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Friday, 30 September 2011

Rock of Ages, Shaftesbury Theatre

New musicals are cropping up all over the West End, some more alluring than others. Rock of Ages is similar in structure to ‘We Will Rock You’ – a vague narrative created around a list of hit songs. It is certainly a fun night out - in fact, I’m not sure I can remember laughing so much at the theatre; whether this was the producer’s intentions though I’m not sure.

Set on the famous Sunset Strip, a typical love story emerges amidst the grungy Rock scene. The 80s nurtured some of the greatest and most successful rock artists of all time and their legendary music is brought back to life by this energetic and passionate cast. It stars Justin Lee Collins and X-Factor winner Shayne Ward among the celeb singers, both exceeded my expectations, singing, dancing and acting with professionalism and wit. A tiny Amy Pemberton takes on the role of Sherrie, bubbly and cute she certainly looks the part, but the Rock genre doesn’t bring out the best in her voice. The other half of the love interest is a handsome Oliver Tompsett playing Drew: though slightly wet and weedy, vocally he is great.

I was a little disappointed that this show made fun of itself so much, rather cheapening the production and the overall effect. Everyone was given complimentary lights on entry and to be held aloft, much to our entertainment, during the slower ballads. Visually the team have gone all out, it is hard to know where to look - the auditorium transformed with the elaborate set, outrageous costumes, and fabulous glitter and confetti showers.

During the crazy ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ finale we decided that this is the perfect show for a hen or stag night - I guarantee you’ll walk out smiling, but if you are after a more impressive musical theatre experience, there are better shows out there to choose from.

Visit ROCK OF AGES website here to book.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Yes Prime Minister, Gielgud Theatre

I wish I had watched some of the ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ TV series, because at the play I felt I was missing something; most of the chuckling audience were obviously in on the cult. This political farce seems to keep reappearing on Shaftesbury Avenue, which makes me think that it must be very popular with the British public. It's back for a final run at the Gielgud Theatre - I went to see what all the fuss is about.

Having visited Chequers myself (!) I was pleased to see that the set replicated the venue accurately, a well to do living room with vast bookcases and lots of shiny mahogany. The action takes place solely in this room, where Sir Humphrey Appleby (Cabinet Secretary), Jim Hacker (Prime Minister), Bernard Woolley (Principal Private Secretary) and Claire Sutton (Special Policy Advisor) all debate a ridiculously silly conundrum, a dispute which lasts pretty much the whole duration of the play.

Political stereotypes are milked excessively and blatantly so that even I, a political dunce, could laugh at the crude jokes. I must admit, some parts are very funny, and for a fan of the TV series I imagine this provides a great night out. It is also worth mentioning that I was put in a bad mood by the unbearably hot temperature of the theatre. At first I thought I must be getting ill, but during the interval I heard numerous other guests complaining, and throughout the second half doubling up the programme as a fan was the only way to go. The actors seemed to be suffering too, I can only imagine how hot they must have been on stage.

The acting was good throughout with a particularly memorable performance from Chris Larkin as the stammering Bernard Woolley. Simon Williams too gives a smooth and charismatic rendition of Sir Humphrey, tackling the fast wordy passages with gusto and getting the majority of the laughs. Richard McCabe as the Prime Minister is full of energy, though at times reminded me of a hyperactive teenager.

Yes Prime Minister continues until 19th November, book here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Passenger, ENO

The Passenger is a bleak story, but through the medium of opera it resonated with the audience last Wednesday to the extent that by the end many were on their feet applauding, touched by the melancholy account. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel ‘Pasazerka’ by Auschwitz survivor Zofia Posmysz, it is brought to the stage by librettist Alexander Medvedev and composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg, and translated into English by Professor David Fanning, a lecturer who taught me at Manchester University!

I went along to the UK Premiere at the ENO to witness this dark work for myself. Set in the early 1960s and focussing on the after-effects of the Holocaust, it is unsurprisingly a heavy night. Johan Engels’ set is marvellous, a symbolic white ship that beneath the decks reveals a dark and dusty camp, home of the tortured prisoners. This visual juxtaposition is intensely shocking and makes the narrative even more appalling.

The opera documents an encounter between two women – one is a former Auschwitz guard, the other a former prisoner. We watch the story unfurl in the camp, while in the present (fifteen years later) they unexpectedly meet again on a boat to Brazil, provoking feelings of guilt, terror, sadness and revenge. The action darts back and forth between past and present.

Weinberg’s music is challenging and unexpected, and demonstrates a mix of influences. Expansive and complex, I was amazed by the fluency of the orchestra and conductor (Sir Richard Armstrong). I was most moved by the folk tunes in the second half, especially the a cappella Russian song by Katya (Julia Sporsen). Vocally the cast are tremendous, and particular mention must go to leading ladies Michelle Breedt (Liese) and Giselle Allen (Marta) who both sing superbly, making the impossibly difficult and discordant music beautiful and powerful.

Weinberg’s The Passenger is a modern masterpiece and the ENO delivers a staggering experience. I hope this opera gets the recognition it deserves, the massive effort and dedication is clear in every aspect of this production.

The Passenger continues until October 25, book here.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

‘Forests, Rocks, Torrents: Norwegian and Swiss Landscapes from the Lunde Collection’, National Gallery

I only had a very quick whizz around the ‘Forests, Rocks, Torrents’ exhibition at the National Gallery, an intimate show of Norwegian and Swiss Landscapes from the Lunde Collection. It is a serene room of misty and evocative paintings, exploring the vital role that landscape painting played in European culture 150 years ago.

Swiss and Norwegian artists are completely unknown to me, I couldn’t name one... apart from Klee... isn’t he Swiss? Turns out they are rather talented, well at least the few showcased in this exhibition are. In particular I discovered and liked the work of Alexandre Calame (1810-64) known as the father of the Swiss tradition and Thomas Fearnley (1802-42) student of Christian Dahl, the apparent ‘inventor’ of Norwegian landscape. Both produced wonderfully naturalistic and atmospheric paintings, many of which are on display here.

Though the paintings are beautiful and in pristine condition, it was a shame to see many framed in such clumsy heavy and often unattractive frames, quite a distraction from the quality of work. The works shown are exemplars of the Romantic, I couldn’t help imagining the characters of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights amongst the wild forests and gushing rivers. I often find I am dissatisfied viewing just landscapes but this show was unique and exciting.

I must take this opportunity to apologise to the poor man I asked to direct me – I was wrongly told (via text) to go to the Sublet room, and when the usher looked confused I scolded him for not knowing his place of work properly, turns out I was needing the Sunley room, which despite my rudeness he directed me to kindly after discovering the phone error, sorry.

Visit National Gallery website here.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 70

To call Alexa Chung’s newest collection for Madewell ‘sought after’ is an understatement, the US website crashed when the items went live because of the purchasing onslaught. The Americans clearly love our British fashionista as much as we do - this is the second collaboration between Madewell and Chung and everything is selling out fast.

The campaign was shot in Austin, Texas because of its Deep South landscape and "roadtrip feel”. The collection has a laid back but pretty look, and includes high waisted leather mini skirts, silk pyjamas, and even a coat inspired by the bin men in the UK. I particularly love the palm tree print, blue and brown dress that Chung wore to the opening paired with the sassy suede jacket and amazing leopard print booties.

At the launch party in LA, Alexa wasn’t the only celeb wearing her designs, Elle Fanning and Dianne Agron were also publicising the brand with their cute outfits. I browsed through the collection on the website and would happily add every single piece to my wardrobe, only problem is... it’s only available in America (or on the US website) so postage is a fortune and it’s pretty difficult to try on and send back.

There are so many girls out there who dream of possessing the secret to Alexa Chung’s style, I know I’ve been envious at times, well now here’s your chance to own a little bit of Chung charm.

Visit the Madewell website and see Alexa’s collection here.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Pink Runway cocktail, with Pink Pigeon at CIRCUS

LFW has seen a week of celebrations and parties; on Friday I was invited to Circus in Covent Garden to try the extra special LFW Pink Pigeon cocktail. The venue is super exclusive and mimics the speakeasy bars of the prohibition to be found in New York. Initially we walked straight past, there is no sign or obvious entrance just a very inconspicuous brown door. Despite its plain exterior, Circus isn’t afraid of being in the spotlight and is often featured on TV, most recently in The Apprentice, when the winning team were treated to a special performance here.

I was amazed by the interior's glitz and glamour - it is an expansive space decorated luxuriously. Sequins flicker on the walls and silver balls dangle from the ceiling. In the main room a huge banquet table stands at which special guests may dine and for the extravagant acts to perform on, and around. We managed to catch one of the nine shows of the night, a talented and cheeky hula hoop dancer showing off his skills while stripping for the giddy audience.

The cocktail of the moment, named the Pink Runway and priced at £9.50, is made from Pink Pigeon Rum with chilli, grenadine, lime juice, pineapple juice & topped with ginger beer. It has been created specially for the trendy LFW crowd. Ten per cent of sales go directly to the Ethical Fashion Forum, a non profit organisation dedicated to the cause of a sustainable future for fashion. It is certainly a grown up drink with a warm vanilla taste from the sweet infused rum along with a fierce kick from the chilli and ginger beer. The lovely chief mixologist, who created this cocktail himself, came over to chat and talk about the different components and the art of cocktail making. He gave us a taster of the Pink Pigeon neat encouraging us to identify the flavours, which we got all wrong until prompted with the right answer, vanilla! We were also offered a delicious coconut and mango pudding to share while we watched the show.

This trip was a wonderful introductory taste of this lavish venue; I hope to return to Circus soon to report fully on the unique cocktails, exciting food menu and adventurous performing acts... watch this space!

Visit CIRCUS website here.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

London Fashion Week, Somerset House

London Fashion Week comes around twice a year: February/March for the Autumn/ Winter collections and September/ October for Spring/ Summer. The incongruity with the current weather conditions makes this a little bizarre. On Saturday as the elite few watched the models showcasing the new summer clothes on the catwalk, the majority of us were getting drenched by the chilly September rain - summer and all the flouncy outfits it brings felt very distant.

As one of LFW’s bloggers, I was invited to attend Somerset House to explore the exhibition and take part in the fashion mayhem. I was immediately struck by how incredibly inventively everyone was dressed: velvet drapes, crazy shoes, beautiful bags, patterns and materials, accessories and garments of every kind - fancy dress that actually works and looks good. Photographers were out in force lining the cobbled square of Somerset House snapping away at everything and anything that moved!

We spent a good few hours walking round the exhibition, which showcases the work of some fabulous designers, old and new. My friend and I were in seventh heaven, frolicking in what felt like a giant dressing up box of goodies. Thank God the items weren’t for sale – I would have spent a fortune.

The accessory designs were the highlight for me, some so incredible that they’d complete even the plainest of clothes. Cleo B had an outrageous collection of funky shoes and footwear accessories - pom pom and diamond clip brooches to jazz up tired ballet shoes, as you can see from my photo. Colour was everywhere, and like a magpie I was drawn in by the glowing neon. Sarah Angold’s futuristic bracelets were lust-worthy as well as the beautiful bright hair accessories from Fred Butler.

In fact, there were numerous jewellery stalls: Tatty Devine with a particularly juicy array of head dresses and necklaces, and Zoe & Morgan showing off their beautiful gothic range. Clothes varied enormously in price and design; luxury handmade cloaks, retro inspired swimwear from Paolita and gorgeous silk shirts caught my eye.

I wore my favourite patriotic outfit, a vintage union jack dress, and after a trip to the paperself stall for some free paper eyelashes, I felt a little more fashion week appropriate. Hopefully my photos illustrate the qualities of LFW: fresh, innovative and exciting... fashion at its very best.

Visit the London Fashion Week website here.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Elixir of Love, ENO

I absolutely loved this production of Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’. Never have I walked away from an opera production with such a spring in my step and smile on my face, it was simply delightful. Legendary director Jonathan Miller rarely disappoints and here he exceeds all expectations, reviving his popular production of this comic classic.

Set in the 1950’s, inspired by the era of Marilyn Monroe, it feels as if Donizetti precisely intended this setting and time, the modernity chimes with the fun and flirty storyline and score. Designer Isabella Bywater presents us with her kitsch pastel scenery, Adina’s Diner stands illuminated in the centre of the stage, surrounded by sand and grit, not dissimilar to Grease the Musical's set.

It is a silly love story, but at least one that can be easily followed, and is made believable by the witty acting and obvious enthusiasm of the cast. Adina, cute and coquettish, flits about her diner admired by all the boys. A poor local man, Nemorino and a conceited visiting soldier, Belcore both lust after her, desperate for her hand in marriage, but Adina is carefree and independent and refuses them both. Meanwhile an eccentric doctor, Dulcamara arrives to sell his fraud portions to the townfolk. The confidence of the soldier eventually sways Adina and they arrange to be married that night. Nemorino is defeated and distraught and begs Dr Dulcamara for a love poison to win over Adina’s heart. Coincidentally, though the portion is only cheap booze, Nemorino inherits a fortune and becomes immediately popular. Adina realises her mistake - she does love Nemorino after all and they are united.

Sarah Tynan has the charm and attitude to make the perfect pin-up girl Adina, and isn’t lacking in the looks department either. With a peroxide blonde hairdo and a cheeky pink uniform she shakes her hips and isn’t afraid to flirt naughtily on stage. Her soprano voice is bright and clear, and she controls it well during the fiddly arias, running up and down the virtuosic passages with elasticity. She is surrounded on stage by a cast of talented men, Ben Johnson is brilliant as the lovesick Nemorino; with a gorgeous bel canto tenor voice he suits Donizetti’s music well. Andrew Shore is hilarious as the fraudulent doctor, witty and full of life, his acting and singing are commendable.

The orchestra provide a jolly accompaniment, conducted by a very young but dynamic Rory Macdonald. My only criticism would be the sound levels; at times the ensemble work is a little weak and quiet, getting lost amongst the rich orchestral score.
This is a truly fabulous production that is not to be missed. A charming romantic comedy that will woo every audience member.

Continues until 8 October 2011, book here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson, Arts Theatre

I already knew a bit about Dr (Dictionary) Johnson as my dad’s work was exhibited last year in his preserved London home now a museum, but I had no idea of the cult following his work engenders. When I went along to the Arts Theatre this week I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the audience, who all seemed very familiar with this genius’ work and words. The new play, A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson, plays on his witty remarks and many memorable quotes.

Only ninety minutes long it is adapted by Russell Barr, Ian Redford and Max Stafford-Clark from Boswell's ‘The Life of Samuel Johnson’ and ‘The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides’. We are introduced to Dr Johnson and invited to look in on his life. A sparse little living room is set up on stage with only a table and two chairs, an intimate setting for this cabinet work.

The play is performed more as a recitation than a performance. With very few props, it is a compilation of Johnson moments and is very wordy; at times I craved a little more action. The acting is beautiful throughout, with a particularly stunning rendition of Johnson by Ian Redford, delivering the lines with great aplomb and possessing a manic energy that feels appropriate for this fascinating character.

Due to illness, Russell Barr has had to pull out but a very competent Luke Griffin joins the cast, taking on the role of James Boswell and a staggering seven other parts. The poor man barely had a prop to define each character and instead had to work hard to distinguish with contrasting accents and mannerisms. The volume of lines meant at times, he was partly reading the words from his black book, a little distracting, but totally understandable in the circumstances. Trudie Styler has a cameo part towards the end of the show as Johnson’s greatest love, Mrs Hester Thrale, adding another dimension to the play, interacting well with the pair of men, making the final moments more dynamic.

A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson is a well structured memoir of a great man of literature, giving an insight into his unique legacy.

Continues until 24 September, book here.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 69

With London Fashion Week currently in full swing I thought I’d feature the work of a very special British designer as this week’s Hot on the Highstreet. As a member of this year’s LFW official press I have had an exciting juicy sneak preview of the Brit Fash Pack’s latest offerings, and there is much to be desired.

Christopher Kane is amongst the hot young established British designers showing at LFW this year. He studied at Central St Martins for six years before launching his own label when he graduated and has enjoyed success ever since. In 2009 he won the BFC British Collection of the Year Award at The British Fashion Awards. I have always been drawn to his unique use of colour and bold designs and this season is no exception.

It is his accessories that I am currently most intrigued by, neon purses, and aqua gel filled PVC clutches, they are fun and add a wonderfully wacky touch to a bland outfit, an injection of pop to a black evening dress. Priced from £295 upwards they don’t come cheap but they truly are one of a kind, and inimitable. Both are ideal for an evening out, and are fairly durable. The neon is made from laser cut leather, an intricate design that mimics lace. The PVC clutch filled with two different colours of aqua gel making it wildly innovative in its design. Buy Kane's accessories here on net-a-porter website.

Kane is definitely one to watch, and with his exhilarating use of bright colour he has got me hooked.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Giraffe Cafe, Wimbledon

The Giraffe Restaurant Empire seems to have taken over the world with its popular multicultural menu and fun enthusiastic vibe. But refusing to settle for any imperfections, the Giraffe team has recently reworked a few of the branches, introducing the new snazzier and healthier Giraffe cafe. I went along to try out the brand new eatery in Wimbledon.

Located just a short ride from the main train station and up into leafy Wimbledon village, the restaurant is easy to find. For me it is an area of London that brings back fond memories of working at Wimbledon Tennis in the summers, and visiting the bustling pubs here for an after-work drink. The Giraffe cafe suits this smart suburb and will, I’m sure, appeal to the discerning residents.

We arrived at 8 o’clock on a weekday and the restaurant was relatively quiet; I can imagine it is busier earlier on when the after-school hordes come in for wholesome snacks and smoothies. It is cosy and intimate especially where we sat towards the back and perfect for a relaxed meal. The decor is quirky with an informal arty feel.

Cucumber tinged tap water was immediately brought out to us while we pondered the menu. I have visited the predecessor, Giraffe restaurant, and much prefer this layout, though I’m sure the change will annoy some regulars. The menu is much much more precise, and thank God, because previously just about anything could be found on the menu, eclectic, global even, and completely overwhelming.

After a recommendation, we chose the edamame beans to share as a grazing starter. I wondered if they were going to be similar to the Wagamama variety, but they were far better coated in a sticky salty soy and chilli sauce. It was the perfect finger food to nibble on while gossiping and sipping our wine.

The mains require more careful consideration - a diverse menu of essential salads, seasonal favourites, curries and burgers. We opted for the basil chicken curry, with mint, basil and green chilli, served with brown rice, and the California chicken focaccia club sandwich, which is stacked high with avocado, rocket, tomatoes and tarragon dressing. The curry was light and fragrant, mild but filled with fresh flavoursome vegetables, delicious and healthy. The sandwich was just as good, a combination of tastes and textures, with quality ingredients, prepared with real attention to detail. We were also offered Giraffe’s speciality sweet potato fries, which we couldn’t resist - they were incredible, thin and crispy and soft and sweet inside.

A short break before pudding but then we were back on with an awesome banana waffle split - certainly the best looking dessert on the menu, and a portion of Jude’s vanilla frozen yoghurt. I’m all for low fat, but I didn’t much like the taste of the frozen yoghurt, drizzled in honey it was far too sweet and not very satisfying. The waffle however made up for it, stylishly stacked, it was a devilish treat and quickly hoovered up by us.

We had such a lovely evening at the Giraffe cafe that the time disappeared in a flash, and soon we were the only table left while the staff quietly cleared up around us. Whether you’re health conscious or not, the Giraffe cafe is a lovely restaurant to visit, with friends, family or a partner. It is a mean feat to pull off, serving tasty authentic dishes from all over the world, but the new Giraffe cafe rises to this ambitious challenge, and I predict many more Giraffe restaurants will be evolving into this savvy new style of cafe.

Visit the website and book a table here.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Charles Matton, 'Enclosures', All Visual Arts

Hidden away in once grotty King’s Cross is the All Visual Arts building, a pristine space that exhibits innovative and aesthetically intriguing collections. A wonderfully unique show has just opened here with free entry to the public: the first major retrospective of French artist, Charles Matton in an exhibition entitled ‘Enclosures’.

Matton spent the years from 1985 until his death in 2008 creating the most enchanting miniature rooms in boxes, replicas of real interiors and revisiting memories from his life as well as a few fabricated from his imagination. All thirty eight enclosures are painstakingly authentic, and created by Matton and his assistant to exactly 1:7 scale. Tiny mirrors, elaborate book shelves, hectic and messy art studios - each box is perfected to evoke a vivid and significant place. They are quite enchanting, and unlike anything I have ever seen before; they are, as Grace Glueck from the New York Times, puts it ‘a voyeur’s delight’.

Some of the boxes use double-sided mirrors, a wonderful invention that seems to create real magic within the boxes. We are unable to see our reflection when looking into the artwork but the tiny rooms surrounding are reflected -immaculately, creating a seemingly impossible illusion. I found the artist studios most awe inspiring. Matton uses such unbelievable detail to recreate the studios of famous artists such as Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti; torn newspapers litter the floor, paint pots lie discarded and miniature works of art sit half-made.

I have never heard of Charles Matton before, and was delighted to be introduced to his exquisite and poetic world in this lovely retrospective exhibition.

Continues until 7th October, visit the website for more information here.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Clip Joint Comedy night at The Camden Head pub

Comedy and I don’t usually get on… the pressure to laugh always deters me… however occasionally I do surprise myself by making the effort to go along to a comedy show, and more importantly enjoying it. Clip Joint wasn’t hysterical, but all in all it was a light hearted and amusing night, and for £4 a ticket the evening was, I think, a success.

The friendly Camden Head pub hosts exciting live comedy acts in a dark and cosy upstairs room. Clip Joint is a new act performed by Dougie Anderson and Iain Lee - it is a monthly show with clips of films and TV series that they find funny, talking and explaining the scenario, in the hope that the audience will share their amusement, for whatever reasons. On Friday they also brought along a special guest, Iain Morris creator of ‘The Inbetweeners’ and generally brilliant Comedy writer whose credits also include two episodes of ‘Flight of the Conchords’.

Anderson and Lee are fun guys, and it’s hard not to feel at ease with them. Both TV presenters, you can tell immediately that they are experienced and at ease performing and talking on cue. Despite the slightly strange layout (watching very random clips on a small TV on the stage) the hour long show felt relaxed and everyone in the mismatched audience seemed to enjoy it.

Unfortunately I think it would be impossible to describe the individual clips here, but take my word for it, they were the bizarrest, most incongruous things I’ve ever seen. Audience members are encouraged to bring along their favourite clips to share with the crowd, though our group was terrified and quiet. Eventually one regular confidently strode up to the video machine with a hilarious rendition of the Chicken Duck Monkey song by Mike Phirman. I’ve managed to find it on youtube, so I’ll leave you with this silly happy video now...

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Food for Thought, Vegetarian Restaurant in Covent Garden

Located in the heart of Covent Garden, Food for Thought first opened its doors to the hungry masses in July 1974. Ideally situated for a quick bite or pre-theatre dining and only minutes from Covent Garden tube, they offer simple nourishing bowls of vegetarian food, freshly and lovingly prepared. Menus change daily according to seasonal produce, and everything is priced very reasonably.

The little cafe is full of charm and personality, a quirky diner that has become a firm favourite for Londoners and tourists. My parents apparently often visited as students, and still enjoy eating there. I was taken aback by the immensely friendly service and lovely atmosphere, it is like a special little canteen, everyone packed in and having a good time. We had a good chat with one of the chefs, who furthered my enthusiasm for the place. I was reminded of New York where speciality eateries are plentiful and diverse.

After debating about the veggie lasagne or stirfry, the fruit crumble or salads (everything looked wonderful), we decided on the delicious homemade soup, a fragrant carrot and coriander, seasoned with a kick of spice. To accompany a heavy but delicious cheese scone, perfect for soup dunking or eating alone. As a busy blogger, I am always looking for unique little restaurants serving fresh and delicious food - a welcome change from the usual PRET sandwich. Food for Thought has character as well as a healthy appetising menu to satisfy any stomach.

Visit the website here, and pop in next time you’re in Covent Garden.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 68

Tom Ford is on a roll - fashion designer, film director and now progenitor of an entire line of luxurious make-up bearing his name. Already familiar for his sultry scents, last year he introduced a few limited edition products, including the most gorgeous lipsticks I have ever tried. This Autumn 2011 sees the launch of the whole make-up range, modelled in the campaign by Lara Stone and the designer himself.

After sampling the collection, I have decided on a few favourites, though it’s worth experimenting with the hues yourself to find the colours that exactly suit your skin tone and mood. I love all the lipsticks, they are all made from the most vivid pigments designed to really last all day long on your lips. Along with five from the original collection, there is a swathe of new shades to try. My favourite is Sable Smoke, a dusty pale pinky brown, that should compliment most skin types and work well day and night.

My must-have item though is the blusher in the extravagant shade, Flush. Appearing very orange off, it actually works wonderfully on, highlighting the cheek and providing a pretty but sophisticated peachy warmth. With summer over I feel the need to wear richer shades and the Tom Ford palette is perfect for flattering in the harsher winter light.

Exceptional quality and bold beautiful colours, I predict this range will be a hit.

See the range here, and buy in all good department stores.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Wool Week

Milly the Sheep

So we all know that 'fashion week's are coming up in many major cities, but who knew that this week is Wool Week in the UK? Well it is, and there are events and activities happening across the capital embracing all things woolly. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales initiated the Campaign for Wool, to make us more aware of the huge challenges facing the wool industry. It seems Wool Week has come not a moment too soon, considering the arctic September weather we are currently experiencing.

The highlight of the week is an exhibition titled WOOL MODERN launching at La Galleria in London – a celebration of wool in the 21st century. The show exhibits innovative wool-related pieces from iconic designers including furniture, art and photography, and taking a peek at the history of wool. There is also the chance to register to compete for an exclusive designer woolly handbag, thanks to Harvey Nichols.

My favourite thing about this event though is the woolly mascot that has been designed by MillaMia in honour of the week, Milly the Sheep! Complete with instructions, MillaMia hopes to introduce people to the world of wool with this fun and quick knit. Each furry animal can be customised with its own coloured scarf and is made from soft merino wool from John Lewis, or other yarn shops across the UK. Read the instructions to make your own Milly the Sheep here.

More information on Wool Week here.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Prom 69 at The Royal Albert Hall: Wagner, Rihm and Mahler, with The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Anne-Sophie Mutter

photos by: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

The Annual BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall are attended by thousands of music fanatics every year, they are a traditional part of the summer in London. While some lucky listeners are seated, hordes gather in the centre of the great hall, squashed tightly together desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the action. We were amongst the ‘prommers’, and arriving just before the curtain up had to contend with several very grumpy audience members while trying to eke out an inch of space.

On the menu for Prom 69 was Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin- Prelude, Act I’, Wolfgang Rihm’s ‘Gesungene Zeit’ (playing for the first time at the Proms) and after the interval, Mahler’s epic ‘Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor’. A diverse selection all played by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck.

Played well, Wagner is unbeatable in my opinion, and this rendition of the delicate Lohengrin prelude was spot on. The light airy music could have been lost in the huge Albert Hall, but the orchestra made it twinkle, adding energy and mythic magic to even the quietest passages. I felt soothed by the music, the ethereal depiction is deeply moving and in some ways healing too, a mesmerising start to the evening.

For the Rihm the orchestra were joined by soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, a virtuoso violinist who began performing professionally at the age of 13. Dressed in a striking turquoise dress (not that I could see much of her) she stormed through the exceptionally challenging modern composition, a piece that was written specially for her in 1991. A haunted fragmented melody makes Rihm’s music deeply unsettling, and I think the audience found it difficult to concentrate. Mutter seemed unfazed though, playing with ease and power, showing particular animation in the very high top notes. After the Rihm, Mutter treated us to a gorgeous piece of unaccompanied Bach; I think everyone was grateful to hear something a bit more tuneful from her.

Having battled throughout the first half jostled by bad-tempered prommers, we were kindly relocated to the stalls for the second part, to enjoy the Mahler from the comfort of a seat. The dramatic Symphony No.5 is unusually made up of five contrasting movements, and requires a massive orchestra. Honeck kept a strong hold over the ensemble throughout, guiding them efficiently through the music. I loved the percussion section, you could always tell when a climax was coming because the five timpani players would get up and walk up to their instruments like hungry predators. It was a tour de force, and though I far preferred the first few movements to the later, the whole piece was all consuming and wonderful to watch.

The 2011 Proms conclude this Saturday 10th September with a special programme of favourite pieces - see website for more information here.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Shu Uemura: Backstage Trends EVENT at Selfridges London, 30th Sept - 1st Oct

It is no secret that Shu Uemura is my make up brand of choice. Lush lashes, poptastic colours and the highest quality ingredients - in my opinion it is unbeatable... and the professionals think so too. If I was on a desert island, a bag of Shu goodies would be my luxury of choice, and then maybe I’d finally have the time to learn how to apply eye shadow.

My enthusiasm has intensified at the announcement of a very special Shu Uemura event taking place in Selfridges in Oxford Street... where you are invited to come along and learn all about this season’s hottest trends while being made to look and feel ravishing.

On offer will be hair styling, brow treatments, skin preparation, even a make-over... the perfect pre-party transformation. The event runs from 30th September to 1st October; to reserve your place call 0207 318 3962. Entrance is priced at £50, which is then fully redeemable on Shu Uemura products at the counter in Selfridges.

Make sure you’ve organised a special date for after your Shu make-over! And visit the website here to find your favourite items in advance. I can recommend the fantastic fake lashes.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Jude Law in Anna Christie, Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar’s production of Anna Christie is an almighty whoosh of emotion and power. Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 drama depicts a misty seaport where a fallen woman returns home to her father after fifteen years apart. Father and lover fight for her affections until her secret past life of prostitution is revealed, causing both to back away with equal measures of disgust and hatred. After a torturous few days where both seem intent on destroying her, she is forgiven and the situation is resolved. In fact at the conclusion little seemed changed from the opening scenes, but an important dilemma is left lingering, proposing Anna Christie as ‘the right kind of prostitute’.

I was overwhelmed by the imaginative staging and wonderful set - it is incredibly evocative, and the mock rainstorm is realistic enough to make you shiver in your seat. Visually it is a real treat, the stage evolves simply but miraculously from a musty bar to a wayward ship, helped by brilliantly moody lighting design from Howard Harrison.

There is no denying Jude Law is a great actor, and having never seen him on stage before I was eager to see his portrayal of Mat Burke, the muscular shipwrecked Irish broker. He is certainly not playing his usual suave role - here he uses a very different kind of charm to woo the ladies. Law quite literally throws himself into the part, rampaging across the stage and exerting huge amounts of energy; he manages to conjure up a deeply nuanced character that will convince any critic of his abilities.

Stunning performances are seen elsewhere too, I recognised the expressive face of Jenny Galloway immediately, having recently seen her in Cause Celebre and was delighted to watch her witty interpretation of Marthy Owen. David Hayman is sensational as Chris Christopherson, the sentimental father desperate to win his daughter back having abandoned her. But the real star of the show is Ruth Wilson, with her gritty depiction of Anna. She manages to be both vulnerable and tough and is startlingly striking in her cropped blond wig - she commands the stage, certainly an actress to watch for the future.

It is the wobbling accents that break the magic from time to time, and I had to suppress a giggle occasionally. Jude Law is the main culprit staggering between a heavy Irish accent and what sounds like a quirky Jamaican droll. Ruth Wilson seems to falter momentarily too with her tricky accent but David Hayman, though at times incomprehensible, manages to speak with impressive consistency throughout in his Swedish – English accent.

Anna Christie continues until 8 October at the Donmar Warehouse... beg, borrow or steal a ticket because they are all sold out.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Hot on the Highstreet Week 67

I have been reminded recently how important friendship is, which is why I dedicate this hot on the highstreet to all my lovely pals. Friendship bracelets have recently stormed back into fashion as the most in-demand accessory. Dana Levy has trumped everyone else with her stunning, brightly coloured woven bracelets adorned with diamante details.

Vogue featured her collection recently and I’ve seen her stuff elsewhere too, she's hailed as a ‘designer to watch’. London-born and Jerusalem-trained, Dana started out making yoga mats, eye masks and silk evening bags, decorated with charms before expanding to jewellery. All her work uses the same amulets and talismans and incorporates beautiful semi-precious stones and glass beads.

The Friendship bracelets are handmade to order and completely unique. I adore the exotic colour combinations, and am amazed that, unlike most thread bracelets, these have a clasp, which enables you to take them on and off easily and so preserve them better. They complement any outfit, and would look particularly good on a post-summer tanned wrist. Priced at £72, these bracelets are available on the Dana Levy website here, as well as at Liberty in London.

So to all my friends, I wish I could buy each of you one of these bracelets.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Tempest, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Trevor Nunn continues his season at Theatre Royal Haymarket with a feisty production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The renowned director follows his stunning production of Flare Path with this classic, magical tale, said to be Shakespeare’s last work.

It is a wonderfully imaginative play and with the right exciting staging can be quite a spectacle. On a remote island Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, desperately tries to transport his daughter back to her rightful place with all kinds of illusions and experiments. He has the help of Ariel, the spirit of the air, who here is a beautifully androgenous creature flitting through the air and dancing amongst the other characters. Prospero lures his brother, Alonso The King of Naples to the island, meanwhile daughter Miranda falls in love with Alonso’s son.

The staging dramatically spills over the edge of the platform into the lower boxes giving the whole setting an otherworldly feel. Impressive video design from Ian William Galloway and overwhelming sound by Paul Groothuis further adds to the magical effect. The music is wonderfully atmospheric, with several of the characters singing to melodies from composer Shaun Davey. I particularly liked Ariel's poignant countertenor voice.

Familiar film star Ralph Fiennes leads the cast with a striking rendition of Prospero. Despite recently watching him as the terrifying Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, here I felt automatically at ease with him - he presents the father figure as a man of great wisdom, strong yet serene. Miranda is taken on by Elisabeth Hopper, who holds her own next to Fiennes and there is some touching dialogue between them. Hopper manages to be youthful and naive while possessing a strength as well as a remarkably striking voice.

I don’t find this theatre the most comfortable; the chairs squeak insufferably, and on the night I attended a cold breeze made me shiver throughout. However it is worth enduring the conditions to witness this enchanting production of The Tempest.

The Tempest continues until 29 October, book tickets here.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Museum of Broken Relationships, Covent Garden

Museum of Broken Relationships can be perceived by every viewer differently, perhaps you will participate and donate an item, or you may prefer to just be a voyeur, listening to other people’s memories and stories. I found it touching and intriguing and strangely ethereal.

The exhibition is located in two tiny Covent Garden venues, beginning at the Tristan Bates Theatre on Tower Street. Amongst beautiful delicate paper cut-outs, lie discarded objects, each given to indicate a lost love, a remembered relationship, from people all over the world. Alongside the piece is a brief description, explanation or thought.

It is described by the creators as “a traveling exhibition revolving around the concept of failed relationships and their ruins. Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from failed loves, the Museum offers a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation: by contributing to the Museum's collection.” Conceived in Croatia by Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, the Museum has toured internationally, amassing an amazing collection.

Museum of Broken Relationships is an insightful exhibition that is truly unique and unlike anything I have ever seen before. Heartbreaking and memorable this show will make you laugh and cry, just like all good love stories.

A £3.50 ticket is valid for repeat visits within the week of purchase. Ends on September 4th 2011, visit the website here.