Sunday, 24 May 2015

Meera Syal at the Royal Festival Hall

Last week I went to hear Meera Syal at the Royal Festival Hall - the event was supposed to be at the Queen Elizabeth Hall but was moved on the day to a space on the sixth floor of the Royal Festival Hall. The talk was to celebrate the publication of Meera's third novel, 'The House of Hidden Mothers' and was part reading, part interview with Maya Jaggi and part Q&A with the audience.

After a rather long introduction from the RFH curator of the Alchemy Festival and then from Maya (an award-winning journalist but, to me, any reown comes from being Madhur Jaffrey's neice), we finally heard from Meera. She read one of the opening pieces from the novel about two friends sitting in a cafe talking about surrogacy in India and how one of the friends is desperate to have a baby. That segment had all the wit, intelligence and naturalism you'd expect from Meera and the book sounds like it's going to be a good read.

After the reading Maya led off with questions about the themes of the book, about ageing, surrogacy in India, friendship, ambition and family. Meera was, as ever, thoughtful and intelligent in her responses, sprinkling in some humour to lighten the mood as she talked about the book and the background to it. There was a really interesting discussion about changes in India, the modernisation on the one hand and the continual poverty on the other, the shocks that some British Indians can face when they go 'home'. At one point Meera was asked whether she felt India or Britian was her 'home' and she chose Britain - she's a Wolverhampton lass after all.

There was the inevitable question about whether it was becoming easier to get non-stereotypical acting roles these days to when she began.  She said she longed for the day when that question was irrelevant and commented that Madhur and Saeed Jaffrey should have played Cleopatra and Lear but they helped pave the way for her generation. Maya mentioned that Meera had played Beatrice in 'Much Ado', a great production that I saw her in in the Olympic summer of 2012.

The new book is published in June but was available to buy after the session and Meera stayed around to sign it. There was a long queue for the signing and a few words but I got my copy signed. I couldn't help but mention that I'd seen her as Beatrice and had seen Zoe Wanamaker in the role a few years earlier but that I thought Meera played the role better (I said so at the time too). Chris asked if she'd ever thought about playing Cleopatra herself but she hadn't - now, I think Meera would be a great Cleopatra! Let's hope someone has the entirely sensible idea of offering her the role one day soon!

I'm looking forward to reading the book and doesn't it have a fab cover! The paperback of 'Ha ha Hee Hee' has been re-printed with a new cover in the same style and I think it would suit 'Anita and Me' as well. Good marketing but also helps create an individual style for Meera. Happy reading!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

'Woolf Works' at the Royal Opera House

'Woolf Works' is the latest production from the Royal Ballet being staged at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. That's a lot of 'royals' in one sentence. I'm not a big fan of ballet but, following on from the exhibition about Virginia Woold last year at the National Portrait Gallery, I wanted to see what they would do with a Woolf-themed ballet. And they did wonderfully well!

A lot of money has obviously been spent on the Royal Opera House. It has great access, thick carpets, great lighting and stairs, an incredibly light and airy champagne bar with an arched glass roof and, from my experience last night, some excellent staff (well done to whoever deals with customer care). It was a delight to be there (and I don't say that of every theatre I go to!). The main theatre space is equally impressive with seats with lots of leg room and, at least where I was sitting, great sight lines to the stage. Gosh, this is fun, I thought as I waited for the show to begin, having absolutely no idea what to expect other than there were three ballets and two half times. And that was part of the joy, the not knowing.

The lights went down and a voice starts talking about words, about how the English language is old and all the words have been out and about and used so often… and that was Virginia Woolf speaking, a recording from a radio broadcast she made in the 1930s. For there she was. Virginia was with us. Her handwriting was projected onto the stage that then coalesced into the classic portrait of the young Virginia Stephen in the National Portrait Gallery. This was replaced by old photos of London, starting with the street sign for Dean's Yard and moving up Whitehall and we were into 'Mrs Dalloway'. What a stunning and imaginative way to start.

The first performance was 'I Now, I Then' about 'Mrs Dalloway' with a bare stage with three giant wooden squares slowly, ever so slowly, rotating on their own axes. And on comes the 50 year old Clarissa waiting for her party and joined by her younger self, dancing together and apart. We meet Peter Walsh, again an older and younger version and, of course, Septimus and Rezia all taking turns centre stage, dancing in-between the turning buildings with lots of walking and moving around London as in the book. And what a joy to have Sally Seton bound onto the stage to interrupt Clarissa's dance with her younger self, the elfin free-spirit that is Sally. We don't see the mature Sally, the mother of five 'strapping boys', she is always the girl who stole a kiss and created possibilities.

Round and round they go, the clock ticking and the music carrying them forward. Septimus dances with Rezia but then his old army comrade appears, his dead comrade that only he can see, and the tone changes. Sweeping on and off stage, keeping the tale moving, going on towards a party because there is a party y'know. Old and young Peter taking their turn, with older Peter wearing a jacket so he has a pocket to keep his pen-knife in. And still the giant wooden squares turn and the clock ticks and London life continues as it always does.

And the lights went out and the curtain came down and I clapped and clapped, waiting for those magical creatures on the stage to come out for their rightful applause. The curtain stayed down so we headed to the big bar (obv).

Half an hour later we were back in our seats for 'Becomings' or the tale of 'Orlando'. Orlando is a young man who turns into a woman against an Elizabethan backdrop of courtly intrigue and opulence, frost fairs on the Thames and Russian aristocrats dropping pearls like lice. Orlando wakes up as a woman and travels through the centuries, immortal and eternal. Most of the dancing is in male/female pairs, showing the duality of nature, sometimes energetic and wild and other times slow and stately.

The music was excellent in this section, mixing classical and electronic with one movement building to a crescendo that I could feel in my stomach and made me look around expecting the plaster to start dropping from the ceiling and walls. It didn't. But as the play progressed the dancers wore less and less, moving from the gold Elizabethan costumes to wearing grey body suits.

Time passes and there are star bursts on the stage with high spotlights shining down from the stars through which the dancers leap and pose in a  wild frenzy, quicker and quicker as you try to take it all in and utterly fail. It was most spectacular and a great way to send us out for another 30 minute interval while the stage was reset for the final ballet.

'Tuesday' was the final section and was from 'The Waves', a bare stage with a big image of waves crashing onto the shore above the stage. The constant movement of this section, along with the music, imitating the movement of waves crashing and lolling about, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, doing as they please and as the tide dictates. Dancers slowly emerging from the darkened back of the stage, dancing and interacting before moving back and disappearing into the dark. At one point the stage was full of children playing in the sand and surf and then they move on to be replaced again by waves.

It was the shortest of the three ballets but possibly the most affecting due to the constant wave-like movement that sticks in the mind. The dancers running out in a raggedy line and the slowly moving backwards a few steps, just like waves, as the tide gradually recedes and the dancers move two steps forward and three steps backwards, gradually disappearing in the gloom at the back of the stage. It was mesmerising. And then it was over and time to clap clap clap as we were finally allowed to pay tribute.

Wow. I was stunned. I was drawn in in a way that doesn't often happen in the theatre but these folks did it. I was thinking this morning on the way to work, to the mundane after the magic of last night, what is ballet? It's dancing, obviously, but it's so much more. It's the entire experience of being in that theatre at that time with all those people both on and off the stage. It's the scenery and staging, it's the costumes that illustrate the story, it's the lighting and music that help to transport you… and the dancers.  It's everything put together in the right measures and that is Art.

I loved the whole thing. The first thing I did on getting home was to go online to see if there were tickets for future performances and sadly (for me) there aren't. It's sold out. But I'm pleased to be able to see that I saw the sixth ever public performance of 'Woolf Works' by the Royal Ballet - yes, the programme is that detailed. It was choreographed and directed by Wayne McGregor and the excellent music was by Max Richter and I will be watching out for them in future. Thank you.

I saw magic in that there Royal Opera House and I will return.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Joey Ramone's Records

Louder Than War has reported that Joey Ramone's record collection is up for sale. I saw that and thought 'what?'. Then I thought I'd click and take a peak. Then I thought 'WHAT?'

Joey is a great hero who left us too soon so it's interesting to see what records he collected and played. And what an odd collection - so typical! He had records by David Essex, Marvin Gaye, Pat Boone, Led Zep, Herman's Hermits, The Kinks, The Marvellettes, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Sweet, T.Rex, and Toots & The Maytals amongst a host of others.

And two records from an up and coming beat combo called SLADE! 'SLADE Alive!' and 'SLADE in Flame' feature in the list of Joey's  records that are available for sale. I, of course, already have the original vinyl (and CDs) of both records. I'm quite pleased he had 'SLADE in Flame'.

It would've been fun to sit down with a cuppa and talk records with Joey.

Monday, 18 May 2015

'What The World Needs Now...' is more PiL

Public Image Limited has announced a new album and tour in the autumn. Totally out of the blue. John Lydon has been travelling round promoting his new book ('Anger Is An Energy') so when he's had the time to write and record a new album is anyone's guess but it's scheduled for release on 4 September with a single due on 21 August. Excited? I should co-co! Full details are here.

Here To Be Heard - The Story of The Slits Kickstarter

I could so easily have missed this Kickstarter but luckily (and thanks to Amanda Palmer) I didn't. A documentary about The Slits is almost finished but needs funding to support editing and post-production - watch the video to see what this is about!

We see Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt and Palmolive of The Slits, Steve Cook of the Sex Pistols, Dennis Bovell, hear Don Letts, oh, they're all in that teeny clip. We even see Budgie and what a lot of hair he still has! Imagine what the full documentary will be full of! This will be required viewing after reading Viv Albertine's book!

What are you waiting for - click here and back it! It's important to keep this story alive for the future.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Sargent at the National Portrait Gallery

I went back to see the Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on Friday evening to find it pleasantly busy but not overly so. I saw the exhibition of his portraits of friends and artists when it opened so it was nice to go back again and relive some of those paintings. This time I was in a slighty more lyrical mood and wanted to know more about the sitters. Most of which I just made up as I wandered round.

The poster boy is, of course, Dr Pozzi, relaxin at home in his full length scarlet dressing gown. The nadsome man saying, 'Who? me?' with his lace ruffles and carefully combed hair and beard and his hands placed just *so*. His dressing gown is so much redder than in this picture, it leaches the blood out of you to enhance his vitality. I also like the one slipper we see under the dressing gown. O yes, doctor, you know who you are.

Another painting full of back-story is 'La Carmencita', a portrait of a Spanish dancer. Full-sized and hung above head height, her eyes look down on you and you just know she is saying, 'adore me'. What is your function in life other than to adore me? She's noted in the guidebook as being a demanding and restless sitter and you can tell that. She's not going to remain still for long, not in that sparkly frock. She must be thinking that there must be men out there somewhere for her to seduce rather than standing for this portrait and they won't be able to help themselves. I've no doubt she was an expert at slapping too! Adore me, she demands. And I do!

Of course, the exhibition isn't just about portraits, it's also about Sargent's friends, some of whom he went on painting trips with. After a room of dark, formal portraits in the late 1800s there'sa room of light and airy paintings set outdoors and there are some lovely paintings in this room. One of my favourites is 'The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy', which is also used on the cover of the catalogue for the exhibition.

It's a marvellous painting and the lady painter's dress and coat just radiate out of the painting - I walked to the far side of the room to see if it had the same effect and it did. The woman (Jane deGlehn) carefully painting something we can't see while her husband Wilfred watches. His languid pose is perfect for this painting since they're on holiday and he's relaxing. The brush strokes are marvellous and the paint mounts up to emphasise the white on white of her coat and skirt as she paints while the garden and fountain does its stuff around her. Her satchell is at her feet and she rests on a stool beside her easel. I'd love to see what she's painting but there's no hint here. I wonder if she got crotchety when the breeze changed and the fountain sprayed across her canvas or whether she thought nature was enhancing her art? I suspect the latter.

Another painting I loved was 'Group With Parasols' which shows a group of Sargent's friends snoozing in the sun in an Alpine meadow. I'm not sure what it is about this painting that attracts me but I love the entangled limbs and careless sleepiness of the four friends. Lazy times indeed.

The exhibition is only on for another couple of weeks so, if you haven't already seen it, make your way across London to glory in these paintings.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

'Bomber's Moon' at Trafalgar Studios

We went to see a new play, 'Bomber's Moon' in the rather bijoux Studio 2 at the Trafalgar Studios on Whitehall. Why? Why not. New plays have to get off the ground somehow and this one has James Bolam in it, a Geordie lad and a Likely Lad who I've never seen on stage before so why not?

There are only two roles in this play - a cantankerous old man in sheltered housing who was a bomber in the Second World War and still has vivid dreams about his experiences and his daily carer who comes in to make sure he takes his tablets, eats and exercises. James Bolam is (of course) the old man and Steve John Shepherd plays the novice and nervous carer. This play gives James the perfect opportunity to let his (not so) inner grumpy old man out along with some rather graphic language that had the audience laughing our socks off - was it hearing fcuk and cnut on stage or it coming out of his mouth that was so amusing? Whatever, James's comic timing hasn't been hurt by the years at all. He's a rude old man!

It's a small play with big themes of war and love and of men of different generations learning about each other and the pressures they face. What makes them tick and how do they respond to changing circumstances? Death closes in on the old bomber while the impact of divorce hurts the carer. There are, of course, some twists and turns in the play but it's a good laugh-out-loud play with some more serious themes.