibition only consists of about six rooms – I personally feel the £8 ticket is too much.

Exhibition continues until 26 September 2010.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The 39 Steps 4th Birthday Show and Vintage Party

The Criterion Theatre was the place to be last Thursday night. I had a ball. John Buchan’s THE 39 STEPS celebrated its 4th birthday in the West End, with an evening performance and a fabulous Vintage Party afterwards.

The Criterion in Piccadilly is an epic theatre, mostly below street level (you have to walk down several flights of stairs to get to the Stalls). The 39 Steps is a classic comedy, and hilarious for all the family. With the interval it lasts 1 hour 50 minutes, not too long and leaves you wanting more. David Bark-Jones is absolutely brilliant as Richard Hannay, he reminded me of a more quirky Ewan McGregor. The very talented Dianne Pilkington is in the spotlight as the leading lady, having previously starred as Glinda in Wicked. Timothy Speyer and Jeremy Swift make up the other half of the four person cast. In 100 minutes a mere four people tackle 139 characters. The two men between them cover a huge number of parts, their quick wit makes them irresistibly funny – I particularly enjoyed watching them as the Scottish couple who owned the hotel.

The 39 Steps goes into its 5th year as the West End’s and New York’s longest-running comedy. It is an adaptation of the famous Hitchcock film, a murder mystery; the story follows the ordinary Richard Hannay on a mad chase from London to Scotland and back again. It has won numerous awards, including an Olivier in 2007 and two Tonys in 2008. It is no surprise, with jokes for all ages and a superb cast, this is a must see show.

The vintage party was just as good as the preceding production. Held in the beautiful art nouveau Greene Bar inside the Criterion Theatre, the order of the day was definitely "dress to impress". Guys and gals came in their best vintage gear and if you were embarrassingly unprepared (like me) there were clothes, scarves, gloves, hats on hand to try on and borrow for the night’s festivities. I chose a black fur cape and silk scarf, and some dainty little gloves too. Feeling a bit more the part, I wandered round picking up my tea cocktail, a stylish cupcake and had my photo taken. All in all it was a wonderful evening, Happy Birthday to THE 39 STEPS.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Gaucho Grill

Definitely the best steak I’ve ever had, rivalled only by my granny's supreme cooking. I’d often heard about Gaucho Grill from friends, but being slightly sceptical of chains, was never actually intrigued enough to try it. Until now.

Oh yum. We went at 6.30 pm to the Hampstead branch, before a show, so had the restaurant completely to ourselves and several waiters willing to give us, in depth, steak explanations. After the drinks were delivered, a polite girl came (with her board of raw meat) to ask about our steak choices. Poor thing, I was probably more demanding than she’d expected. I chose Sirloin (a beef steak cut from the rear part of the animal) with unbelievably good peppercorn sauce. My date had the same, cut with mustard sauce (not as good). The chips were perfect and mixed salad, definitely above average as mixed salads go.

One negative – I did not like the music, why civilised restaurant put on aggressive dance music in the background, I will never know; and as we already had a time limit to eat within this made me feel pressured and on the edge of indigestion. However I will definitely be going back, pricey but worth it, and with Gaucho branches all over London, there are many to try out.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 16

Why wait for a man to buy you a ring, when you can buy yourself one (or ten) from new jewellery phenomenon DAISY JEWELLERY? Only the coolest kids in town know about these pretty accessories, and their fan base is filled with big celeb names like Sienna Miller.

Daisy’s stackable rings come in every variety: gold, silver, hammered, studded, twisted, plaited, brushed; the list goes on. You can create your own stack of rings on the website. They start from just £22. The clever website even lets you ‘try’ your rings on a virtual hand, complete with OPI nail varnish manicure! Once you’ve made your selection they are yours to mix and match and wear however you choose. The best combinations, I think, use a few different styles, with spacer rings in between, the more eclectic the better.

James Boyd is the brains behind the idea, which is said to take its influence from the work of eminent English designer Wendy Ramshaw and her interpretation of stack rings in the Seventies.

Start stacking now, here.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The New MATT BLACK cars

How many of those spooky matt black cars have you spotted whizzing around London? I had to do a double take when I first saw one, but then more and more began appearing, especially around my Knightsbridge workplace (the new Harrods crew seem to have a whole family of them). I have begun to wonder if these strange looking cars are the new must-have accessory.

Apparently the correct term for this car finish is ‘East Coast Suede’. Perhaps men like this new ‘look’ because it makes them look mean and aggressive – just as cars should be. Hmmm... I think they are a bit scary. I think if I had my own I would buy some chalk and have a fun time decorating it each day according to my mood.

Matt Black cars are being made by many of the major auto brands now... What you may not know is that there are now services for car 'wrapping'. So if you fancy giving your car a whole new look you can take it in for a matt black makeover, or any other colour for that matter.

So are these slick cars really something to write home about? Are they more striking that normal shiny cars? Or is it just the excitement of seeing something completely new on the road? I’d be interested to know what everyone else thinks about them, I’m certainly not a fan.

Friday, 10 September 2010

HOW TO BE AN OTHER WOMAN at The Gate Theatre

How to be an Other Woman is based on Lorrie Moore’s collection of stories, 'Self-Help'. The talented Natalie Abrahami has adapted and directed this story for the World Premiere at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. I’d never been to this theatre before, despite spending a lot of my time in the Notting Hill area. The Gate is cute and cutting edge cool, How to be another Woman could be described the same and suited the venue well.

As we sat down the atmosphere was sexily chilled out. Girls wandered across the stage, the audience muttered excitedly amongst themselves and the sweet smell of menthol stage cigarettes wafted through the small theatre. It was slightly Sex and the City–esque. The play itself is slick, and delightfully interpreted for the stage. Recurring motifs pepper the narrative, and are used cleverly throughout, the most obvious of which are a conspicuous trench coat and high-heeled shoes. Each girl has a turn at being the ‘mistress’ (and wearing the trench) while the other instructs her as to how such a character should act and react. It was a weird coincidence that my friend had, just a few days earlier, been given a similar coat for her birthday. Of the four women I was most drawn to watch Faye Castelow. Her chirpy character acting is full of energy and endeared her to me. My friend was captivated by Ony Uhiara who apparently stole the show recently in the Young Vic’s ‘Eurydice’. All the ensemble are good, and contribute equally to the amazing fluidity and sensuality of the production, the onstage chemistry between them is a pleasure to watch.

Abrahami interestingly has cast four women and no man, leaving the male part to be alternately taken by each actress. My theatre expert best friend found this particularly intriguing and afterwards explained her interpretation of this casting decision - that it proposes the empowering of women. And yet throughout the women are similar to little girls playing in their bedroom, dressing up and giggling.

This play is dangerously moreish, perhaps like an affair is. And at only an hour long ended too soon for me.

How to be an Other Woman continues until 2 October, 2010.