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Sunday, 31 October 2010

'Over Gardens Out' at The Riverside

The play was first performed in 1969 at The Royal Court Theatre, see image above.

I enjoyed Peter Gill’s ‘Over Gardens Out’ although I found some of it unfathomable. This short play is directed by Sam Brown and is the second of two Gill works on at The Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.

The Riverside offers a wealth of creative activity, from film screenings to dance and new theatre projects. They have several performance spaces; previously I had only been to the main theatre. Over Gardens Out was performed in Studio 3, a smaller, colder, darker space that allows the audience to sit much closer to the action. I felt rather confined and this definitely affected my experience of the play.

The whole cast are onstage throughout, some barely have a role to play other than as voyeurs. Their presence emphasises the hostile nature of the play and the troubles of 1968 the year in which it is set. They stand judging.

At only 50 minutes, Over Gardens Out is more of a study than a story. The narrative revolves around the homoerotic friendship between two teenage boys. Dennis shows his insecurities through his moodiness and bratty behaviour, clinging to his mother at every opportunity, bully Jeffry is more overtly aggressive and masculine. Meilir Rhys Williams makes a very competent stage debut as Dennis. He is precocious and childish but in a way that is intriguing rather than annoying to watch. He is also a wonderful dancer demonstrated when he takes his mother’s hand to dance with her, for me the best moment of the play. There is a constant feeling of tension created predominantly by tough guy Jeffry (Calum Calaghan). He bounds around the stage with territorial arrogance, his nasty teasing often made me feel uncomfortable.

An interesting play that left me pondering the subjects it raises.

Over Gardens Out continues until 6 November 2010.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Move Choreographing You: an art and dance exhibition at The Hayward Gallery

Most art exhibitions are calming or thought-provoking but the Hayward Gallery is offering up something quite different this month. ‘Move: Choreographing You’ explores the interaction between art and dance from the late 1950s to the present. The work comes from a collection of wacky artists including: Janine Antoni, Pablo Bronstein, Robert Morris and Franz West. The show allows spectators to participate throughout, making us more than just audience members. It feels a bit like an assault course on School Sports Day except more of the contenders are fully grown adults!

This is a perfect Half Term activity for all the family to enjoy. The real downfall is the queues to have ‘your go’ on each piece of art. For the first major construction I had to wait about 15 minutes before I was allowed to go through. You climb through several compartments, including a central inflated clear bubble, and an area filled with balloons. The actual experience is fun, but after waiting for so long and hyping myself up for something other-worldly, it definitely didn’t live up to expectations.

My favourite activity is the maze of swinging hoops that you have to climb your way through (see image above). I managed to get about halfway before becoming hideously twisted in the ropes and falling to the ground totally defeated. I was definitely not dressed suitably – and spent half the time pulling my dress down to avoid any public indecency. Annoyingly my friend managed to make it through with heroic speed, and stood quietly gloating as I struggled. Other installations include films and outdoor artworks on the roof. There are also pieces that look at the history of movement and dance, and a beautiful little video of some clog dancers in one of the rooms. I have to say, participating in this exhibition involved more exercise than I had experienced in a long time, and I could definitely notice the ache in my muscles the next morning.

It is always interesting to go to something a bit different and exciting, especially when it is hands on but I was expecting more for my £11 ticket.

Move Choreographing You continues at The Hayward Gallery until 9 January 2011.

Friday, 29 October 2010

PUNK in Soho

PUNK in Soho has hosted some of pop’s greatest artists... including Lady Gaga and VV Brown. It is a groovy anti-establishment bar that welcomes creative souls of all kinds. I decided to embrace this freedom of expression and got dressed up with big fake eyelashes and my twiggy-like COS shift dress. A bit of hairspray in my hair, and some exaggerated eyeliner, and I was rather pleased with the overall look.

I went to see Jetson again (I must be their biggest fan)...on a night that showcased a variety of hip young bands, who all seemed delighted to be performing to Punk’s enthusiastic crowd. I enjoyed all the music, although at times there seemed to be a few sound problems. Jetson played with their usual flair, commanding the stage and filling the venue with a really positive vibe. The laid back ambience of this club is immediately noticeable, there is no dress code (like many Soho venues) and Punk has become a hang-out for scenesters, fashionistas, indie rockers, nu-ravers and all kinds of other people wanting to express themselves. I loved this feel-good atmosphere and felt relaxed amongst the crowd.

The bands were all being filmed for a show called Tftv. The crew will be travelling all round the country recording bands for a documentary for Channel 5 and Sky 3. This added an extra element of excitement to the evening’s performances, hopefully some of the bands from this night will be shown.

I was there with a few lovely friends who came to catch up and enjoy the music. Unlike many London clubs Punk doesn’t sell drinks at extortionate prices, so you can have a beer without breaking the bank.

Coming up at PUNK:

Monday 1st November: Anthem

Thursday 4th November: YOUR MUM’S HOUSE

Friday 5th November: Dirty Pop

Friday 5th November: Rockaoke

Saturday 6th November: Dead or Alive

Saturday 6th November: FU*K REHAB

Located on 14 Soho Street (just off Oxford Street) and open Monday-Saturday this is definitely a venue to check out.

Lucy in Disguise : Lily Allen and sister open their new vintage shop

The two sisters: Lily Allen and Sarah Owen

‘Lucy in Disguise’
is the latest idea from Lily Allen, who has set out to prove herself as more than just a singer. Lily has teamed up with half-sister Sarah Owen to launch this Covent Garden boutique. The two sisters admit they have not always been friends, though in the song ‘Back to the Start’ Lily offered her sibling a peace offering and this joint venture shop suggests they are now a lot closer.

Unlike most of the little vintage gems tucked away in Covent Garden LID (Lucy in Disguise) is large and easy to find on Kings Street. It’s luxuriously purple glow makes it stand out even on the rainiest of days. The shop opened a month ago, but its unique selling point is only revealed to the public this week – a fabulous lower floor with all kinds of treats. I was given a sneak preview and was delighted to see retro nail and hair and make-up sections, a mini Grey Goose vodka bar and a very special VIP section with a selection of spectacular one off vintage pieces for renting only. Everything you could need for the perfect retro look.

I was sceptical about the idea of this shop, but being a vintage clothes lover and a fan of Lily Allen, decided to pay it a visit. So last Friday afternoon I took my weary legs off to Covent Garden (giving up my sacred one evening off). I was delighted to discover the comfort and ease of the shop; there is no struggling through dusty rails with disappointment, everything here is superbly selected by experts. The prices vary, and it is clear that the LID team aim to please every budget... some unlabelled items come in at around £30, and then there are stunning designer pieces that range from about £80 up. Many of the more expensive designer pieces also offer the option of renting for a fraction of the price. I bought a delicious green patterned Valentino jacket that has already won me several compliments. I could have easily bought more; I fell in love with a dinky make-up purse, and some of the glamorous costume jewellery is to die for.

I had a lovely conversation with a few of the staff in the shop,who seem to have a real passion for the project on which they are embarking, and perhaps that’s why so far the idea has been a success. Lily Allen is never one to think small and this is certainly true of her newest mission. The shop offers more than any other of its kind, and they will have to work hard to keep such a big ambition alive. Luckily this business isn’t snooty or pretentious as celeb ventures can often be. The thought that has gone into LID is clear from the moment you walk in, even the psychedelic name (that links to the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and the drug LSD) has been cleverly chosen.

In the corner is a Playstation Move for all those poor poor boys that are dragged into this girly haven. And if they are still dissatisfied they can pop downstairs for a cheeky drink. I kept my accompanying man in tow to give me what I hoped would be valuable opinions on the outfits I tried on. But then I remembered, men don’t get vintage clothes, so better just to decide for yourself.

Lucy in Disguise can be found at 10 Kings Street, WC2E 8HN. Visit the website here.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Rigoletto at The Royal Opera House

I looked forward to my Royal Opera House trip all week, especially as I was taking a ROH virgin along with me! We went to see the fifth revival of David Vicar’s production of Rigoletto, first staged in 2001.Rigoletto was written by the magnificent Verdi, an opera composer who many argue is superior to all those who worked in the genre before or after him. His intensely dramatic music is some of the world’s most celebrated and never fails to move me. La Traviata is my favourite opera by Verdi and also the first opera I ever saw, but this was my first time seeing Rigoletto.

There is nothing quite like sitting in London’s Royal Opera House, it is one of the great wonders of our city. I always feel thrilled to be part of such an excited sea of audience members, all sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the conductor’s first wave of his oh-so important baton.

All eyes were on Israeli-born conductor Dan Ettinger who seemed delighted to be making his debut at The ROH. And despite being young he seems in his element in the pit and was a wonderful leader for the orchestra.

Vicar’s production is, on the whole quite dark and moody, and takes place in the shadows of the giant set. As the curtain rises we are treated to a shockingly bawdy scene. Perhaps I am being prudish but I found it a little too distracting, especially when one poor chorus member strips completely and runs around stark naked, quite a sight at The Royal Opera House!

The set is cleverly built to be reversible, the palace on one side, and Rigoletto’s house/Sparafucile’s inn on the other; it can be moved accordingly. Effective on the whole, but unfortunately it took rather a long time to move leaving an awkward silence in between Acts. The singing is the highlight for me, and I left thinking it the most impressive display of vocal talent I have ever seen on this stage. Dmitri Hvorostovsky (who played the role in 2005) once again takes to the stage as the desperate joker Rigoletto. His dark baritone voice is rich and resonant - he sings the melancholic role with conviction and credible emotion throughout. Wookyung Kim returns to Covent Garden to sing the part of the precious Duke, his energy and commitment to the role is obvious, his light tenor is very enjoyable to listen to, though I couldn’t help being disappointed that he isn’t better looking, a quality the Duke requires. Patrizia Ciofi and Ekaterina Sadovnikova share the role of Gilda for this production. Sadovnikova was performing the night I went and sang her little heart out and seemed very comfortable acting with Hvorostovky on stage, together they have some touching father and daughter moments on stage. I was a little disappointed with Daniela Innamorati who plays Maddalena, her voice did not quite live up to the part on the night, and she suffered against the other singers in the final Act quartet.

At university I had a brilliant class called ‘Verdi and Shakespeare’, we touched briefly on Rigoletto although I realised, during the performance that I had forgotten many of the opera’s details. As the final Act began I suddenly remembered the horribly tragic conclusion, and couldn’t stop myself audibly gasping.

The ROH never fails to put on a show, with glorious sets and stunning costumes and great attention to detail, this production of Rigoletto is no different.

Rigoletto continues until 6 November 2010, book tickets here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Gauguin at the Tate Modern

Finally I got a spare hour to nip over the river and see the Paul Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern. This show is the first major Gauguin show in Britain for 50 years and is expected to set a new Tate record with its ticket sales. The collection on display includes over 100 of the French artist’s work as well as letters to his wife and fellow artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Entrance is rather pricey at £13.50 full price, or £10 concession. The show spans 11 rooms and examines a variety of his work focusing particularly on myth, storytelling and the construction of identity in his life and art. The work is not presented in chronological order but instead thematically. This is a little confusing especially for those less knowledgeable about his work.

Gauguin was bold and brave in his work and this confidence is obvious in the Tate’s display. I adore his use of colour, surprising and often spectacular. This unique use of colour evolves through his work as his surroundings and subject change. The first room looks at Gauguin’s exploration of identity and self-mythology with a selection of self-portraits. They are diverse in style due to the varying dates of production, the earliest he painted in his late twenties. The rest of the rooms show work from Gauguin’s travels all over the globe.

My favourite paintings are those done when Gauguin travels to Tahiti, they are the pieces that characterise his style and are probably the most recognisable of his output. I can fondly remember learning about works such as ‘Nevermore O Tahiti’ (pictured above) in my AS Art History classes, and admiring the work back then in my younger, more naive days. I found it interesting to observe Gauguin’s depiction of women and the relationship they have with the viewer or indeed the artist. Many of the female models are looking round directly to the viewer, making the image rather eerie.

When observing Gauguin’s work it is intriguing to think about the symbolic intentions of his colour. Blue, for example was often recognised as a colour of wealth. The final room features many paintings with deep pinks and purples that are striking to see in Post Impressionist paintings. These unusual shades emphasise further the exotic influences over the artist.

Even if the work of Gauguin is not your ‘thing’ this is a once in a lifetime exhibition and a must see.

Exhibition continues until 16 January 2011, book tickets here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

GIRLS IN PEARLS: Country Life and Mikimoto Party at Christie's

I am lucky enough to have two of the best grandmothers a girl could wish for. My mum's mum was unable to take up her invite to an elite Country Life evening soiree and I got given the place instead. The theme of this party was ‘Girls in Pearls’ and was, as far as I understood a celebration for Country Life magazine and Mikimoto jewellery (one of the most famous pearl jewellery designers.)

The dress code was, of course, Pearls. My fabulous Grandfather had donated some fake pearls to me for the occasion (he just happened to have them lying around). As we shivered up to the grand entrance of the party’s venue, none other than Christie’s, I asked my date: ‘And where are your pearls?’ He looked down in shame only to discover that in fact the buttons on his Nicole Farhi shirt were made from mother of pearl, delighted with our good fortune we walked in smugly.

I had forgotten what Country Life magazine is like, pretty pretentious to be honest. All the other guests were dressed in, what looked like, exceedingly expensive outfits; I began to feel a bit dull in my French Connection dress. Luckily I had tried out a bit of Yves Saint Laurent bright pink lipstick in Harvey Nics and so had one thing that made me stand out a bit. The setting was all very grand, with huge bouquets of fresh roses and a professional string quartet playing in the corner, rudely ignored by most of the guests. I took a moment to watch and enjoy their music.

To one side of the first room the Mikimoto pearl collection was displayed under sparkling lights. Five giant models stood like statues also displaying the jewellery, they seemed a little bored of being peered at by guests. I began to wonder what this party was all about. Pol Roger Champagne was on tap, they had the bottles everywhere, encouraging you to drink more, which wasn’t difficult as it was delicious. And I must mention the canapés, that exceeded all my expectations. Most were too fancy for me to understand, like miniature samples of a Michelin starred restaurant menu. Once we clocked where they were coming from we positioned ourselves at a nearby table. Luckily most of the other girls there were far too precious about their weight to eat so there was much more for us. My favourite had to be the venision with bacon, a dollop of celeriac mash and gravy, all components immaculately placed in a spoon, ready to eat. Other interesting treats included beetroot pannacotta and melted cheese and fig tarts.

Later on in the evening, as we were admiring the art we also discovered an oyster bar. Sadly I don’t eat oysters but I very much enjoyed the sight of others satisifyingly slurping them. At 8 o’clock on the dot we were ushered into the main room for a short, seemingly pointless speech. It was explained to us that while the rest of the country were wallowing in the misery of George Osborne’s spending cuts news, they were doing very well at Country Life, with sales just getting better and better, and so had ordered even more champagne for the evening’s entertainment. It became obvious that the evening had little purpose other than to celebrate wealth. Not that I was complaining I had had a splendid time gorging on their canapés and champagne.

We left a bit early; everyone else seemed to know each other. I was sure to collect a goodie bag on the way out which was filled mostly with catalogues of expensive things. It’s not everyday you get an invitation to a Christies party, and as I stepped out with my smart goodie bag, I got envying looks from passers by. I thought to myself, I might know my pearls are fake, but they don’t!

Waving goodbye to Oliver!

A few nights ago I went to see Oliver! It has been on my ‘to see’ list ever since the Andrew Lloyd Webber programme went in search of the perfect Nancy. Oliver closes on 8thJanuary 2011 after a fantastic two year run, and tickets are selling out fast. I didn’t realise the scale of this show before I went – the theatre is massive and very grand and the stage constantly changes, with ever more fabulous backdrops for each successive scene. But by far the most epic aspect of this musical is the huge cast, predominantly made up of very talented young children.

The show currently stars entertainer Russ Abbot as the loveable rogue Fagin (although I saw understudy Tim Laurenti in the role) and Kerry Ellis as Nancy. Laurenti is a devilish Fagin, he makes the character suitably sinister but still manages to be utterly comical; thanks also to the clever script. Ellis is clearly very capable, as is evident from her impressive resume, but for me she didn’t sparkle as much as I hoped she would, a shame considering how superb the rest of the cast are.

Gwion Wyn Jones (Oliver) and Ben Wilson (Artful Dodger) are the real stars of the night. I can’t believe how capable and confident they are on stage, singing, dancing and acting with startling maturity and swagger. I love the sequence right at the start of the show when all the kids come on stage to sing ‘Food Glorious Food.’ They are fantastically choreographed by Matthew Bourne who must have rehearsed them half to death to achieve this standard. I couldn’t help coo-ing, but also felt a twinge of jealousy and wanted to be up there myself joining in. How such young kids remember two hours worth of material and pull it off so convincingly is beyond me.

I am so glad I made an effort to see this before it disappears from the West End. Oliver! is an example of showbiz at its very best.

Book tickets here.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 22

This shirt is haunting me... I first saw it online when I was browsing through the Whistles website, then I spotted it amongst the goodies at Harvey Nichols. Yesterday I noticed it in ELLE magazine, it is begging me to buy it and I am finding it increasingly hard to resist.

WHISTLES has recently made its way onto my highstreet radar, firstly because of its dynamite designer collaboration with Roksanda Ilincic, and secondly because it is slightly more affordable than all the super bucks designer shops near me at work (for lunchtime shopping). Oh and did I mention they currently have a mid-season sale on?

Enter this sassy little number: The Lightning Bolt Silk Shirt. Priced at £95. This beautiful garment is tailored to perfection with epaulettes on the shoulders, two front pockets and one box pleat on the back below the yoke. I sneakily tried it on over my dress the other day, and found that it would look great open over a dress, or buttoned up with a skirt (see image above) for a smarter look. The only problem is with handwash silk clothes dry cleaning tends to be necessary, which adds a regular wearing tax onto the price... something worth thinking about. But then again silk is so pretty, and so very soft.

I really want it, so if anyone feels like buying it for here.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Puccini's La Boheme at The ENO

ENO always has a diverse programme. This season they are offering up some real classics that I’m sure will be popular with the public: Handel’s Radamisto, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and of course Puccini’s La Boheme. Unlike some operas La Boheme is not difficult to follow, and the narrative moves slowly through the powerful melodies, avoiding the unbelievable twists and turns of some opera plots. Above all it is a great love story, and more prosaically a study of some young bohemians and the mischief they get up to.

I fell in love with Puccini when I first performed Tosca with Opera Holland Park, ever since I can’t help but be deeply affected by the overpoweringly passionate music. My academic experience of Puccini can sometimes lead me to be overcritical of productions I see. This time round ENO push all the right buttons for me, it is a truly enchanting production on all counts.

This is the first revival of Jonathan Miller’s production, following its initial successful run. Thanks to designer Isabella Bywater this adaptation adds something special to Puccini’s classic. The atmosphere is transporting, Miller decided to set the opera in 1930s Paris, the era after the depression, and Bywater’s vision matches the directors sentiment entirely. The evolving set made me feel so close to the great French city, and the magical mist and falling snow in the second half made me shiver. My favourite part of the set has to be the intricately decorated Cafe Momus that radiates from the centre of the stage, and is complete to the tiniest detail. I later found out the set and costumes are based on images of Paris from about 1932 by the famous Hungarian photographer, sculptor and filmmaker Brassaï.

The singers are all brilliant, but tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones is particularly spectacular as Rodolfo. (The part is split between Gwyn Hughes Jones and Alfie Boe). He commands the stage, and engulfs the tiny Mimi (Elisabeth Llewellyn) with an endearing natural charm. His voice is sensitive and yet grand and the massive ENO theatre buzzed with his presence. This is Llewellyn’s ENO debut, and I thought she did jolly well, she sings with a natural sincerity that suits the character well, her obvious excitement was very noticeable in her quite touching bow at the end of the curtain call. The rest of the cast are good too, and it is difficult to find any fault. I loved the raucous children running across the stage, all peering in to the Cafe while the bohemians are inside singing. I do prefer my La Boheme in Italian, but thought that Amanda Holden’s translation was rather comically and enjoyable.

Puccini’s music is so brilliant it doesn’t take much to make one of his operas into a good production, but this has something a little bit extra. ENO got it just right.

La Boheme continues at the ENO until 27 November 2010, book tickets here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Frieze Art Fair

Frieze Art Fair features over 150 of the most exciting contemporary art galleries in the world. The fair also includes specially commissioned artists’ projects, a prestigious talks programme and an artist-led education schedule.’

Last year I helped at Zoo Art Fair, the younger crazier version of Frieze. My dad’s work was included in the eclectic mix. It was great fun and a very interesting project to be part of. I’ve always wondered what Frieze is like, and this year I got the chance to find out. I was lucky enough to be given two guest passes, and so was treated to complimentary champagne and delicious little canape treats. The VIP room was by far the best part of the Fair for me!

I was wearing my new 60s inspired, patterned COS dress, and was delighted to discover that COS is in fact one of the sponsors for Frieze, how mightily appropriate. And I know it sounds ridiculous, but this little coincidence made the whole outing more enjoyable.

After consuming the delicious nibbles and bubbly, we went off to venture round the scarily massive hangar of art. It is too big to see all the exhibits, and even if you did have a whole day to browse, you wouldn’t want too, as I think you’d zone out after a while. The work itself is very ‘in your face’, subtlety is an unknown concept in the world of Frieze. Around every corner a bold statement is made, sometimes with a giant vulgar sculpture, less often through a fluorescent painting or some mildly offensive photograph. Often the work tackles the grand topics of life and death. The art is intriguing, but most of it not the kind of thing you would want in your house, as even the most aesthetically pleasing is either too big or too precarious to display in a domestic environment. I liked the bright pink telephone box and some of the photographs best, there are also some dainty little ceramic cups on show that reminded me of some of Antony Gormley’s more petite work.

Tickets were priced at £25 each this year. In quantity you definitely get your money’s worth, and with work from so many different countries there is a huge variety to explore. I just enjoyed being there, and being part of the hubbub, some of the outfits visitors were wearing were artworks in themselves and I enjoyed observing all the mad characters.

Visit Frieze website here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Flashdance at The Shaftesbury Theatre

It’s always exciting to see a musical for the first time. Flashdance has just opened at The Shaftesbury Theatre and after hearing all the hype I was looking forward to seeing it. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to my expectations, and definitely didn’t live up to Hairspray (the last musical I saw at The Shaftesbury).

I booked tickets for a Saturday 3 o’clock matinee... which seemed like a good idea – tickets tend to be slightly cheaper and it is less likely that I will fall asleep from exhaustion (as I increasingly do at evening shows!) When we arrived I was delighted to find that our (cheap, Grand Circle) tickets, had been upgraded to top price Stalls tickets. I was initially ultra smug about this, before realising that in fact this meant the show was likely to not be selling very well, hence all the empty seats. This was the first suggestion that the show may not be as fabulous as I hoped.

It starts with a bang, of light, music and movement. No-one can deny this production has overwhelming energy throughout. I enjoyed the electrifying atmosphere initially, but as the show went on and continued to grow more and more deafeningly loud, I began to feel like I was in a nightclub, and one with bad music at that! (Druggy criminals and skimpy outfits included.) It isn’t all bad, there is the odd recognisable song, ‘What a Feeling’ and ‘She’s a Mania’, both quite enjoyable, and sung well.

Arlene Phillips should be commended, she really is a wonder with her choreography; it is quite astounding when you think that Phillips, who is now 67 years old, can still think up routines as contemporary and complex as those seen in Flashdance. Strictly Come Dancing were silly to let her go, her judging was their biggest asset. The dancers are good in Flashdance, some are very good, but the narrative is dull and this makes even the dancing boring after a while. In fact the plot is very similar to Billy Elliot – the heroine Alex Owens works in a Pittsburgh steel mill by day and as a dancer in a showbar at night, with the ambition of becoming a professional ballet dancer.

Alex Owens was played by Twinnielee Moore, although the part is normally taken on by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt. Moore is a competent enough dancer, but the sentimental acting sort of ruins her part for me. Also in the cast is Matt Willis (from boy band Busted), who I’m sure will excite the younger girls in the audience!

The feel-good ending is rushed and insincere, leaving the audience with a bitter aftertaste; I left feeling a bit cheated. Flashdance is similar to Dirty Dancing and Fame, and the dancing talent definitely compares to these shows, but unfortunately the direction and songs do not, and I predict this will shorten its run in the West End.

Book tickets here.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

My favourite musical: GREASE

I am very enthusiastic about many musicals, but in terms of the long standing favourite, GREASE is the always the winner. I saw this retro musical for the third time this week. It is as fabulous as ever, with all the rock’n’roll numbers everyone remembers from the film, and dance routines that are as brilliant as expected from choreographer Arlene Phillips. The cast has recently changed and now features Matthew Goodgame (Channel 4 Musicality, Chicago) as the leader of the T-birds, Danny Zuko and Lauren Samuels (BBC1 ‘Over the Rainbow’ finalist) making her West End debut as Sandy.

Grease tackles some controversial social issues like teenage pregnancy and gang violence, subjects that make the film gritty and sexy. For me, this production is a little too tame and nice to live up to the exciting film, but this could also be because of the lack of John Travolta. I think the geeky characters are the best on stage: Faye Brookes as an adorable Frenchie, and Hayley Gallivan as a fantastic Jan. All the guys look great but their voices aren’t quite as sparkling. Lauren Samuels also impressed me, the role of Sandy is probably the least exciting part to play in Grease, but she grabs the audience’s attention with her strong voice and obvious stage presence.

Despite not being entirely convinced by this production, I still recommend it as a fun night out, catch it before it goes off on tour in Spring 2011.

Other retro musicals to see in London:

- Flashdance: new to the West End stage it tells the tale of 18 year old Alex, welder by day, ‘flashdancer’ by night who hopes to be given a place at the Shipley Dance Academy.

- Dreamboats and Petticoats: a sweet song-writing love story that features many classic songs.

- Dirty Dancing: brought to the stage after the hit 1987 film, features rebellion, growing up pains and above all, the power of dance!

- Sweet Charity: the story of a dancer-for-hire at a Times Square dance-hall who finds love at last (hurry it ends 6th November).

If you really want to get into the vintage musical mood, pick up a snazzy t-shirt at Grease or Flashdance. I got a Rydell High tee in grey and red, that I love.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 21

You may be too young to remember the days when sweets were quaintly packaged in stripey pink paper bags. I can just about recall placing my carefully chosen portion of pick’n’mix in one. When I was at primary school, my siblings and I had ‘sweetie day’ on Friday. Our granny would pick us up from our respective schools, and we’d rush excitedly to the corner shop on Southfield Road in Chiswick. The weekly trials and tribulations for my poor granny are quite hilarious in retrospect.

Now you can relive your childhood sweetie experiences in style through Natthakur’s inventive leather accessories, with designs that mimic sweetshop bags, grocery bags and brown paper bags. This collection is called ‘The Reusable Range’ and considers the notion of disposability. Designer Natalie Thakur’s hopes to ‘recreate designs in leather to not only bring longevity to the designs by turning something cheap into something with perceived value, but also to expose the simplicity of the pieces as art objects.’

The sweetie-style make-up bag is made from the finest leather, like all Natthakur’s accessories. It comes in pink (definitely grooviest) and black. It costs £28 and can be bought online here. As well as oozing retro style it is sure to stand out in a messy handbag. Also worth a quick mention are the lovely little coin purses costing £30 (see image above).

Dare I say it... one of Natthakur’s products would make a great stocking filler!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Suzuki Stars

Helen Brunner teaching

The Suzuki method has always been a philosophy close to my heart, ever since I started learning violin at three. I did not continue past the age of eight, and it has been one of my biggest regrets. Now I can fully enjoy and appreciate the talent of young children who play their instruments with the love and instinct as Suzuki encourages. My 13 year old sister began learning Suzuki violin ten years ago, and I can honestly say is one of the most wonderful musicians now, she is a true inspiration to me.

I recently went to see a lovely concert in Notting Hill of young Suzuki violinists. They are the ‘London Gold Group’, a team of players taught by the amazing Helen Brunner, a woman who needs little introduction in the world of Suzuki. She introduced the method to the UK. Later this year the Gold Group go on tour and this concert was fundraising for that cause.

With delicious canapes and wine from Sally Clarke of Clarkes the evening got off to a great start. The programme was made up of solo and ensemble pieces by a variety of well known composers: Bach, Vivaldi, Elgar and Kreisler, amongst others. It never ceases to amaze me how children so young can just stride up onto the stage and play their hearts out, with no sheet music to rely on, and seemingly no nerves either. I particularly loved the solo performances by Marnie Breadin and Gabriel Rumney who both really captivated the audience. I also enjoyed the ensemble pieces, led by the enthusiastic smiling Helen on one side of the stage, these group moments bought the venue, St Peter’s Church, to life.

All Helen’s pupils clamboured up onstage for the finale – a medley of the simpler Suzuki pieces: Allegro, Go tell Aunt Rhody, Lightly Row, and of course Twinkle. As the audience left the church we were invited to donate to the envelopes hung by ribbons above the entrance: each one had a different expense on the front (eg. Fare for Ferry travel, music folders), a lovely personalised idea I thought.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Things to do in Barcelona

I have always been very strict with myself about my blog, making sure I pretty much only write about things to do in London. But after several trips away, I have decided to allow myself the occasional post about foreign cities, partly because I want to write about my fun experiences, but also because I think it could help others and be a sort of mini guide.

So, most recently I went to Barcelona. I’ve never been to Spain before, surprisingly, and I always love ticking off another country on my ‘to do’ travelling list, so was very excited about this visit. Long weekends away are the way forward, a welcome break from work and a refreshing time-out from everyday London life. I am going to try and do them more, even if it is just for one night.

We were staying in the luxurious five star Miramar Hotel, and got a very reasonable deal thanks to my work part-owning the establishment. I could easily have not left the building for the three days happy to gorge myself on the extensive breakfasts, use the wonderful gym and spa facilities and generally just hang out in the beautiful bedroom. The weather wasn’t perfect with quite a bit of rain and I considered sunbathing in bikini and wellies, but eventually decided against the idea.

We were in Barcelona for three nights, and I was pleased to find this was enough time to see rather a lot of the city. After a lazy first night, trying out the room service and pressing all the exciting buttons in the bedroom, we set off for a fun-packed first day which we completed with a visit to the Liceu Opera House (how could I resist seeing Carmen in Spain!).

Things you should do in Barcelona:

- * Go to The Picasso Museum: a massive collection of this master’s work from his very early paintings to late ceramics, and everything in between. About 9 Euros entrance, give yourself a good hour to look round.

- * The stunning Cathedral is definitely worth the five Euro entrance fee. The biggest Cathedral I’ve ever been to, I felt drowned in its splendour. You can even take a little lift up to see the views from the roof.

- * Walk up The Ramblas and marvel at the street performers, some freakish, some quite beautiful. They definitely give the Covent Garden clowns a run for their money.

- * The best tapas can be found at Cerveceria Catalana on C/ Mallorca - go early, they are always full (even in October it was tricky to get a table). It's not cheap, but they have an excellent selection of tapas on offer and a huge variety of beer. Very yummy.

- * Attempt the metro: it is super cheap (just over one Euro a journey) and very efficient. We saved a fortune using it, rather than taxis.

- * Make your way down to the seaside, book a table at Agua (very popular, very good fish restaurant) and then go for an after supper stroll on the beach, the perfect evening in all seasons.

- * Try and see some Gaudi architecture (see image above), but avoid the hideous touristy crowds (Park Guell has some of the best examples of his work, but tends to be completely overcrowded and therefore offputting).

- * Wander the streets aimlessly and see what you find, be sure to stop at the stalls of handmade goodies, perfect for presents or little Barcelona souvenirs.

Our stay came and went in a flash, and before I could say ‘sangria’ we were back on our Easyjet flight to Gatwick.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Browsing in Borough Market

The surviving street markets of London can be found in picturesque corners of the city, specialising in all manner of goods, from food to vintage clothing. Some are open all week, others only for a few mornings, or at the weekend.

Portobello is fighting for its life, commercial chains are moving in, ruining the magic of a truly unique and much loved street market. I love this area of London and enjoy pottering amongst the junk and jewels on a Friday or Saturday morning, stopping briefly to grab a coffee and croissant from a quaint Notting Hill cafe.

I visit Borough Market less regularly, for the sole reason that it exists on the opposite side of London to me. But when I do, I revel in the delicious smells and colours of the produce and love to watch the people that mingle there. For coffee and breakfast Monmouth is charming, although sometimes has a large queue outside. Grab your drink and take a seat at one of the large wooden tables.

To eat, if you fancy more than a fresh cup of soup, to drink on the go, I have heard Roast is worth a try. A wholesome restaurant dedicated to offering up classic British cooking using the finest seasonal produce, it overlooks the hustle and bustle of the marketplace below.

Borough market is great for those unusual ingredients you may not be able to find elsewhere, and all of the best quality. So worth a trip if you want something a little bit different for a dinner party or special meal. I can also strongly recommend the beautiful flower stall/shop ‘Chez Michele’ that has ready made stunning bouquets, one of which I couldn’t resist buying for my grandparents. I was tempted in fact to buy a bunch for myself too, but decided that was perhaps a little over-indulgent.

If you can, go to Borough market during the week, it is less busy and easier to get a good look at everything.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


A few nights ago I was invited to the launch party of new Levi's social network: ‘Shape What’s to Come.’ It aims to help and promote women in their individual creative quests. It took place in the Regents Street Levi’s store, that had been all kitted out for the occasion. Beers were available downstairs, alongside some intriguing mood boards to ponder over.

The evening began with a discussion, hosted by Annie Mac who was accompanied by SWTC Ambassadors: Kathryn Ferguson (filmmaker), Justice Williams (Tru Life magazine), Kristin Knox (fashion blogger), Ikonika (DJ/producer) and Anna Murray & Grace Winteringham (Patternity).Each woman had their own personal struggles and story to share with the room (which was, by the way, dominated by a 90% female audience).

Questions were fired at the team of ambassadors, and the room fell ominously quiet as one brave woman mentioned feminism. Only blogger Kristin admitted to adopting a feminist stance, the others seemed to shy away from the term, and I can understand why. They don’t want to succeed because they are women, but as creative people who are just as capable as men. I felt encouraged and motivated by these entrepreneurial young people.

After the panel discussion we were free to mingle and meet other hopeful interesting women, and I did. I talked for a while to blogger, Miss Geeky, and also had a chance to chat to Kristin Knox (and her adorable dog, Butters) about how she developed her blog and her passion for fashion. She was down to earth and honest, and after peeking at her blog (The Clothes Whisperer) this morning, I can also confirm her quirky talent.

A surprise performance by The Noisettes was the highlight of the evening for me. Lead singer, Shingai was looking gloriously glitzy and gave a spectacular performance with her band. The evening concluded with a set from Ikonika, a few more beers and I watched as the newly inspired women left smiling.

Visit the Shape What's to Come website here.

The Show After The Show: Sarastro

Sarastro or The Show After The Show, as it’s sometimes known, has been on my ‘to do’ list for far too long. This restaurant brightens up the whole of Theatreland with its outrageously flowery exterior. And inside it wows its visitors with the lavish decoration and opulent splendour.

I wanted to sit in one of the boxes which line the walls of the restaurant, and are not dissimilar to ‘real’ opera boxes. So, I went in the night before our visit to woo the waiters. It worked despite there being only two of us (the boxes are normally for six plus). They are used to cater for people pre and post show, in fact they expect you to be going to see something.

Opened in 1996 by owners Richard Niyazi and his nephews Salih and Richard Salim, Sarastro is one of a kind. The name ‘Sarastro’ comes from Mozart’s character in ‘The Magic Flute’. The restaurant is very theatrical and they always have appropriate music playing. If you’re lucky you might even catch some live music as on various nights they have opera and musical stars performing in the restaurant itself. Currently Sarastro has West End star Colin Roy singing a programme of Swing and Motown songs every Thursday.

The food was only average, we both ate steak which was a little dry and uninteresting. It is expensive for what you get. However you don’t visit Sarastro for the food, you visit for the experience. Open every day of the year, including Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Sarastro is an ideal place for parties or birthdays – the atmosphere is always dramatic and lively.

Visit the website here.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Jack Daniels 160th Birthday Party at The Clapham Grand with Duane Eddy, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Ellie Goulding

The Clapham Grand is one hell of a cool venue, and after £500,000 of refurbishment it has been returned to its former glory and is hosting some the city’s best live music.

This Victorian-era listed building opened originally as a music hall in 1900. With a large capacity of 1,250 people, in its time this venue has served as a cinema, bingo hall and nightclub, and of course as a venue for live music. Inside it looks similar to one of the West End theatres, but with all the seats removed – the three tiers enable an excellent view of everything.

A few nights ago I went to The Clapham Grand for the first time for Jack Daniels 160th Birthday Party! Duane Eddy, Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Ellie Goulding were all there performing for the crowd. To help celebrate this iconic Tennessee whisky they played American Classics individually and also together.

As I was ushered in I was given drinks tokens, and a groovy Jack Daniels style hat was plonked on my head. I walked along a corridor and was hit by an excited crowd (all wearing their freebie hats). After my interesting tasting Apple Whisky drink I wove forward to listen to the music. I’ve never been a massive fan of Ellie Goulding, and have rather written her off as one of the new crew of blonde singers that seemed to have stormed the music scene recently. Her opening song was in fact quite good, not that I could really hear any of the words; she sort of gurgles when she sings. I couldn’t see her face either, because there was an excess of pretentious hair swishing. I loved standing at the top of the cascading balconies and looking down at the music; although it was strange for me as usually in this type of venue I would be sitting patiently waiting for the opera to start.

I cannot deny that this venue generated a great atmosphere, proved particularly when Duane Eddy eventually came onto the fantastically lit stage. Eddy and his band looked effortlessly cool, and the audience seemed to love him (although I’m sure at least half didn’t know who he was). It was clear, just from his outfit, that he was the Tennessee link in this event. I have to say his band outdid him a bit, especially the excellent sax player whose charismatic playing stole the show. I must admit I had to go home and ask my dad quite why Eddy is such a legend. Apparently the answer is: he was very influential in rock’n’roll because of his unique way of playing the guitar with his use of tremolo on notes paving the way for hundreds of artists to come.

Nobody knows the exact date of Mr Jack Daniel’s birthday, but it’s worth guessing for a party like this.