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Monday, 28 February 2011

Graphic Bar in Soho

There are so many great places to drink and hang out in London, so to stand out from the crowd a bar needs to offer something a little bit different, a speciality or a unique twist. I heard about Graphic Bar last summer when a friend mentioned their rotating art displays. Not unlike Proud Galleries, Graphic exhibit the work of a promising artist every few months. They are currently showcasing Eine’s infamous ‘shutters’.

Ben Eine is a prolific street artist and has produced his pop-arty letters on shop shutters in Paris, Stockholm, Hastings and Newcastle as well as in London’s Shoreditch and Brick Lane. He first started to produce commercial graffiti through a partnership with legendary guerrilla artist, Banksy. Interestingly in 2010 David Cameron gave a gift of an Eine painting, ‘Twenty First Century City’ to President Obama. Graphic are lucky to have acquired his work for this short time, and it really compliments the space.

I was invited to Graphic for a dear friend’s birthday shindig. The venue is easy to get to, located in the centre of Golden Square in Soho, nearest tube is Piccadilly Circus. The place was jam packed when we went on a Friday evening, with visitors merrily spilling out onto the chilly streets. I squeezed my way through to the back of the place where my friends had arranged a designated area for us, still crowded but at least we could sit down.

Graphic specialises in gin, and has one of the most extensive collections in the UK. Luckily I had a gin expert by my side and so was chosen a Milly- appropriate drink. Once settled, I noticed the strange large white glasses that many of the girls were holding – moving closer for a better look, I realised that the glasses were in fact paint pots filled with most desirable gin cocktails. I went to choose one for myself. There are five options, named as different colours of paint; I decided on the white tin... a peachy flavoured concoction with lemonade, fresh lemon juice and most importantly Whitley Neill Gin. It was quite strong (gin is an acquired taste) but brilliantly mixed with an exotic variety of tastes.

This groovy little bar also offers tapas and main courses for those who arrive a bit peckish, though its real selling point is surely the inventive cocktail serving idea and array of rare gins.

Visit website here.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 40

Here is a post for the neglected boys who read my blog.

I have always been a fan of Net-a-porter the go-to site for last minute designer needs. The service is impeccable and the selection bettered by none. Special designer items are a real treat for me so when I do splash out I want to be sure the garment will arrive in pristine condition: Net-a-porter wrap up your goods in smart black tissue paper and black ribbon; it makes the opening of the parcel so much more exciting. However they only cater for girls, and trendy guys have been left to trawl the shops for their sophisticated outfits.

Net-a-porter realised the gap in the market and have introduced a male version, Mr Porter. This stylish site has a judicious selection of the world’s best menswear designers, like Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Lanvin. Or if you prefer to be suited and booted in something a little more unique then there are specialist brands to browse through as well. Everything you need to make you the man of the moment. But Mr Porter isn’t just a handsome online shop, this site will guide you through the season's trends with sharp editorial content, online magazine and useful shopping tools – to make spending even easier.

Girls – if you fancy a baggy Miu Miu cardy or an extra large woollen scarf you can now find these for yourself at Mr Porter. Or if you need to find that perfect gift for a man who has everything he needs (most do) pick up a gorgeous gift from the online shop, and it will arrive the next day beautifully wrapped, hassle-free.

A few days ago I received an email alerting me that Mr Porter was open and ready for business. Women love window shopping, but men, they seem to despise the long haul round the stores, here is the solution... men’s top notch attire at your fingertips. Start clicking boys.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Wagner's Parsifal at The ENO

It’s not often Wagner comes to town, and I don’t mean the over-excitable X-Factor contestant. Richard Wagner set his own rules when composing, a freedom of expression that can be seen most in his epic operas. Their length and scoring requires a massive cast and orchestra with set and costumes to match. Wagner wrote all his own libretti and creates mythical kingdoms that are weird, wonderful and crazy - his works are unique. It is a great undertaking for a creative team to stage one of his magical music dramas; they must be ready to match his imagination and spirit, strength and character.

The ENO are currently reviving Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production of Parsifal which was critically commended back in 1999, with the Independent describing it as ‘the most intelligent, provocative and ultimately moving production’. This February most of the original creative team are back for the return show.

The surreal and stagnant landscape is designed by Raimund Bauer and daring costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer. As is normal with Wagner’s creations the story of Parsifal is completely incomprehensible and quite frankly a bit ridiculous. There is a lot of faffing about on stage, complicated background details and bizarre characters that seem to have no relevance to the plot. The opera is his final one and is written in three acts. The narrative is loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach's ‘Parzival’, a 13th century poem that tells of an Arthurian knight and his quest for the Holy Grail.

I felt honoured to be seeing great Wagnerian singer John Tomlinson who can boast performing for eighteen consecutive seasons at Bayreuth Festival from 1988. He plays Gurnemanz, the trusty chronicler of the Grail’s history. When I saw the opera, Tomlinson was everything I hoped he would be: powerful and yet gracious, he commands the stage unlike any singer I have ever seen before. The rest of the cast are vocally sublime too; Stuart Skelton as the title role shows real compassion and stamina throughout the five hour piece and Jane Dutton as Kundry is dramatic and convincing. I adored the flower chorus dancing and singing, the women dressed in unbelievable draped costumes and lit so wonderfully, it was quite mesmerising to watch.

No-one can deny the beauty of Wagner’s music in Parsifal. In particular I love the opening interlude and the euphoric finale. The orchestra are quite breathtaking, and are conducted magnificently by Mark Wigglesworth, who energises the score and injects the performance with real understanding and passion. In my seat in the front row of the dress circle I felt I was soaring with the music and being drawn into Wagner’s mysterious world. I found the whole evening uttering compelling and was completely engrossed by the amazing atmosphere the ENO created for the occasion.

Parsifal continues at The ENO until Saturday 12 March, book here.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

THE BEST GIVEAWAY YET - Ida restaurant pasta making lesson for two and meal with wine to follow

I admire restaurants that are passionate about the food they create. IDA is a better example of this than any other with their homemade pasta and Italian attitude to life. Located in fashionable Queen’s Park, IDA is a short bus ride from Notting Hill and Portobello.

On the morning of Saturday 12th March IDA will be holding one of their legendary pasta making courses. A brilliant opportunity for beginners and experienced cooks, the class is run by IDA owners Avi and Simonetta Reichenbach and the restaurant’s talented chef Giacomo Matera. Students learn the techniques of kneading, stretching and cutting pasta -everything from tagliatelle to gnocchi to cannelloni; how to make a traditional sugo, the not so dark art of the perfect risotto, and the secrets of Italian cake-making. At lunchtime, participants sit down together over a glass (or three) of wine to enjoy the fruits of their labours; and leave with a detailed recipe sheet and certificate.

You can win a place for two (worth £80) on this fantastic and fun course, taking place on Saturday 12th March on the IDA premises in Queen’s Park. If you don’t live in London you can still enter and give the gift to a foodie friend or family member. But be quick the competition must end on Thursday 10th March so a winner can be chosen at random in time.
All you have to do is:

1) Be a follower on my blog, and write a comment below, telling me your following name
2) ‘Like’ the IDA Restaurant facebook page, here
3) Include your email address so the winner can be contacted

This is a really special GIVEAWAY. Handmade pasta is rarely made in restaurants in Italy anymore, let alone in the heart of London, and you have a chance to be part of it for free.

All the information you need can be found here.

If you can’t make the 12th March please still enter as it may be possible to accommodate you on another day’s course.

Nature Valley: the hottest snack for bloggers

Last week I kindly got sent a box of goodies from the team at Nature Valley. It comprised of various cereal bars, and other sweet bits and bobs, including a very useful flowery V&A thermos mug.

As a blogger I am out most nights, dashing across town sometimes to more than one event in the same evening, or using my lunch break to catch the final days of a crucial art show. This results, quite often, in sacrificing a meal. The other day for instance, I was travelling to Dalston to watch a 7pm play at the Arcola Theatre, finishing work at 5.30 meant there was no way supper could be fit in. Sandwiches can be unappealing, especially if you have to gobble them on the tube, but a Nature Valley cereal bar fits the brief: healthy and delicious and with slow releasing energy to keep me awake for the whole evening!

These bars also tie in with my health kick as a perfect snack pre or post a gym workout. Nature Valley really have created the must-have snack for any busy blogger, chuck one in your bag, you never know when it might save you.

Check out the Nature Valley products here.

Bridget Riley at The National Gallery

Bridget Riley is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest painters, making her name in the Op Art movement. She has always had strong ties with the National Gallery, and elements of her output relate to works here by Raphael, Mantegna and Seurat. Currently Riley has being given reign over the Sunley Room at the gallery, where a mini exhibition features some of her more recent paintings as well as two drawings made directly onto the walls done specially for the occasion. These murals will be painted over when the event ends in May this year.

I have always been intrigued by Bridget Riley’s seductive use of colour and shapes. Her work is very consistent with strong graphic qualities and themes of pattern, repetition and sequence. The Sunley Room is light and airy and very pleasant to just sit and relax in. I enjoyed contemplating the works, and as I went during the day on a weekday the space was almost empty. Riley will be eighty this year, and nowadays does little of the painting herself, with a team of assistants she is able to delegate, direct and design.

The more illusionistic of her works tend to make me feel a little dizzy though I am nonetheless impressed by her accurate and otherworldly use of perspective. There is only one picture on display that appears to be of this kind, 'Arrest 3' (1965) a sultry painting depicting mesmerising waves in tones of blue. I particularly liked ‘Saraband’ (1985) an oil loaned from a private collection. The picture is just stripes of different colours, but there is something about the chosen hues that makes the canvas come to life. I remember thinking it would make brilliant wrapping paper!

This exhibition is free and is a lovely example of Riley’s oeuvre though I was disappointed to see such a small display at the National Gallery, with only about fifteen works on show I left yearning for more.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Blues Kitchen in Camden

I have always wanted to visit the Blues Kitchen in Camden, so when the time came to organise my 23rd birthday drinks I decided this would be the venue for the celebration. I’ve had enough of trendy Shoreditch and Clapham and thought it was time to promote the nightlife of North London. Before our designated table was ready we met up at the fun and quirky Proud Galleries just down the road, at the end of a fairylit path. Proud was packed full of arty enthusiasts dancing the night away, I love the vibe in there and am looking forward to returning to hopefully see a band in action, and try out the cute stables-cum-private seating area.

The Blues Kitchen is known best as a vibrant music venue, but also has great food and a wonderful selection of whiskies and bourbons. I am yet to try the dinner menu but have heard the burgers and salads are fresh and yummy. In the flurry of the evening I forgot to try one of their famous cocktails, which are apparently ‘the very best out there’.

Weekly events such as ‘Roll & Tumble’ and ‘The Sunday Blues Jam’ entertain the crowds playing upbeat classics. The band usually starts around 10.30 and this is when it gets super busy. Thank God we managed to skip the queue of shivering girls and went straight in. Inside it was packed, we were literally barely able to move. The service was quite disappointing, and our reserved area was occupied by an oblivious group of rowdy punters leaving us all rather stranded in the busy bar crowd. Eventually we were seated and the party could commence.

The theme was lashes and tashes, a bit of an experiment; much to my surprise most of my friends rose to the challenge, donning beautiful long lashes or dashing moustaches – one dedicated friend even grew his very own tash for the occasion! Everyone looked fabulous. I wore my very special top and bottom lashes, glittering and sparkly all night, though you can’t really see the true glory of them in the photos above.

After much chatting and sipping of drinks, we struggled out onto the dance floor at the back of the venue to boogie to the band. Great music, and an amazing atmosphere, it was clear that everyone was having a ball. It was soon time to go, heels came off (I amazingly wore them for the whole night!) and we jumped in a taxi home. Brilliant venue, wonderful outfits, and the best friends a girl could wish for.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Shoes at The Peacock Theatre

After a rather desperate dash to the Peacock Theatre my cousin and I were very relieved to find we had two minutes to spare before the performance of SHOES. It is the newest offering from Sadler’s Wells' dance company extraordinaire, and quite simply takes us through the ages commenting on the progress of footwear, slipper to stiletto, and illustrates how our culture has evolved into the shoe frenzied lot we are today.

The Peacock Theatre, near Holborn is spacious and provides well for movement productions. And this show certainly needs space, designer Tom Pye has created a very ambitious set with many complex props coming on and off stage for each number. The structure of the show immediately struck me as being a little bizarre, with a lack of sensible story. The musical is a collage of short and sweet dance numbers, some of which are better than others, but as a whole the show lacks coherence.

The cast includes four singers who impressively perform most of the show's music. At the start I found them a little too shrill for my taste but as they warmed up they improved and did, on the whole, provide some enjoyable commentary. The songs tend to drag on, much of the repetition is not needed. Having said that I absolutely love the final song before the intermission, ‘Desire: The Brand’. A group of women dressed as nuns sing a hypnotising hymn-like piece about the most popular shoe designers: Jimmy Choo, Prada, Louboutin etc. It is actually quite beautiful, and amusing too, thanks to clever lyrics and perfect timing.

The dancing is exciting and thoughtfully choreographed by Stephen Mear and his team. They use the variety of footwear to the best of their ability and manage to include several different types of dance... the tap dancing in platforms is particularly inventive. The sequence, ‘Old Shoes’ stands out in the second half, a hysterical number about a pair of wedding shoes passed through the generations.

This is an interesting concept for a show, and a lot of work has clearly gone into the production, though I fear it is a show that really needs to find its feet before it succeeds completely.

SHOES continues until 3 April 2011. Book here.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 39

With London in the middle of Fashion week mania, there are endless designer temptations. Spring/Summer 2011 is truly upon us and new trends are emerging every minute. This season many designers are letting fly with vibrant colour schemes in their collections, never has it been so fashionable to clash. This is great news for me, I’ve always loved punchy colours and as much as I yearn to rock the monochrome sophisticated Hepburn look, I can’t help but gravitate towards the lively colourful items on the shop floor.

Michael Kors is an American designer best known for his sportswear ranges for women. Recently his accessories have become very desirable: classic, stylish and COLOURFUL watches and jewellery. The great thing about this week’s feature is the price – a designer MK watch, for a high street price of £179. The new chronograph watches have been featured in publications all over the place and are on sale in Selfridges for a reduced price of £150.

The strap is made from flexible, soft silicone, making it sporty and practical. With the standard big round face, this watch promises to make a statement on any wrist. With so many colours to choose from, I took about an hour deciding which one to get. Along with the purple (shown above) it is available in orange, pink, royal blue, green, yellow, black and white. I spent my birthday money on one of these watches, and so far it has been money extremely well spent - comfortable, contemporary and cool. For the sake of everyday use I eventually chose the black though I completely loved the pink and orange options too.

Buy a Michael Kors watch online here.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's for Valentines Day

My Valentine's night was spent visiting the darling little Ritzy cinema for a second time. After seeing Black Swan there I was eager to go again, but to see something, well more watchable, a film to smile at rather than flinch at. Avoiding the rows of gruesome twosome tables at restaurants, I rudely informed my date that I wanted to spend the evening watching this iconic girly film, despite having seen it over and over again.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is similar to a vintage wine – it just gets better and better. I seem to enjoy it more every time, noticing new details and perfectly picturesque moments. Because I saw Anna Friel in the stage version last year, I understand the narrative more, stories always seem better when they are familiar.

For those who don’t know (if there are any B.a.T. virgins out there?) the story is about bemused and unaware Holly Golighty, a girl flitting around New York City with her feline companion, ‘Cat’. She charms all she meets, and in particular one promising young writer, Paul Varjak (though Holly decides to call him Fred) - watching their mad adventures is an utter delight. Doe-eyed Audrey Hepburn performs as Miss Golightly which is arguably what made this film such a hit.

Sadly I returned home after the film to watch Chelsea waste away the remaining moments of their match. This would not usually dampen my mood – however a £33.47 betting win was imminent if Chelsea had won. They didn’t and I therefore lost out on my pot of gold, very very disappointing. Apart from that, I think it was one of the nicest Valentine's evenings I’ve ever spent, thanks to my lovely date, and the romantic film.

Book to see something at The Ritzy here.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Snake in the Grass at The Print Room

The Print Room continues on its quest to present obscure, controversial and exciting theatre to audiences in the capital with their production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Snake in the Grass’. At their dinky little premises in Notting Hill the company hopes to shed light on this dark forgotten gem. If their version of ‘Fabrication’ didn’t prove their worth then this run of ‘Snake in the Grass’ certainly will.

Alan Ayckbourn is a much celebrated playwright, though this work is little known, and rarely performed - indeed it is the London premiere. The play introduces us to two sisters, Annabel and Miriam who have recently lost their father. It soon transpires that Miriam was in fact responsible for his sudden death, and consequently spends the duration trying to escape prison while being blackmailed by her father’s former nurse, Alice Moody. Her big sister, Annie is preoccupied with fears of her own and is reluctantly dragged into the mess, weighed down with guilt for leaving her family so many years earlier. This macabre ghost story takes many terrible twists, resulting in an unexpected and chilling conclusion.

The play is thrilling, and for those less hardy, quite terrifying. The theatre space has little air and is quite claustrophobic; the seating arrangement allows the performers to be very close to the audience - it is an intimate affair.

The all-female cast of three are brave, brassy and beastly, each of them vile in their own way. I was most impressed by Sarah Woodward as the delusional and calculating Miriam, she is scarily convincing and seems fully absorbed in the character throughout, never losing concentration. I realised, after reading the programme, that many years back I acted alongside her in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things’, a surprising if quite cool coincidence. Susan Wooldridge acts as the lonely older sister Annabel, she genuinely seems battered and worn out, bitter and resigned to her failures. Wooldridge acts with real bite, though occasionally stumbled over her lines. The bullying nurse Alice is played by Mossie Smith. Looking at her sweet photo in the programme it is hard to believe she is the horrible girl who stomps onto the stage. In her tacky attire, she spits and grimaces and comes across as a truly awful human being, I soon detested her. Brilliant direction comes from the talented Lucy Bailey. She obviously had a very clear vision for this production, and luckily with such an experienced cast it is well realised, her passion for the job is evident just from watching her actresses perform. Eerie lighting and music made the play even more affecting.

The Print Room have William Dudley to thank for the phenomenal set. Dudley, who has picked up seven Olivier awards for his designs, transforms the plain space into a decrepit old tennis court complete with attendant detritus: it is hauntingly atmospheric and mysterious. The floor is covered in real green moss, the walls are made of wire fencing, and scrub and bushes crowd the entrances and exits. The remains of a tennis court are clear to see in every little detail.

The Print Room is evidence that theatre does not have to have money thrown at it to thrive and produce dynamic drama. I look forward to its next offering - perhaps something a little more cheery?

Snake in the Grass continues until 5 March, book here.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Robuchon Restaurant in London

Joel Robuchon: chef extraordinaire, and world renowned restaurateur.

In 1989 Robuchon was named "Chef of the Century" by the guide Gault Millau and with top quality restaurants all over the world he is delighting customers on every continent. For my birthday lunch I visited his London restaurant to taste the genius creations myself. It was recommended to me by my expert foodie grandparents, so I had high expectations.

Robuchon sits deliciously next to the Ivy in Covent Garden; dark and smart, it is a discreet venue. Walking inside it feels like a members club - relaxed and welcoming. There are two options for seating: L’Atelier (bar-like stools surrounding the open plan kitchen, for more casual dining) or La Cuisine on the first floor where the seating arrangement is more traditional and formal. Intrigued by the Atelier idea I opted for a table there, after being assured that the menus in both areas are the same. It was definitely the right choice: intimate seats surround the kitchen, it was lots of fun seeing how everything was assembled.

There are several menus to choose from, of which the Menu du Jour is the best value. Available from 12:00 – 15:00 and 17:30 – 18:30, and at just £22 for two courses or £27 for three courses, this offer is too good to be true. Each course has three options; starter and main each have a fish, meat, and vegetarian dish. Here’s what we chose:


Sweet corn soup with popcorn

Classic beef tartare topped with fried quail’s egg


Roasted Gloucestershire old spot pork served with thin French fries

Grilled Scottish salmon with fennel and lemongrass sauce


Almond biscuit with blood orange jelly, milk chocolate ice cream

Selection of traditional tarts

Instead of wine we ordered two mixed juices (or virgin cocktails) from the drinks menu. These were fresh and carefully concocted with fresh fruits, priced at £6 each. I had a sweet lychee and blackberry that was refreshing and delicious. A decorative red bread basket was brought to us with a generous selection of loaves, though I did have to ask for butter. My steaming soup arrived promptly, a beautiful buttercup yellow colour, with a meticulously stacked garnish of popcorn and apple strips. Quite possibly the best soup I have ever tasted, jointly with my auntie’s butternut squash recipe. The flavours and textures of the components were expertly matched - an impressive first course. I didn’t hear much from my satisfied companion so I’m assuming he enjoyed his beef too.

My main was exquisitely presented, a juicy strip of pork on a delicate long plate, with the crispiest, yummiest tiny little french fries; they were more like couture crisps. The salmon looked amazing placed on a bed of leeks with a mysterious surrounding moat of fennel and lemongrass foam. Our waiter wasn’t quite as attentive as I would have liked but was friendly and informative about the food.

Our desserts were very typically French, and reminded me of lazy afternoons in cute cafes in the South of France. Out of the two, I preferred the selection of tarts - petite slices of six different cakes (coffee, lemon, chocolate etc), it looked lovely and had great variety, though none were as good as my grandmothers incredible apple tart. My dessert was good, but not quite as scrumptious as I was hoping it would be. A nice mix of flavours, the almond and orange cake was moist and light, but I didn’t much like the chocolate ice cream that accompanied, it was bland and uninteresting.

For our coffees we were taken upstairs to the comfy bar area. It was nice to see this lounge space, though I didn’t find it nearly as lively and exciting as the Atelier downstairs. Sadly no petit fours or complimentary sweets were brought with our after lunch drinks which I found massively disappointing, as I adore culinary surprises!

Overall though this was a very special meal for my special day. Robuchon has received two Michelin stars for this restaurant and I doubt there is a more reasonable set menu around for such luxurious food. A perfect option for an affordable but memorable Valentines meal. I will definitely be returning very soon.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The Last Five Years at The Tabard

I always enjoy visiting the Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green, Chiswick. It is small, easy to get to, and conveniently close to my house. This season they are staging ‘The Last Five Years’ by bright young composer, Jason Robert Brown. The production stars Wizard of Oz wannabe Lauren Samuels and Christopher Pym as the energetic young couple.

Jason Robert Brown’s music fuses different contemporary and pop styles with chirpy, clever, theatrical lyrics. I have always admired his music, in particular the revue ‘Songs for a New World’, and so was very excited about seeing this production. The musical requires a decent band, and this the Tabard has, full of life and soul, they seemed to be having a great time playing along. Musical Direction comes from competent Lee Freeman, who is obviously as passionate about Robert Brown’s music as the rest of us.

As one Dorothy clicks her heels at the Palladium, in the new Wizard of Oz, another hopeful from the TV show sings her heart out on the Tabard’s modest little stage. And with an intimate audience of about seventy this is certainly a whole other land of showbiz. I have previously seen Samuels in Grease, The Musical and was satisfied by her performance there, but in ‘The Last Five Years’ she transforms from a standard musical theatre lead to a real star, singing and acting to a very high standard. Performing alongside her, Pym isn’t as impressive, though does have a few sparkling moments.

The story in a nutshell: Cathy (Samuels) and Jamie (Pym)'s tumultuous five year relationship has sadly now reached its end. Both sides are retraced by the pair individually: Jamie remembers the relationship from the cautionary start to the bitter end, whereas Cathy travels back in time from the end of their marriage through to when they first met. For the best part of the show both characters are singing to a memory or ghostlike resemblance of their partner, they are strange and lonely roles. Cathy and Jamie meet in the middle of the show for their marriage, share a kiss then depart back to their own worlds. At one point another girl is shown in Cathy’s bed, representing the affair Jamie had, it is spooky and quite chilling to watch, but apart from that it is only these two actors on stage for the whole performance.

Both Samuels and Pym are like excitable teenagers, bouncing around naively. Cathy faces rejection as an aspiring actress, while Jamie’s ambitions to be a writer are slowly and successfully realised. Samuels sings ‘When you come home to me’ brilliantly and with a humorous twist she captures the audience’s imagination completely. Pym seems to struggle vocally, especially at the start, and compensates by over-acting. Though once he is properly warmed up he becomes more enjoyable to watch.

The Tabard has appropriately staged this American love story just over the Valentine period – now that’s what I call clever scheduling! This is a rare chance to see this brilliant, little performed show; ‘The Last Five Years’ continues until 5 March, book here.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Company at The Southwark Playhouse

Endless wrong turnings meant the two minute walk from London Bridge station to the Southwark Playhouse took an agonising forty-five, resulting finally in a rather desperate taxi trip. I have never been to the theatre before and was confused by a strange (and infuriating) trail of signs directing us, quite literally, in the opposite direction. Note to all S.P. first timers: turn RIGHT out of London Bridge Station, not left and your journey should be quick painless.

When we eventually arrived at the Playhouse I was delighted by the building's stature and general appearance, impressively established-looking for a fringe theatre. The interior is rather dark and damp, much like a warehouse, though oddly comfortable with stools and sofas, and an accessible bar selling drinks and snacks. We made our way to the theatre space quickly, with unreserved seating you have to get in there fast!

Company is one of Stephen Sondheim’s more familiar musicals; with memorable melodies and repetitive choruses, it is easy to enjoy. The songs are catchy and fun and have become popular as audition pieces, unsurprisingly considering how the different solo numbers evoke individual character’s personalities. This production has a little band accompanying; I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t see them anywhere, perhaps they are tucked away due to lack of space. A charismatic Oli Jackson (I could just see him on the screen) leads the group of musicians in a tight and together performance - thanks to effective amplification one can hear the music sharp and loud and it energises the whole show.

I was engrossed by the singers thrilling approach to the first chorus. Their concentration and power makes the music immediately gripping, and made me want to sit up and listen. Paul Wills’ staging is simple and flexible, easily transforming into the necessary New York backdrops. For me it was a little bare though, a few extra props or motifs could have represented the couples and given the actors more to play with on stage.

Bobby is a 35 year old single guy left stranded amongst his coupled up friends. The musical is a study in marriage and relationships as Bobby struggles to figure out what it all means. We are introduced to the different couples, each with their own ‘kind’ of love. The advantages and disadvantages of their lifestyles are contrasted with Bobby’s life of parties and freedom. The action revolves around Bobby’s 35thbirthday celebrations.

A dashing Rupert Young plays the enigma that is Bobby. He sports a dishevelled look, and is definitely more of an actor than a singer. His life seems to be a mad whirlwind of alcohol, drugs and women, which are all he seems interested in. That’s okay, but this 21st century spin on Sondheim makes him seem a little out of place next to his set of ordinary middle-aged friends. I noticed early on that I recognised Young and after much brain racking I realised I had in fact been directed by him ten years back in W11 Children’s Opera.

Bobby’s single girlfriends are great, full of girly angst. Katie Brayben, the air hostess has brilliant comic timing in her main scene with Bobby. And Michelle Bishop heroically conquers the complex song ‘Another Hundred People’ without slipping.

Of the couples, there are some performers that stand out more than others. Siobhan McCarthy storms the stage as the sour and sultry older woman, Joanne... she gets the best song ‘Ladies who lunch’ which she screams at us with venom and vigour. But my favourite role is Amy – the manic girl who gets cold feet on her wedding day. A highly accomplished singer, who has come from a part in West End hit Avenue Q, she delivers the hysterically fast ‘Not Getting Married Today’ with precision and strength, it is a marvel. Her husband to be, Greg Castiglioni as Paul is a quiet role, but has a stunning voice when he gets his chance to sing: lyrical and strong with a rich tone.

A fresh if slightly odd interpretation of a Sondheim hit, vocally this production is a real winner. I thoroughly enjoyed it despite its shortcomings.

Company continues until 12 March 2011, book tickets here.

Monday, 14 February 2011

GIVEAWAY: My February Girl Winner!

Well Done to Sherrie from blog, mirror mirror on the wall, who has been picked as my February Girl.

She loves February because:

It is closer to Spring, the mornings and evenings are getting lighter and because all the daffodils come out.

Sherrie please email me your address to:
And your t-shirt and goodies will be sent to you.

Thanks to all who entered, and look out for more giveaways soon.

Hot on the Highstreet Week 38 - She Died of Beauty on Valentines Day...

So it’s Valentines Day again, the 24 hours we endure once a year and all love to hate. Even those happily paired up seem to dread this celebration of blissful love and affection. Whether you choose to remember it or not I think I’ve found a quirky gift to satisfy even the grumpiest of cynics.

‘She Died of Beauty’ is an ethically and organically sourced brand created by friends Erin O’Connor (supermodel) and Kate Halfpenny (stylist) in September 2010. The capsule collection features monochrome printed t-shirts and bags with five different statements based on the epithet ‘she died of beauty’. A sarcastic twist on the mercenary fashion world mocking those girls that are willing to devote their lives to the cause - it is a very clever idea. They are witty and bold as well as being unique and very wearable. My favourite for Valentines day is ‘she died of kisses’.

These ironic bags and t-shirts are original and fun and are the perfect not-too-gushy present for your favourite girl, whether she is a partner or just a deserving friend. Still a very new brand on the market, I’m sure these are going to be extremely popular with fashion forward celebrity women. T-shirts come in black or white with vice versa colour writing; they are priced at £40. The cotton tote bags also come in black or a plain cream colour and are a reasonable £20.

Buy someone the gift to die for this Valentines day.

Visit the ‘She Died of Beauty’ website and buy here.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Steak & Co on Charing Cross Road

I think it’s fair to say that most of Leicester Square is pretty grotty, catering for crowds of tourists with overpriced eateries and tacky souvenir stalls. But with so many wonderful London landmarks nearby (National Gallery, Fourth Plinth, Coliseum to name but a few) this area craves a few decent restaurants.

Let me introduce you to Steak & Co, the new steakhouse on Charing Cross Road. The restaurant is located on a corner and has a smart but generic exterior, it looks like it might be one of a chain. Inside I was reminded of an American style diner. The service was impeccable throughout our visit, from the moment we walked in when we were greeted with a lovely smiley welcome to personal and attentive service while we were ordering and eating. We asked for a mid range (£17.50) bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, it was light and crisp and went well with our food.

As you might expect steak features heavily on the menu (!) with all the different cuts and varieties available. But for those who prefer a lighter meal you can enjoy the appealing looking alternatives... classics like Caesar salad as well as chicken and fish mains. There are many starter and sharing ideas too for those of you who are starving enough to manage more than a filling steak. My companion and I shared a portion of Nachos topped with all the garnishes. It came to our table straight from the grill, still warm with the gooey cheese still melting. After five minutes I had to place the bowl at the opposite end of the table, knowing that otherwise I would keep munching leaving no room for anything else (portions are very generous at Steak & Co).

We treated ourselves to the fillet steak that comes in three size options from a more petite 8 oz to a great hunk of meat at 12 oz. I felt quite animalistic making my way through my steak. It was the highest quality meat and was so delicious I just managed to finish my portion. A huge variety of butters and sauces are available – in the name of market research I tried the garlic butter and pepper sauce, both very rich. I found the sauce a little too creamy but with a nice warm flavour. To accompany we ordered the french fries, which tasted beyond amazing, coming in a cute little wire cooking basket, and tomato and red onion salad which was tangy and fresh, a nice addition to the otherwise heavy meal. Needless to say we were too full for dessert, despite almost being persuaded by the tempting choices.

Steak & Co isn’t cheap, and to some extent I’m sure you are paying for the convenient central location. The cheapest steak is £16.95, which seems a little pricey, though I can guarantee service and quality of food will meet the highest expectations.

Find all Steak & Co info here.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Black Swan at The Ritzy in Brixton

I promised myself I would be brave for Black Swan, I was going with two boys so had to be to avoid massive embarrassment!

Director of ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and ‘The Wrestler,’ Darren Aronofsky presents us with a new psychological thriller that exceeds all expectations. Starring stunning Natalie Portman in her most impressive performance to date, this is a must-see. The story revolves around a production of the famous Tchaikovsky masterpiece Swan Lake at the prestigious New York City Ballet. In this version the leading ballerina must dance as the white and black swan showing the contrasting personalities with equally convincing power and compassion. Nina (Portman) is a perfect white swan, but Lily (Kunis) is a better match for the fearless black alter ego. We watch as Nina struggles to embody both personalities, fighting forces within herself to reach a terrifying outcome.

We decided to see the film at the Ritzy cinema in Brixton. I always glanced at this arty venue from my passing bus and was intrigued about it so was glad to be finally visiting. Turns out this is the place to be on a Saturday night in Brixton, the building was packed and with good reason, the Ritzy seems to have it all: great food, casual bar area, and best of all fabulous old school screens for showing films.

The film itself is horrific and magical at the same time. Showing the beauty of the ballet entwined with a shocking story of mental illness, a twisted tale that at times is too gruesome to watch. Portman certainly does throw herself into the role, I didn’t doubt her character for one moment, and her dancing is quite sublime, especially considering her non-ballet background. Aronofsky’s vision is quite beautifully realised with every detail attended to. There are parts towards the end that I couldn’t watch and I heard squeals around the auditorium from other spectators having a similar reaction. Warning: this is not a film for the faint-hearted, but if you can bear it, it is a wonderful piece of cinema.

And with Black Swan comes a sudden increase in ballet's popularity. It seems the Royal Opera House has cleverly cashed in on this opportunity staging Swan Lake at the time of the film’s UK release. Tickets have completely sold out for the entire run, an unusual occurrence for the ROH, I can only guess it is due to the film’s success.

Book tickets to see something at The Ritzy here.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Woody Sez at The Arts Theatre

Calling all folk fans and musicians... this show is for you! In fact I think anyone who appreciates music will enjoy Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre. This new musical explores the life and music of folk icon Woody Guthrie. Known more often as the man who inspired and mentored Bob Dylan, we now meet Guthrie as a legend in his own right, which is how he deserves to be remembered.

I took a module on Guthrie and Dylan at university, probably my favourite topic the whole three years I was there. The intrinsic link between music and history makes Woody’s music magically moving and very real. I went to see the show on a Monday, not the most popular night for theatre trips. Sadly the auditorium was half empty; such a waste considering the massive surge in folk music's popularity recently. Perhaps this is a result of little advertising - had I not poked around I too would have been oblivious to this gem of a show.

It is the four passionate performers that make this production outstanding. Aside from being very talented multi-instrumentalists they have a Guthrie wisdom and an infectious joy that make the audience immediately feel at ease; consequently it is impossible not to listen to and enjoy their journey. The stage is simply set, with a backdrop of Woody photos and instruments of all shapes and sizes lining the sides of the platform, I counted twelve in total.

There is a real fluidity about the show: the performers frequently switch characters and yet the whole story is effectively united with a long list of songs. Woody is played by the musical director and writer David M Lutken. Lutken is obviously a specialist in the subject and a very charismatic performer. The script features thirty-four Guthrie songs, but with intros and encores the final number is more like forty! Lutken sometimes sings and occasionally speaks the lyrics almost like a monologue. Every song is performed with an energetic bounce and a kind of humour, it is beautiful to see and hear. Darcie Deaville and Helen Jean Russell are wonderful as the female cast members. Folk music lends itself to harmonising and they create wonderful nuances with their voices. The flaws in a performer’s voice can be what makes it most beautiful. Music was definitely much more emotional before auto tune was invented!

David Finch (Andy Teirstein’s alternative) was hilarious as the fourth cast member. He played everything from classical violin to spoons - which I have never been lucky enough to see before - let me tell you it is quite staggering to watch. He plays various characters through Woody’s travels, and to each part brings a new personality, it was great fun to watch.

At 9.30pm on Saturdays (after the evening performance) they hold a jam session in the foyer for everyone and anyone. I was quite honestly blown away by this show, and urge you to visit this musical tribute before its limited run is over. Woody Sez introduces a cast not just of performers but of devoted musicians, their verve made this show one of the best off-West End productions I have seen in a long time.

Woody Sez continues until April 2nd at the Arts Theatre, book tickets here.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Leslie Jordan: 'My Trip Down the Pink Carpet' and After Party at Cafe de Paris

A few nights ago I experienced my first walk down the red (well pink) carpet. I thought the press night for Leslie Jordan’s show ‘My Trip Down the Pink Carpet’ would be just like any other press night – a few notable critics milling around and if you’re lucky a complimentary glass of house white in the interval, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were welcomed in by furiously flashing paparazzi, of course totally uninterested in me, but desperately trying to get a shot of the soap stars and other celeb guests.

Pocket sized Leslie Jordan bounces onto the stage, wearing a tiny suit - he looks quite adorable. He is best known for his role in Will And Grace, the American sitcom. This new show comes to London after a critically acclaimed twelve week run in New York City. The show has an impressive creative team behind it, including fabulous director David Galligan. Jordan certainly gives a fluent and self assured performance, not faltering for a second despite being on stage constantly for a staggering ninety-five minutes. And he doesn’t just recite either, carefully re-enacting hilarious stories and often performing uncanny impressions. He is talking about his own life, but is professional enough to never become overwhelmed by the content, this is not to say he doesn’t get emotional. The final moments, talking frankly about his time in rehab are quite moving, and brought a tear to my eye. Joyfully camp songs are interspersed in the script and during these moments Jordan dances and prances all over the floor with no embarrassment.

The audience surrounding me was made up of mostly overexcited gay men, including Pineapple Dance joker Louie Spence. After the performance we made our way to the After Party, at Cafe de Paris. I followed a very precious Paul O’Grady, who despite complaining seemed to love the attention he was attracting. I managed to get away with my sparkly Converse shoes at the Apollo Theatre, but at the Cafe I began to feel very out of place. On entering we were handed Lychee cocktails, and led downstairs where a sultry jazz band were playing. The place was lit up with twinkling pink fairy lights, and looked quite magical. The drink flowed freely, and while we sipped, mini American style canapés were circulated (tiny hamburgers, hotdogs, and fish and chips).

I was envious to notice a cordoned off VIP section where most of the more special celebrities hung out. However the main area wasn’t without drama, TV interviews seemed to be going on all around me. Once we had seen Lesley’s entrance, and done enough celeb spotting for the night we decided to leave, receiving our goody bags on the way out (old fashioned pink sweets, and a voucher for a complimentary steak meal for two). I left with a definite skip in my step.

Never has there been a more relevant time to use comedian Miranda Hart’s mother’s phrase ‘such fun’! This glitzy event was all that and more, definitely a night to remember.

My trip Down the Pink Carpet continues until 19 February 2011, book tickets here.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Lucrezia Borgia at The ENO

Lucrezia Borgia is rarely performed in its entirety, so it was exciting when The ENO announced they would be staging Donizetti’s strange opera. I had no idea what to expect from the piece, though previously received a less than complimentary review from a friend who attended the dress rehearsal, so I rather lowered my expectations.

The work, first performed in 1833, revolves around an oedipal relationship between a mother and son. Lucrezia’s estranged son returns but is unaware of his mother’s identity, and begins to fall for her and is flattered by the attention she shows him. Concealing her real identity until the final moments of the opera, the consequences of her vile pretence cause havoc.

This is, in some ways a beautifully traditional production. The set is dark and minimalist but with grand gilded elements that hark back to the Renaissance. Contrasting with this are four filmic interruptions. They are unexpected and definitely out of place in this opera house, but are gripping and beautiful and provide a helpful and histrionic back story about the Borgia family. The pieces of film are arguably the best thing about this production. Director, Mike Figgis is new to opera but shows his talent for film-making with these mysteriously alluring clips, shown on a huge screen.

I think the singing is exceptional from all the cast. Claire Rutter as Lucrezia and Michael Fabiano as her son Gennaro are breathtaking. The music is often very tricky and their efforts are commendable, they sing with real conviction and devotion. Rutter maintains her venomous character throughout, singing out the complex coloratura part with a gorgeous tone and immense power, her voice filled the giant auditorium. Elizabeth DeShong is completely charming as Gennaro’s friend Orsini, with long golden hair and clearly a girl, though dressed and referred to as male, her sex is confusingly ambiguous.

The chorus seems a little disorientated, wandering about the stage, seemingly without purpose. Perhaps this is not helped by conductor Paul Daniel who is better during the solo moments on stage, and seems a little weak to lead the ensemble numbers. Although I found this production puzzling, and at times a little static, the music is of the highest standard and is a pleasure to listen to.

This is a rare chance to see Donizetti’s melodrama; Lucrezia Borgia runs only until 3 March 2011, book here.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 37

The last ten years have seen the geeky Converse sneaker rise to international fame, featuring on some of the hottest feet around. But these are shoes not just for the stars - they are affordable, comfortable, and fashionable… and androgynous enough to be suitable for women or men. Adaptable to so many looks and ages, they are rivalled by no other footwear, not even the dreaded UGGs – you could say they are the shoe of our generation.

Most designers have had their turn at customising the classic design. Even desirable Louboutin have their own style of studded shoe that is undoubtedly derived from the Converse model. But though they try, no-one can beat the timeless original.

I always shied away from these trainers convinced they were unflattering and clunky on me. However a few months back, while browsing in the new Selfridges shoe heaven a pair of irressistably sparkly shoes caught my eye. Sequinned Converse, silver and glittering; I was captivated by them.

Needless to say I bought them, and have worn them everyday since. They don’t go unnoticed, random passers by notice my sparkly feet, and I’ve had many enquiries about them.

They aren’t easy to find but the occasional Office stocks them and they are available on their website here. Priced at £44.99, you get a lot of sequins for your money.

The classic Converse but with all the glitter, glamour and glitz a girl could need.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Seagull at The Oxford Playhouse

A chance to see Chekhov should never be missed... and so, when invited to see my friend in The Seagull at the Oxford Playhouse, I accepted, despite the inconvenient location and the fact that I was reaching near exhaustion.

I was picked up by car straight after work in an attempt to get to Oxford on time. We were immediately confronted by ghastly traffic crawling along at an excruciatingly slow pace. Taking deep breaths, the calmer passengers suggested we begin preparing for the worst – we may not make the first half. And yet, we did make it, with two minutes to spare, just in time to see the exciting raising of the curtain.

Chekhov's work explores behaviour and feeling, poignantly put in his statement: ‘All I wanted to say to people quite honestly was: Look at yourselves.’

On that premise we are introduced, in The Seagull, to a wildly enthusiastic writer who tries in vain to make his mark on the world. A tortured soul, he faces rejection from the two women he adores: his selfish melodramatic mother (once a great actress) and a young girl, Nina (aspires to be a great actress) with whom he is hopelessly in love and for whom he writes his scripts.

The student cast is exceptionally strong, with not a hesitant line spoken or a foot out of place. No-one can deny the talent of these young adults. I found the female characters particularly impressive. Bella Hammad is breathtaking as the young Nina, the writer’s sweetheart. She has a fresh unassuming beauty, and tall stature that makes her immediately striking on stage. Her final speech is mesmerising; she has the ability to stand still and portray the character’s despair with complete clarity, no movement is needed.

I also loved watching Ruby Thomas as the sullen Masha, she acts with a natural ease. Her voice is deep and moody and suits the role; wearing all black, she reminded me of the mysterious Wednesday from the Addams Family. Music graduate Laura Nakhla is tremendous as the mean mother Irina Nikolayevna Arkadina toying with the men in her life with hilarious malice and melodrama. Her voice didn’t seem to quite hold out, sounding a little weak at times, I wondered if she was getting ill.

Of the men, I was most enthralled by Matt Gavan as the old and weary Peter Sorin. Complete with his very own real beard and fuzzy hair, he looks just the part. I was told he used the walking stick around Oxford for weeks before the show to familiarise himself with it, and I have to say this bit of method acting pays off – he is scarily convincing as a senior citizen!

An amazingly professional production of a timeless classic, these are certainly young talents to watch out for. I am so glad I went.