The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo Theatre.

The curious poster.

The curious poster.

Doing culturally things in the city.

I finally managed to catch the play this weekend! I know I’m very, very behind in my review for this one…writing it just over a year since it first premiered at The National. Nonetheless, I am going to write it anyway and share my wee thoughts. I apologise in advance if my thoughts are exactly what has been said by other reviewers, as I don’t know what they’ve said. (Thought I’d leave the play a surprise and not read any reviews, I’m just a dare-devil like that).

So, yet another critically acclaimed play written by Mr. Simon Stephens. If you live in, work in or have even visited London recently, you would have seen the bright blue posters. You can’t miss them – dotted alongside the tube escalators or plastered on black cabs. From the immense popularity and the fact that it is based on a GREAT book – I was expecting a fantastic play.

Mark Haddon’s novel of the same title is written from the point of view of Christopher Boon – a 15-year-old boy with a condition not specifically described. However, it hints at Asperger syndrome or Autism. He is a mathematical genius and takes everything literally, he can only function facts. Metaphors or things that don’t add up confuse and upset him. So, because the book is so focused from his point of view, I was interested to see how the transfer could be made. There was a risk that the transfer could come across as a ‘problem play’ addressing mental health. Rather than what the story actually is, which is essentially about dealing with and understanding people’s differences.

Stephens was obviously well aware of this risk and has thus created a brilliant adaptation. The stage is the most successful element, being designed like Christopher’s brain, gridded like a maths work book. It also changes into screens which reflect the workings of his brain; displaying multiple numbers or animating what Christopher (played brilliantly by Luke Treadaway)  is describing about how he is thinking. The back wall also doubled up as a chalk board which Boon used to work out equations and eliminate culprits for Wellington’s death.

Treadaway was equally as brilliant in the starring role of Christopher Boon. A difficult character to get right and Treadaway completely nailed it. The arrogance Treadaway unintentionally displays was brilliant. Treadaway kept me giggling throughout with his unashamed logic. When asked by his teacher Siobhan if he was happy with his A* for his Maths A-Level, he bluntly replied ‘Well, yes. It’s the top mark!’. On the other side of this, Treadaway was so lovable. When Christopher was upset or confused, he blamed himself and turned into himself. At times when he discovers things that factually don’t make sense I truly felt empathetic for him. It was more than connecting with Christopher on an emotional level, because he doesn’t really show any emotions. So, when he was confused, in a way it was more heart-breaking to watch than any of the other characters on stage, because he couldn’t process anything – neither emotions or logic.

When stage and mind combine...

When stage and mind combine…

All in all a brilliant cast! In particular Niamh Cusack playing Siobhan, Christopher’s mentor and the omniscient narrator of the play was brilliant. Likewise, Sean Gleeson as Christopher’s struggling father, Ed Boon, was so touching to watch. A man who seemed to be teetering on the edge of stress over-load, kept himself balanced through his unwavering love for his son. A lovely, tender moment occurs between father and son, where Gleeson helps a very distressed Treadaway undress and get ready for bed. That’s just one example of the beautiful relationship displayed between Gleeson and Treadaway on stage. I won’t ruin others for you.

So, Stephens continues to live up to his outstanding reputation. This play is most certainly one to add to his ever-increasing, and ever impressive repertoire of charming plays. I urge you to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time just for the fact that you will leave the theatre with a warm smile on your face.

Plus…there’s an incredibly cute puppy on stage at one point – see the play for this reason, if not for any other reason I’ve addressed above. It was adorable.

Port at The National Theatre

This review is a bit late, as for some reason I forgot to post it at the time. I just found it in my saved posts and wanted to share it.

This production ran from 22 January to 24 March 2013.

Watching Simon Stephen’s Port, directed by his trusty collaborator Marianne Elliott, is like flicking through a friend’s photo album. You see a series of moments – each one is self-contained, and in that small moment, you see one piece of the jigsaw that is their life. In that respect the play is quite beautiful.

So, through an episodic style, we follow the central character Rachael Keats over a fourteen year period. Rachael (Kate O’Flynn) first emerges as an energetic eleven year old, squabbling with her younger brother Billy (Mike Noble), and unintentionally agitating her mother (Liz White) whilst they are sitting in their cramped car after being locked out of their flat. The story moves to follow Rachael through her teenage years and early twenties, so in the last scene she is twenty-four and we see her moving on from Stockport; she’s beaten the troubles in her life that so heavily haunted her teenage years and early adulthood. O’Flynn obviously faced an extremely difficult challenge, showing Rachael’s development from childhood to womanhood. She handled it respectfully without patronisingly talking like a child, or throwing a “I am NOT YOUR SLAVE” inspired teenage strop. The play was incredibly touching and real at points; in particular, the conflict between Rachael and her father after the death of her granddad, was raw and choking to watch.

Yet, the play did have its downfalls. It was far too long. Most scenes were filled with two-hander conversations and not enough action on stage, a perfect example of this is the opening scene. Watching three actors in a car (one of which was in the back seat and not really visible) at the corner of the stage, and struggling to hear what they were saying, for what felt like half an hour, was neither entertaining or an engaging opening. What is more, the huge Lyttelton stage dwarfed the actors and forced them to unnecessarily move around it whilst they were talking. In particular, O’Flynn seemed to find it difficult to walk around the stage without flamboyantly lunging, jumping or running. For a play that is originally meant to be performed in the round, with a small intimate audience, perhaps the Cottesloe would have been more fitting…if only it wasn’t being renovated. To appreciate the tender harshness of Stephen’s writing, a smaller theatre seems essential, without it we can’t truly appreciate the characters; it appears this time Stephen’s language and meaning gets lost in those famously large National Theatre sets.

Jumpers for Goalposts at Watford Palace Theatre.

In collaboration with Paines Plough, Watford Palace is putting on Tom Wells’ new play, Jumpers for Goalposts until the 20th of April. He is one of the most promising new playwrights to have emerged in recent years; you may recognise him from his recent successes The Kitchen Sink or Me, As A Penguin. I initially assumed Jumpers for Goalposts would not be for me; a play about five-a-side football…yeah, no thanks. But, I was pleasantly surprised; it wasn’t what I expected at all. If you want to see a production that will make you laugh and give you a lump in your throat then Jumpers for Goalposts is the production for you.

The plot revolves around the hapless five-a-side football team, Barely Athletic, who are competing against other five-a-side gay, lesbian and bisexual teams in the Hull Sunday League. Other team names comically include, Tranny United and Lesbian Rovers. All the action occurs post-match in Barely Athletic’s changing room, we see the relationships emerge between each character and come to learn their individual sorrows or joys. Phillip Duguid-McQuillan as Luke was hilarious to watch, fidgeting awkwardly on stage when around his ‘crush’, Danny, and continually walking into the door that says ‘Pull’. Similarly, Geoff or ‘Beardy’, played by Andy Rush puts on a touching performance as the woolly hat wearing busker, trying to find the perfect song to play on the Gay Pride march. He covers up his own recent pain (the victim of a gay bashing) by charmingly caring for and helping the other members of the team.

Love's awkward young dream.

Love’s awkward young dream.

All in all, the whole cast were great; Vivienne Gibbs plays the team’s coach, Viv, who was kicked out of Lesbian Rovers for being too bossy. Mark Sutton plays her brother-in-law, Joe, who is teased for being the unfit, token straight guy of the team. Whilst Jamie Samuel plays Danny, discretely coping with his illness and its impact on his feelings for Luke.

Admittedly, parts of the plot were predictable, and a bit cliché. Yet, as the play’s core is so tender and funny, you can’t help but like it and look past the obvious to what Wells has successfully created. He’s created a series of real and warm relationships between five people. On the surface it may seem like your average “rom-com” but it is much more than that, Wells has convincingly crafted real people, not just stereotypes.

Running from the 5th till the 20th of April. There isn’t long left of its run at Watford Palace, but it will be performed at the Hull Truck Theatre later on in the year.

Go here to buy tickets for Watford: http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk/page/jumpers-for-goalposts#-About

The Triplets of Belleville: Reviewed.

A basic summary.

So, Madame Souza raises her grandson, Champion. She buys him a puppy, Bruno, because she thinks he’s lonely. She realises it is not a puppy he wants but a bicycle! Years pass by and we see Champion as a grown man, training for the Tour de France with the help of Madame Souza. On Champion’s journey round The Tour de France he  is mysteriously stolen, Madame Souza and Bruno follow his trace, leading them to the city of Belleville. Hmmm…mysterious. We see Madame Souza and Bruno roaming the streets of Belleville to find Champion. Whilst doing so…they meet the triplets of Belleville who help Madame Souza and Bruno to find Champion.

Now, I won’t reveal the details of the plot because I don’t want to ruin it for you, should you decide to watch this film. (Which I really think you should do).

Why is this film great?

The music. There is no speaking in this animation, dialogue is exchanged for perfectly fitting music – each individual score capturing the character, emotion or tone perfectly. A soundtrack filled with jazz, blues…and even hoovers. The best example of this relationship between image on screen and music has to be the “French Mafia’s theme”.We see a rectangular shaped spy, all dressed in black with shady glasses and a cigarette. He flicks pins into the road to cause a puncture to the passing car, then skulks off accompanied by a slow sneaky bass.

The characters. Chomet has crafted comical, but true to life characters. They are caricature-esque, through exaggerated appearances. The leader of the French Mafia has a bulbous red nose, which takes over his face when he is sniffing his red wine, and Champion has huge thighs from his cycling. Yet, little mannerisms, like Madame Souza pushing up her glasses and Bruno’s wagging tail, are combined with the exaggeration to create characters that are hilariously real.

Favourite Character.

Bruno – the hungry dog. Gaumless, generally confused and driven by the promise of food.

Favourite Scene.

I managed to find the scene on youtube. Here we see the triplets of Belleville, with the help of Madame Souza, performing at a cabaret quite a few years after their heydays.

This film didn’t change my view on the world, but it was funny. It is at times dark, I won’t ruin it for you…but all I’m saying is there are a few gun shots throughout. Yet, it is combined with humour, so what more could you ask from a film? It’s not going to drastically change your world, but it will make it more comforting. To know I can slide in this DVD, on an evening when it’s dark and rainy outside is a cosy comfort to me. It is one I will watch again.

Metamorphosis at The Lyric, Hammersmith.

17 January – 16 February 2013

Before watching this play I was unsure and slightly anxious as to how Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis would be staged. I had visions of flapping cockroach costumes or ‘movement as an expression of dance’. How do you stage a story that revolves around a man waking up one day finding himself transformed into a giant insect?

David Farr and Gísli Örn Garðarsson’s production, back for another run at The Lyric Hammersmith (the first run was in 2006), offers a painfully tragic representation of a man who becomes an outcast from himself and his family. Gísli Örn Garðarsson faced the challenge of playing Gregor Samsa, which he met with a performance of outstanding physicality and tender helplessness. Garðarsson scuttled along the walls of the stage, hung from the ceiling and crawled down the stairs; his performance was physically brilliant. Combined with the character’s miserable confusion and lonely exile to his small room, Garðarsson created a vulnerable Gregor Samsa that moved me to tears. Similarly, Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir as his sister Greta, and Kelly Hunter and Ingvar E Sigurdsson as his parents, played a suffering family unit living with a frustrating and shameful secret they can’t understand or live with.

The split level set allowed this exile of Gregor and conflict in the family to progressively grow on stage; one scene showed Gregor pathetically scratching his bedroom door for food, whilst below his family were ignoring his cries to entertain their possible new tenant, played by Jonathan McGuiness. This adaptation is beautiful, bringing out the heartbreakingly sad core of Franz Kafka’s original story; accompanied not just by a great cast, but by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ haunting music and Börkur Jónsson’s diverse stage design. The production is a must see before its run finishes on the extended date of the 16th of February.

Image

The dark secret above. Gregor hidden in the top part of the split stage.

Go here to buy tickets:

http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/metamorphosis/

My Bucket List of Indie/Independent films

A list of films I probably should have seen already/ I’ve always wanted to see/ Have been recommended to me.

To broaden my film knowledge horizon I feel there are a number, ten to be precise, of films I really want and probably need to see.  I’ve watched the indie classics, A Clockwork Orange, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting; to name a few, yet I feel they are only the tip of the iceberg. After looking through definitive ‘TOP 50′ lists, I feel I’ve come to a neat list of ten films I can’t wait to watch and review over the next few weeks.

1) The Triplets of Belleville. Directed by Sylvain Chomet. 2003.

The only image of The Triplets of Belleville I have wedged in my mind is that of three fat, middle-aged ladies riding a bicycle. The animation was caricature-esque and frankly, a little bit scary. I’d heard Jonathan Ross review it on Film 2003 and have been fascinated by it ever since. However, whenever I tried to find it in HMV or Virgin (back when it was still open); the sales assistants had either never heard of it and looked at me as if I was crazy or, it wasn’t in stock. So, gradually over time I forgot about it. It wasn’t until I recently watched The Illusionist (also directed by Sylvian Chomet) that it triggered the memory of three fat, middle-aged ladies riding a bicycle. With some frantic searching on google and eager clicking on websites I was re-united with the title again – The Triplets of Belleville. I can’t wait to watch this film!

The_Triplets_of_Belleville_615x3001

2) Being John Malkovich. Directed by Spike Jonze. 1999.

Simple Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men. Righteous Reverend Briegleb in Changeling. Crazed Osborne Cox in Burn After Reading. Who exactly is John Malkovich? Maybe this film will be able to give me the answers.

3) Sideways. Directed by Alexander Pope. 2004.

A film that affected the sales of wine must be very persuasive…

4) Requiem for a Dream. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. 2000.

A film intertwining different perceptions, each one addled by their individual drug addictions. Different story lines and perceptions interlinked are always good ingredients for a complex story, but adding the confusion of addiction and delusion will definitely make this an extremely thrilling storyline.

5) Apocalypse Now. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 1979.

A film that includes a reading of The Hollow Men by Marlon Brando – the notorious scene I’ve always wanted to watch.

6) Hunger. Directed by Steve McQueen. 2008.

An artistically shot film about the harsh 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes in prison and an acclaimed performance by Michael Fassbender. Another one on my “always wanted to watch” list.

7) Shadows. Directed by John Cassevetes. 1959.

A film that was very ahead of its time, displaying inter-racial issues in the 1950′s Beat scene of New York.

8) Donnie Darko. Directed by Richard Kelly. 2001.

A darker version of Harvey? Okay, I’ll give it a try.

9) Eraserhead. Directed by David Lynch. 1997.

After reading list after list of “The best of” or “top 100″, I found this one to always be in the top 10. I think the trailer says it all…it looks, to put it nicely, completely mental. Nightmarish? Probably. The advert alone freaks me out!

10) 127 Hours. Directed by Danny Boyle. 2010.

One of my favourite films is Trainspotting, so it made sense to include a film by Danny Boyle that I haven’t watched yet.

Will some, or all, of these films change my view on the world? Or, simply make for a wasted evening viewing? Only time will tell when I review each one of these films individually over the next few weeks!

Afternoon Tea – Chinese style.

Lychee tea with Star Anise for a christmassy feel

On a quiet residential road near Notting Hill, the beautiful Teanamu Chaya Teahouse exists, hidden amongst towering Victorian houses. The Teahouse is actually Pei’s (the owner) house and we were warmly welcomed inside his small and cosy kitchen area with five tables in it. On arrival, we were given a list of probably thirty teas to choose from. As you can imagine, it was an extremely difficult decision to choose the perfect tea. Which is why it was useful when Pei asked if we wanted any help choosing, which we definitely did! But, not before he asked us two questions. Firstly, if we ever got cold hands or feet, even in summer. It was asked to find out if we were a Yin or Yang person, of which I discovered, I am a Yin because I have continually cold feet and hands all year round. And secondly, if we have any flavour teas we particularly like, to which I answered chai. So, as a cold handed Yin who likes Chai tea, I was recommended the exotic Lychee tea, with an added star anise and cloves, for a chritstmassy taste. It was delicious! I will definitely be going back for that…and probably buying some Lychee tea leaves next time I’m there.

We ordered the Dim Sum which contained two dumplings (with a chilly on top that I ate whole, not quite anticipating the strength of the chilly, queue coughing fit and watering eyes) and a leaf parcel with soft, sticky rice and nuts. Again, delicious! For desert, a mango cake, with a runny mango sauce lightly drizzled over the top. Mmmmmm… interestingly, it appeared that there was no food already prepared, everything was made in front of us in the kitchen by Pei and his partner. So much care and effort was put into service, it was refreshing to see a service that is home-made and fresh – not forced or pretentious.

The presentation was delicate and detailed, every table laid out symmetrically and coordinated; attentive owners made the experience personal. After inquiring about how the chinese tea pots were made, Pei came over to our table to tell us how and gave us one of his books to look at which described the process of making chinese teapots. He even offered to translate the book for us, as it was all written in chinese. Time was made for every customer in the Teahouse.

There was no rushing to get our money and free up our table, it was slow-paced and relaxing. The best service and tea I’ve ever had.

http://www.teanamu.com/teahouse/

The trusty brand: Caffè Nero.

Everyone loves finding a unique place to eat, drink and socialise. You can then call it ‘your place’, YOU found it first…you liked it before it was cool. Hence why I have this part of my blog completely devoted to cafè’s and food…and also, well, I love coffee! Fear not, my quest to keep on finding panini and cake filled treasure troves will continue, but, for the next few lines, I won’t be looking any farther than my local, trusty brand: Caffè Nero.

Caffè Nero – ‘Nero’s’ for short – is the place I want to go to relax, on a leather worn sofa, next to a window when it’s raining outside…and smugly chuckle to myself at the shelter-scrambling passers-by. Cruel, I know. If you’re thinking to yourself, as you read this, that you’ve never people watched, you are seriously missing out. Probably one of the worlds greatest small pleasures.

I digress, sorry.

So, Nero’s. Going into your favourite coffee branded shop is like slipping on an old jumper; its comfortable and brings back a few memories too. My first date, slaving away over revision cards and some unforgettable conversations (to say the least) with friends – all have happened within the walls of my local Nero’s.

Maybe it’s the jazz cd playing faintly in the background, maybe it’s the décor or, maybe, it’s my soft spot for their mocha.

Perhaps Nero’s is to me what Central Perk was to the Friends gang.

…Well, it seems that way, from what I can gather. As I’ve probably only watched three episodes of Friends in my life. Yes, I’m one of those few people in the world that doesn’t watch Friends. I can already hear the ‘Whaaaatt?’ in your head. But that story is for another day.