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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

La Soiree at Southbank Big Top

La Soiree is a fusion show of all things fun and fabulous from cabaret to circus, burlesque to vaudeville; it's got it all. The performance takes place at the Southbank Big Top, a huge mystical coloured tent, located just behind the National Theatre.

The show rotates a number of artists, all unique in their special talents. Many of the performers have come straight from award-winning show La Clique. La Soiree is held together by a few key performers: Scandinavian contortionist Captain Frodo, ‘Bath Boy’ David O’Mer, tumbling duo The English Gents and cabaret chanteuse Miss Behave. Each act has its own little quirks, and fine detailing that has been perfected for the short sketches.

Hamish McCann's Gene Kelly-inspired pole-dance routine was particularly memorable. He grips onto a lamppost, and magically holds his body horizontal as he walks through the air. The ease with which he perform is quite astounding considering the physical feat. I loved Captain Frodo, I couldn’t tell exactly how much of his act is genuinely him and how much is his alter-ego character, either way it works, and he immediately has the audience captivated. Twisting his body and comically narrating his act as he goes.

The venue is enchanting, warm with a waft of freshly made popcorn in the air. La Soiree certainly considers the audience's total experience. I didn’t find everything funny, and think there is perhaps a little too much clowning around, the acrobatics and tricks are so impressive I would like to see more of that area.

The best thing about it is every night of La Soiree is different so you can go again and again.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 27

Slippers really are essential in the cold winter months; I love wearing them in summer too. I currently have two pairs on the go - a gorgeous furry pair my mum, sorry Father Christmas, got me last year, apparently from the market on Marylebone High Street (check it out, it is lovely). And the second pair, that I wear most often, are cute grey Cath Kidson ones, a plainer version of this week’s H on the H.

I must quickly mention the story behind my first pair of Cath Kidson slippers... I popped into their Chiswick branch about a year ago and, having a few minutes to spare, took part in the ‘guess how many sweets in the jar’ competition, not thinking much of it. I guessed 247, and turns out this was the closest number! My first ever competition win, and a prize of £30 worth of vouchers for the shop... so I bought the slippers, that I had been longing for for months.

Cath Kidson’s Felt Corsage Sheepskin Slippers are 100 % genuine sheepskin and will keep your tootsies toasty all year round. I can understand those who feel a little bored by all the Cath Kidson prints, that seem to be everywhere at the moment... but the brilliant thing about these slippers is that they have the prettiness of Cath Kidson with the felt flower, but with no familiar print in sight they are totally original looking too.

They cost £40 and are available in sizes 4-8, they have a similar pair for kids too, priced at £15. Buy HERE.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

John Lennon at PROUD Galleries

This week Proud Gallery Central introduces another moving photography exhibition – Imagine: John Lennon.

I went along a few nights ago for a sweet little gathering at the King’s Road venue. The champagne was flowing and arty guests wandered round smiling knowingly when they came across an image they recognised. I felt a little underdressed – the Proud girls were all glammed up, and looked suitably stylish in black and white, matching the vintage vibe of the photos.

Many of the photographs pictured John with his wife, the magical Yoko Ono, perched in the background. This remarkable woman, who is an artist, musician, author and peace activist, has a certain aura in these photos and had a profound influence on her late husband. I loved the photos of The Beatles; Lennon often had a blank look, that perhaps shows his thoughtfulness. It was hilarious to see Paul McCartney, always with a cheeky grin on his face.

Proud Central always has a collection of its favourite photographic prints downstairs, so even if Lennon doesn’t interest you, it’s worth dropping by to see some of the other works on display.

30 years after his untimely death these poignant photographs fondly remember the important days of John Lennon’s life and the band that changed pop music forever.

Exhibition runs until 16 January 2011, see more info here.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Dog's Heart at The ENO

The ENO are shaking things up this season with the UK Premiere of the shocking A Dog’s Heart by Alexander Raskatov based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel. The composer, worked with director Simon McBurney and Complicite from the start, so music, text and action are all inextricably linked. The outcome of this is a piece of art that overwhelms the senses.

The opera is unconventional, and several have contested whether in fact it can even be categorised as such. The music is discordant and lacks the richness of harmony, but the tricky sporadic melodies are tackled well by the cast, in particular the female singers whose voices seamlessly leap from end to end of the pitch spectrum. Nancy Allen Lundy sparkles as Zina the maid, hitting amazingly crisp top notes, and rampaging round the stage as the mad girl. Peter Hoare is brilliantly hideous as the monster of a man, Sharikov. He has a snarling power and sings the grossly worded songs with no shame, I must especially give him credit for proudly baring all on the Colliseum stage and screaming to the audience, ‘Suck my Cock’ just before the interval. It certainly gave us lots to giggle about at half time!

The story revolves around a grotesque operation that turns an ill-treated dog into a man, with horrendous consequences. It possesses a narrative that offended the Soviet authorities so much that they banned it for 60 years. And after seeing the opera I am not surprised it disturbed them. It is the mastery of the Blind Summit Theatre group that is to thank for the beautiful puppetry that recreates the hound, Sharik. Other small animal puppets are also featured. I love the scene towards the end when the poor cat is chased all over the place by the transformed Sharikov.

I was most struck by the beautiful use of film, sometimes as a backdrop, or often as an integral part of the scene. The opening scene takes place between two pieces of gauze onto which is projected falling snow. The fantastic projections are by Finn Ross and depict 1920s Moscow with a gritty realism. Set designs by Michael Levine and costumes by Christina Cunningham also help the scenes come alive.

A visually superb production of a bizarre opera, book here. Continues until 4 December 2010.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Pillars of the Earth

The release of Pillars of the Earth is imminent; a new mini-series that rivals all the other boxed sets out there. I was sent these DVDs to watch, and was surprised to find I could actually relax and enjoy an action series, when after a long day at work I can usually only stomach Glee or Gossip Girl, embarrassingly.

It is tricky to give a story outline without giving too much away. The show is based on a historical novel by Ken Follett published in 1989 about the building of a cathedral in a fictional town in England. It is set in the middle of the 12th century, and begins with the death of King Henry’s son. The action is set against the backdrop of war, religious strife and vicious power struggles; subjects that seem worrying relevant for an audience today. As well as the epic themes, there is also a great love story in Pillars of the Earth, that shines through the political turmoil.

I loved the decadence and debauchery of this series, with drama so rich that it allows you to become completely lost in the story, exactly what I need on a night off from London’s West End shows.

The sterling cast include: Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, Sarah Parish, Tony Curran, Donald Sutherland, Alison Pill, David Oakes, Natalia Worner and Sam Claflin.

It's all about DRAG: Rocky Horror Show at Richmond Theatre

The Rocky Horror Show is an enduring cult classic, something of which I was unaware until my experience a few nights ago at Richmond Theatre. This darling little venue, located on Richmond Green always has an assorted menu of shows from which to choose. I am so glad I chose to see Rocky Horror, I absolutely loved it. It is no wonder Richard O’Brien’s musical has a loyal fan base. It has been selling out to audiences for the last thirty years.

When I walked in I was stunned to see so many fully costumed audience members; an ecstatic hysteria surrounded me. I love dressing up – why did no-one tell me? As the show kicked off I realised audience participation went far and beyond just wacky outfits. This show relies on the screaming audience’s enthusiasm, and my audience had enthusiasm aplenty. The call and response between viewers and actors was so impressive I began to think it was staged, as the show went on it got rowdier and more improvised, it was absolutely thrilling to be part of it. Even before the famous ‘Time Warp’ song began, the audience were on their feet ready to boogie, soon after the rest of us were following suit and joining in.

Ainsley Harriott features as the fabulous narrator, and is side-splittingly funny, bouncing off the audience interjections with wit and charisma. And he isn’t afraid to let his hair down, joining in energetically with the chorus numbers and dancing about the stage. I cannot fault the rest of the cast, they are all outstanding. David Bedella, who returns to the role of Frank’n’Furter, owns the stage and commands attention, not just because of his daring sequined costume. Vocally the cast is brilliant, not a note is out of place, and the amplification helps make the sound more electrifying, competing with the lively band.

As I left I wondered about the phenomenon of Rocky Horror and why such a crazy show could be so popular and even relevant to people of all ages (the audience were hugely diverse). Perhaps because it acts as a form of escapism that viewers can participate in and feel part of. Or maybe it is a way of dealing with homophobia, poking fun at those hostile prejudices. Whatever it is, London’s West End seems to be all about drag at the moment with Priscilla Queen of the Desert continuing to excite audiences and shows like La Cage aux Folles running well in London, it seems we can’t get enough of it.

It is no secret that I love watching drag, I find it addictive even. And just like Priscilla I feel I could happily see Rocky Horror every week and still love it as much as the first time. Now I’ve lost my ‘Rocky Horror virginity’ I’m looking forward to watching this show for a second and third time.

Rocky Horror continues until Saturday 27 November, book here.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Children in Need

Every year I go to Children in Need - it has become a tradition. This year I had tickets for the second half.

Children in Need takes place in the BBC Centre in White City, conveniently close to my house. The show is broadcast from a surprisingly petite studio which gives the audience a real sense of community.

I was rather disappointed to be missing out on the star-studded first half, that included X-Factor goddess Cheryl Cole and the newly reformed Take That, singing some never heard before songs. JLS were also there, singing a number written specially for the occasion.

The second half is rather more concerned with TV stars: dancing newsreaders and appearances from characters from Britain’s favourite programmes, mostly soaps. There was an amusing clip of the Dragon’s Den judges trying their hand at cooking in an episode of Come Dine with Me.

There were a few music acts, the highlight of which was charismatic Tom Jones singing two tracks from his new album. His performance was thoroughly entertaining and impressive, considering he was singing live. The songs sounded like remakes of vintage classics and they got the whole audience dancing. Pixie Lott and Peter Andre also gave fun performances.

Of course, not losing sight of the cause, heartbreaking clips of suffering youngsters were shown throughout, often bringing me close to tears. Terry Wogan and Fearne Cotton, both TV presenting pros, took the evening in their stride and introduced acts as well as encouraging the British public to ‘dig deep’.

Later in the show some of London’s best loved musical theatre casts took to the stage to do their bit for the charity. It occurred to me that they came later in the evening because they would have come straight from doing their nightly 7.30pm shows, and must have been completely exhausted! Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Dirty Dancing and Phantom of the Opera all took part. Having seen all three musicals in the West End I was delighted to watch them again, in particular the gorgeous boys from Priscilla, who pranced across the stage with their usual fabulousness.

It is always a pleasure to be part of Children in Need, if you haven’t donated yet you can still do so here.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Enterprise

The venue, The Enterprise, felt strangely familiar to me as I walked in a few nights ago; perhaps because the friendly relaxed atmosphere gave off a welcoming vibe.

The Enterprise pub (just over the road from Chalk Farm tube station) is now home to Music News Underground. Music News aims to promote upcoming new bands, showcasing their talent and reviewing the gigs afterwards. The monthly music nights kicked off with female singer Alice Watts in May of this year.

You enter through the bustling pub, up a narrow staircase in the corner of the room and into a dark dingy little space, ready to be illuminated by whichever band is chosen for the night.

When leaving the pub, I noticed the surrounding hip shops and cafes, in particular a few vintage/costume shops caught my eye. Definitely an up and coming area of London – the great Roundhouse is opposite and Camden Town is only a two minute walk. I made a mental note to return to Chalk Farm.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Benugo Bar at the BFI

The Benugo Bar at the BFI is one of London’s best kept secrets, it's upstairs from the riverfront cafe.

This venue caters for everyone with wholesome roasts on offer for family lunches, or cocktails for evenings with friends. Many of my chums seem to choose it as a meeting place for those nervous first dates. Everyone loves hanging out on the Southbank, but in the winter months it’s not as fun to sit on the chilly benches... Benugo is the perfect alternative.

The place is filled with shabby chic mismatched furniture, and everyone from businessmen to scruffy artists, the atmosphere is friendly and yet there is an intellectual feel. I went to Benugo Bar with my best friend for an early evening drink and catch-up last weekend . We drank: cloudy lemonade, we ate: delicious handmade chips.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 26

Try to contain your excitement... LANVIN is hitting H&M this week. On Tuesday 23 November giddy girls will follow the crowds to H&M for their most exciting collaboration yet.

The collection has a cocktail hour theme and includes oversized floral prints on minidresses and one-shouldered hot pink puffed sleeve pieces, fabulously tempting shoes, smart jackets, and cute accessories too. With 48 pieces this range covers every possible party dress need! I adore the embellished hand-drawn t-shirts, of which there are three designs to collect.

Alber Elbaz, artistic director of Lanvin says about the collection: ‘The range is all about colours, shapes, flowers and happy clothes, inspired by Lanvin’s recent past. It is very much about melodrama ... and also full of humour... Lanvin and H&M share the same philosophy of bringing joy and beauty to people around the world.’

Prices range from £14.99 for intricate chandelier earrings, to £149 for some of the most extravagant dresses. I can’t wait!

View the collection here, and start your shopping list now. Doors open at 9am... I’ll race you there.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Fabrication at The Print Room

London’s newest and quirkiest theatre The Print Room launches its first season with the UK premiere of ‘Fabrication’ (‘Affabulazione’) by Italian film maker Pier Paolo Pasolini, translated by award winning poet Jamie McKendrick.

This play has been turned down by theatres before, most likely because of the shocking extreme nature of the material. It is a powerful piece that explores the relationship between a father and son, focusing also on a reverse of the Oedipus myth and the thoughts of philosopher Sophocles, that at times completely possess and poison the father’s mind. He is tormented by finding an answer and desperately tries to negotiate reason with his gradually deteriorating mind.

I found I was disturbed at times by the play, but this emotion was quickly overtaken by my amazement at the superb acting and the realisation of this tricky subject matter and script. Fabrication is a vehicle for a male actor to showcase everything he has got, and Jasper Britton steps up to the task as the father. He is both physically and emotionally very energetic, acting the self-destructive man with intelligent insight. I also very much enjoyed Max Bennett’s acting as the abused son, his concentration makes the role totally believable from start to finish.

Lucy Bailey’s staging is physically noticeable from the moment you sit down in this small theatre space. I have seen The Print Room as an exhibition room and could barely believe the transformation it had undergone. Immediately you feel claustrophobic and lost. A central black box gradually separates to reveal the almost bare ‘stage’, covered in grit and glistening with raw heat from the surrounding burnt umber walls. It is imaginative and unique, I have never seen anything quite like it. The passage that the audience looks through is narrow and I found it really focused my attention. It echoes with the all-important moment in the play when the father observes his son through a keyhole. There is a theme of obsessive voyeurism and this is definitely felt by the audience too, thanks to the innovative staging.

While others might sneer at this daring debut, I think it a brave feat and am impressed by The Print Room’s first steps into the world of London theatre.

Fabrication continues at The Print Room until 4 December, book on 08444 77 1000, or book here.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Don Giovanni at The ENO

This production of Don Giovanni has a modern urban feel, and is eerily creepy. The interpretation of Mozart’s famous opera is much darker than other shows I have seen recently at the ENO. We are warned before entering that we will experience strobe lights, a strange sensation when sitting in a big opera house. Besides the visual effects, atmospheric breath noises are used and throughout the performance masked demons sneak and run about on stage, an appropriate production for Halloween.

Kirill Karabits is an energetic conductor and he seems to empower the orchestra which is in fact a lot smaller than it sounds. Unfortunately I found the orchestra’s rendition of the overture a bit lacklustre and boring, which didn’t set the scene particularly well. The cast is made up of familiar names, with Iain Paterson in the lead role, bellowing maliciously as the callous Don Giovanni. His only fault is not being quite charismatic enough for this lecherous role. Brindley Sherratt is the most convincing actor on stage as the greasy sidekick, Leporello. He is surprisingly hilarious as well vocally brilliant. I particularly enjoyed Leporello’s catalogue aria that director Rufus Norris re-imagines as a doctor’s statistical presentation, clever timing provides the audience with many laughs. I must also mention the witty translation of Jeremy Sams, that brings some entertainment to an otherwise rather dreary night.

I found Norris’s overall production idea bewilderingly strange. I was confused about where the action is in fact set, at the start it resembles the skate track on the Embankment, and later in the performance is more like an underground drinking dive. The vile Jesus t-shirt costumes worn by the rampaging demons are also very bizarre, and muddle the already complex storyline.

All in all I found this to be a disappointing setting for Mozart’s great opera, and with the late start I was relieved to be leaving at 11 o’clock.

Don Giovanni continues at The Colliseum until 3 December 2010, book tickets here.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Christian Marclay at The White Cube: The Clock

The Clock is a very special piece of work by artist Christian Marclay that I feel privileged to have seen. I only wish I could have visited the exhibition earlier in its run, so others could have seen my review and experienced it for themselves. Although I hear that the 'film' is now being shown in Nottingham, and I think it is so good it is almost worth the trek.

Essentially this work of art is an example of film collage, but I will include a quote from the White Cube Gallery (where it was shown) to explain it better:

‘The Clock is constructed out of moments in cinema when time is expressed or when a character interacts with a clock, watch or just a particular time of day. Marclay has excerpted thousands of these fragments and edited them so that they flow in real time. While The Clock examines how time, plot and duration are depicted in cinema, the video is also a working timepiece that is synchronised to the local time zone. At any moment, the viewer can look at the work and use it to tell the time.’

The construction of this idea is immaculately realised and seamlessly presented. Despite lacking narrative coherence the visual and audio clips work with many elements of association so the viewer can follow recurring themes. Clocks of every kind are used in such an entrancing way I wanted to stay and watch it all day. I recognised the occasional clip, Hugh Grant was featured at one point, and I’m sure if I’d stayed all day I would have seen many more celebrity actors. However the parts I enjoyed most were the older, more obscure moments of film, some of which must have come from the earliest days of the cinema.

I visited from 1.15-2.15 pm on Saturday afternoon, the final day of the show. And as befits this time of day, I watched characters rushing to appointments, eating lunch, being late, meeting friends. It truly was one of the most mesmerising pieces of art I have ever seen.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Rob Ryan at The Air Gallery

Last weekend I visited The Air Gallery on Dover Street to see Rob Ryan’s enchanting exhibition ‘The Stars Shine All Day Too’.

Having seen snippets of information about the show dotted about in magazines and on blogs I was very keen to see Ryan’s work for myself. The exhibition displays new works by the artist, both handcrafted paper cut works, and more affordable prints of his most evocative designs.

I felt like I was entering a fairytale world. Each piece offers a fragment of a story which I enjoyed augmenting in my imagination. Often I feel contemporary artists shy away from letting their work be too romantically inclined, perhaps to stop it becoming commercial, or perhaps they feel it makes their work less unique. Rob Ryan’s work is the perfect example of the romantic without cliché and kitschness.

The works come in all shapes and sizes, one of my favourites is a little red cut out design on white, that pictures a high heeled show, with a highly decorative background. Others are more fantastical and reminded me of films like ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. I later found out that in fact Tim Burton and Helena Bonham-Carter had visited the show and bought some pieces.

Also on display is the spectacular collaboration between Rob Ryan and accessory designing goddess Lulu Guinness. Together they have created a beautiful one-off clutch bag that is soon to be auctioned off for charity. It shows two lovers on a bench kissing beneath a starry sky. Inside it is signed by both artists and has a touching embroidered message.

Some pieces include thoughtful poetry, the words of runaway lovers, and hopeless romantics, or just a few words that conjure up a memory or emotion, a moral or a statement. The wonderful thing about Ryan’s work is you can take from it what you want, there are no obscure concepts or abstract truths, just beautiful work that shows real craftsmanship and creativity.

‘The Stars Shine All Day Too’ continues at The Air Gallery until 20 November, 2011. Check out more on Rob Ryan here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

CANTEEN Restaurant

Canteen = 4 award-winning London restaurants. Great British food = honest food, nationally sourced, skilfully prepared and reasonably priced.

This is how CANTEEN restaurant describes itself, rather modest considering every time I’ve been I have had to wait in line with the rest of its keen fans. It is always full, and seems insanely popular.

I first went to Canteen, Royal Festival Hall branch, about a year ago with a good friend. After the first delightful visit it became one of our regular meet ups after work. The atmosphere suited us perfectly, and the warmth of the food and service was too good for us to resist. Considering the large portions, the prices are reasonable but not cheap, about £20 a head for drink, main, and side plus 12.5% service.

The name, I’m guessing, comes from the canteen-like layout of the restaurant, no fuss tables and chairs ordered neatly in an open plan room. It encourages casual, stress-free dining and is open for food, snacks and drinks all day. The breakfast menu, although I’ve never tried it, looks great.

The food has always been delicious, with maximum taste but also leaves you feeling completely satisfied and healthy. When I went last week I ordered the amazingly large portion of roast chicken and chips with garlic mayonnaise, plus a green side salad. The chicken was succulent with beautifully crispy skin, perhaps it had been cooked in one of those magical rotisserie machines. And the chips were perfectly cooked and cut, dangerously moreish. As a meat lover this is a good restaurant for me with numerous tasty meaty options, from freshly baked pies to roasts and bangers and mash. Canteen can also proudly say that all their meat and poultry comes from farmers who rear traditional breeds and practise good animal husbandry. It is free range and additive free.

This is hearty feel good food, the best of British cooking. Go visit one of their four branches, or buy their cookbook, which recently came out.

Visit the Canteen website here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 25

Every now and again the fashion world has a crazy moment, an occasion something unimaginably silly becomes suddenly very desirable. This month that special piece is the ‘onesie’, which is essentially an adult babygro! Now I must admit this is not my first experience of such a garment... I actually had a fleece one from Land’s End when I was about 15. I adored it, and as a true summer girl felt it was the only thing able to keep me warm in the cold winter months.

The fashion world first noticed the onesie when it began to be showcased by a few brave women at Paris Fashion Week this year; those sporting the look included Carine Roitfeld and Mark Ronson’s girlfriend, Josephine de la Baume. We have Norway-based company OnePiece to thank for these snuggly outfits. They started up their UK website a few weeks ago and are already struggling with the phenomenal demand. Onepiece say their inspiration came from a hungover need for a more comfy garment.

I am adding my name to the long waiting list, but can't decide on a colour. They come in plain shades, mostly bright and fun, or with more elaborate designs – stripy or even one replicating the American flag. Varying in price from £80-110, they are not cheap, but when you consider how much you would spend on skirt, top, tights and jumper, it works out to be a bargain. And there's a long term saving too – they are the perfect way to save on electricity bills.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Things to do in Paris

Paris, oh Paris, I adore Paris. I went last weekend for three days, and even with the torrential rain (it really did pour non-stop) it was still charmingly beautiful and a wonderful weekend away.

There is so much to do in the city, it is difficult to know where to start. So I thought instead of giving you an all inclusive guide, I’d just mention a few things that I enjoyed:

MUSEUMS: The city is littered with them. Quai Branly is relatively new, and has a wonderful collection of worldly artifacts. The Louvre is, of course, a must... a little tip though – the first Sunday of every month offers free admission to most major Paris museums and galleries, which is a great idea in theory, but in practise means waiting in three hour long queues just to get in. The Picasso Museum, which I am dying to see, is closed until mid-2012 so don’t waste your time like I did seeking out that one!

RESTAURANTS: Where to start? French cuisine can be absolutely divine if you know where to go. Unfortunately with the Pound-Euro conversion being so dreadful, even the snackiest of meals becomes pricey. On our first day we stumbled across a hip vintage cafe called ‘Etienne Marcel’ and in the Etienne Marcel region. We ate delicious ‘LOVE Burgers’ which arrived in the shape of a heart (!) accompanied by the most delicious skinny french fries. A very yummy lunch, but for just main and drink for two it came to 45 Euros, which is about 43 pounds. La Coupole is a fun restaurant too, with a lovely feel of tradition and celebration; the food can be a bit on-off though. The man at our hotel recommended a restaurant, just around the corner from Bastille metro, called Les Banquettes (3, Rue de Prague) in which the food was thoroughly tasty and had a perfect ambience; definitely my nicest meal in Paris to date. I ate stuffed poussin with fois gras sauce and vegetables. It had such a friendly atmosphere, with no tourists at all, they made us feel very welcome and gave us complimentary glasses of wine.

AFTERNOON TEA: The one and only Angelinas (on the grand Rue de Rivoli) really is a treat; you will have to queue, but their famous thick hot chocolate is worth it. A beautiful setting too – I felt like I was Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffanys. I must also mention Cafe Camille (that I love for obvious reasons) located just a few streets away from Place des Vosges (24 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois); this gem is always packed full of Parisian darlings.

SHOPPING: Vintage or Designer? Take your pick. I found that very few people could give me exact information on good retro shops in Paris. Go to metro station Etienne Marcel and explore around that area. Killiwatch (64 Rue Tiquetonne) is the well known warehouse-like vintage shop, but if that daunts you try Episode down one of the side streets... revolutionary prices – I bought a colourful silk top for 11 Euros and suede knee high tassle boots for 45 Euros, bargains me thinks.

HOTEL: We stayed in the Bastille area which is a little like the ‘Notting Hill’ of Paris. If you want to stay nearer the big attractions like the Eiffel Tower it is likely to cost you more. When I stayed more centrally, the hotel was not as high quality and didn’t have half the atmosphere of Pavillon Saint-Louis Bastille, where we were staying this time.

With the Eurostar so cheap, easy and quick it is all too tempting to hop on a train to Paris every weekend.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

War Horse

As my dad pointed out, there seems to be a theme emerging from the recent shows I have seen... World War 1. Last week I went to see The Railway Children ( a little earlier), this week War Horse, and then in a few days I will be seeing Birdsong. So theoretically, I should be learning some history as well as enjoying good drama.

War Horse has exceeded all expectations, starting life as a book by Michael Morpurgo, and then onto the West End, via The National Theatre. Soon it transfers to Broadway, and Steven Spielberg is currently in the process of directing a film of the story adapted for the big screen by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis. The transformation of book to play is something few productions manage really effectively. Nick Stafford’s adaptation for War Horse is seamless and natural , however I do feel that at times it drags slightly and is perhaps a little too long. The book is essentially a children’s novel, and the production states it is suitable for kids of ten and over, I would disagree. Aside from the gruelling subject matter and sheer length the show, War Horse has some scary moments with frequent loud gun shots, often aimed towards the audience. I found it worrying and I am 22!

Reputation can be a dreadful curse on a show, and I think this was the downfall of War Horse for me. I had heard such enthusiastic things about the play so I was expecting a masterpiece. I cannot deny that the show is stunning, and completely unique in its approach to puppetry. Not only are the animals beautifully constructed, but the movements are breathtakingly real and accurate. I did in parts forget the horses are not alive.

The acting is on the whole convincing, Matthew Aubrey plays Albert Narracott with an endearing quality and strength that is appealing, but I found he shouts rather too much. I loved watching Zubin Varla, who takes on the role of Kavallerie Hauptmann Friedrich Muller, and amusingly tackles three languages for the part. The best actors of the night though are those agile people who move and dance as the horses, at times there are four of five people moving one animal.

Millions of horses died during World War I, War Horse is a play that remembers these forgotten heroes. Its popularity is justified, there is nothing like this play anywhere else on Broadway or in the West End, and it is very innovative in its use of puppetry. It is a story that touches many, though surprisingly I found I did not cry for long. I am disappointed not to have enjoyed this play as much as I hoped, but still found I was happy to experience the magic of these brave horses and the actors that make them come to life.

Book tickets here.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Ice Bar - Below Zero

There is a lot of hype surrounding the Ice Bar (otherwise known as Below Zero) in central London, but it’s something you have to experience once. Located in the beautiful square on Heddon Street it sits next to several nice restaurants and bars, including my favourite, Piccolinos!

Winter is probably the worst season to choose to visit the Ice Bar, but it meant when I left I was pleasantly surprised by London’s temperature, which doesn’t often happen. Time slots are every 45 minutes, and it is sometimes worthwhile to book beforehand, because certain times do get busy and there are only a limited amount of spaces. There were various rules and regulations recited to us before we entered the exciting room, then we were told to put our arms down as large poncho type coats were thrown over our heads, complete with hoods and attached gloves! We looked hilarious.

It was freezing inside, really cold. Coincidentally I had my cosy Tory Burch boots with me, and for that I thanked God. All those smiling photos I had seen from friends' visits to the bar had given me a false idea! We shivered our way over to the bar where we collected our free drink, which comes complimentary with the £13.50 entrance ticket. There is a large choice of cocktails to choose from, but most seem to just be a shot of spirit with a top-up of fruit juice. The drinks arrive in delicately crafted square ice glasses, rather difficult to drink out of, but very pretty to look at. The bar itself it smaller than I expected, it is just one room with pillars and ice drawing on the wall; in one corner there is even a TV, covered over with ice, playing music videos.

After finishing our drinks and taking lots of photos to remember the occasion by, we found the comfortable ice sofa, complete with cushions which is actually quite warm. After about 20 (out of 45) minutes we were over the excitement and ready to go back to warm civilisation, but that felt like a bit of a cop out, so we found ways to keep warm. I myself did rather a spectacular little solo dance routine, that warmed my feet and raised my spirits!

We had fun but I think this is more of an experience for foreign visitors to London, we get enough cold weather as it is.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Birdsong The Play at The Comedy Theatre

The Comedy Theatre introduces Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks' harrowing novel adapted for the stage. This play has a star line-up, that aside from Faulks boasts the director Trevor Nunn, and many wonderful actors.

The story follows a young man’s journey through a great love and a great war. The play is split into three sections, the later parts more convincing than the first. The long opening section concentrates on the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford as he visits Amiens and falls in love with a married woman, played by the rather stiff Genevieve O’Reilly.

After the interval Birdsong shows the vile horror of World War I, like I have never seen it portrayed before. Every aspect of the painful anguish and devastation is realised through haunting acting and clever dramatics. The stage is impressively constructed to show the claustrobic tunnels and trenches, and smoke effects create further atmosphere. Just before the interval a great clash and cloud of smoke or powder wafts over the audience, an incredible sensation and evocative transition to mark the start of the war.

I loved watching Lee Ross who plays one of the central characters, Jack Firebrace. The kindness and bravery of this character within the turmoil of war gives the story real strength and substance, and Ross’s characterisation reflects this with a touching morality. He plays the part directly with no fuss, when he learns of his young son’s death from diphtheria he avoids sentimentality but somehow provokes great sadness in the audience, it is truly touching.

I left feeling moved and educated, and now would like to read the original book.

Book tickets here.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Magic Flute at Hamstead Garden Opera

The Magic Flute is surely one of the most theatrical operas in the standard repertoire. It combines comedy, tragedy and magic, but is above all a moral story about love and fidelity. Upstairs at the Gatehouse has been Hampstead Garden Opera’s (HGO) home since 2001, and this year they celebrate their 20th anniversary with Mozart’s masterpiece.

As an adoring fan of Stephen Fry, I was delighted to discover he had translated Mozart’s libretto, originally in German. This witty script definitely makes the piece more family friendly. Fry translated the work for Kenneth Branagh’s film, and HGO are perhaps the first company to perform it to a London audience. The young singers have good diction, and because the venue is so small, you can hear every word.

James Hurley directs the opera, with costumes by Madeleine Millar and set by Rob Mills. At the helm of the HGO band is music director Oliver-John Ruthven, who I myself have been lucky enough to be conducted by in the past. The production has not one, but two talented casts, made up predominantly of Oxbridge graduates and other twenty-somethings. I guess with this in mind, I shouldn’t have been surprised to spot a few friends in the cast.

I saw the show on their first night, and I felt the excited anticipation in the air. Director Hurley has decided to set the opera in a child’s playroom, which however strange, is quite intriguing to watch. The only problem is the presence of adult themes that don’t quite suit this vision, and make the already complex story even more confusing. The singers however, seem to relish the unique setting and play around with their characters with an amusing quirkiness.

The star of the show is, without a shadow of a doubt the 22 year Guildhall student Raphaela Papadakis, who sings with such clarity and ease, she has the skill of an older singer, but the delicate freshness of a young girl. This is Raphaela’s first production with HGO, I only hope she stays with them, as she brightens up the whole night. I also loved watching Samuel Queen, who is completely adorable as birdcatcher Papageno. He wears a hilarious adult size babygro decorated with birds, I was delighted to see his companion Pagagena in a matching outfit, these are genius finds from Madeleine Millar. I can honestly say that these amateur HGO singers are more pleasant to listen to than the professionals I heard in The Barber of Seville a week earlier.

The Dionysus Ensemble accompany the singers playing Mozart’s recognisable tunes with experience and style. I was, unfortunately seated a little too close to the musicians and found they occasionally overpowered the vocalists.

A bizarre interpretation of a favourite classic, but more importantly a bunch of extraordinarily talented musicians, frolicking about and singing their hearts out. Hampstead Garden Opera is definitely a company to look out for!

Evening performances of The Magic Flute are on November 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 12 & 13 at 7.30 pm:
Matinées on Saturday November 6 at and on Sundays November 7 and 14 at 4.0 pm.
Tickets – November 4 & 5 £18 (concessions £16): all other performances £20 (concessions £18): 18 and under £12 for all performances. All seats unreserved.
Box office: 020 8340 3488.
Further information: Martin Musgrave ( - 07590 567 790)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Fondue Fun at Swissotel The Howard

I heard whispers about the Swiss Cheese Fondue Night. Swissôtel The Howard, a smart London hotel, transforms itself every Tuesday and Saturday into a magical Swiss Chalet for Fondue and other tasty après-ski goodies.

I have never had fondue before, but as a keen cheese lover was keen to try it. The idea is rather genius and unlike any other. The pop up restaurant was created last year and has returned after huge success. This year its popularity has grown further making it increasingly difficult to book, although I hear they are adding some extra days to accommodate more. I booked for early evening (before a show) to ensure we got a table. The restaurant was empty and despite being a little spooky, it meant we could fully appreciate the authentic Swiss Chalet décor – wooden surrounds, warm lighting, and red checked tablecloths. They have definitely done their research!

The package meal costs £29, rather overpriced I decided later but the demand is there.

The meal includes:

- Swiss Cheese Fondue (Gruyère, Vacherin Mont D’Or and Epoisse)
- Crusty Sourdough Bread
- A selection of Sliced Cured Meats with Pickles
- Mixed Leaf Salad
- Dessert (Apple Strudel with Custard or Sweet sugar cake)

-A glass of Schnapps

The starter of salad and meat was fresh and light before the rich main. The pot of cheese came next, bubbling away. I was really desperate to like it, the idea of hot gooey cheese thrills me, but unfortunately the sharp aftertaste (likely to be from the large amount of white wine added to the mix) ruined it. Although dunking bread into your own mini cauldron is lots of fun and made us giggle. The desserts were rather mediocre by my pudding standards, and I left most of mine. I was disappointed with the meal, and paid my £29 begrudgingly (I could have bought a nice piece of clothing instead.)

A very different night out, but I rate the ambience much higher than the food!

Swiss Cheese Fondue Nights: Every Tuesday and Saturday night till the end of April 2011
12 Temple Place Restaurant, Swissôtel The Howard, 12 Temple Place, London WC2R 2PR.
Booking/reservation tel: +44 207 836 3555

Monday, 8 November 2010

Hot on the Highstreet Week 24

Savannah Miller in her favourite Sara & Zoe waistcoat.

Ever since I first saw this waistcoat on Savannah Miller’s blog for VOGUE I haven’t been able to stop obsessing about it. I soon found out that the garment came from the gorgeous little family company Sara & Zoe.

The company was started about 14 years ago by Sara Stewart and has since been taken over by her equally creative daughter, Zoe. Without a shop, they offer an appointment service, or you can catch them at one of the many fairs they are doing this Christmas (see on the website). Zoe makes regular trips to India to pick each and every piece on sale, a fine selection, including jackets, waistcoats, shawls, bags, scarves and not forgetting the beautiful silver and semi precious stone jewellery.

I visited the Sara & Zoe stand at a recent craft clothes fair in Chelsea Old Town Hall. The beautiful bright Indian colours stood out a mile. Zoe explained about the different pieces and the origin of the stock. All the items come from a tiny family run business in India, made with a unique craftsmanship that reflects the vibrancy of life in this country so far away from our own.

Falling in love with several items I had to limit myself to just a waistcoat – the piece I loved best. But honestly there is so much to choose from, and with prices from £5-200 there are many perfect present options too – that is if you are generous enough to not keep it for yourself. I bought a rabbit skin waistcoat, like Savannah’s above but in a lighter creamy beige colour, with red stitching and white fur... I look a little bit like a trendy Eskimo in it! It cost £85, reasonable considering real fur in UK shops can be extortionately priced.

Have a look at the website, and I’m sure, like me, you will find Sara & Zoe totally irresistible. New Stock comes in from India soon, catch it before it all goes.

Look at the website here.