Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wow! My poor old neglected blog.

Well, as I predicted in my very first post on this blog, I wrote on it briefly and then forgot all about it. *le sigh* I was recently reminded of my blog by a friend and I have now decided that this neglect just will not do. So here I am making a second attempt at blogging.

A night to remember at Shrek The Musical.
I'm a little unsure of what to write about from here on in so I will just talk about some of the highlights of my year so far. There have been a lot!

Back in February, I went to see Shrek The Musical in the last couple of weeks before it ended it's run at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It was a brilliant show and Carly Stenson was superb as Princess Fiona. Richard Blackwood was an excellent donkey, although I'm not sure whether to admire or pity him for sticking with the show for it's entire West End run.

I wasn't entirely sold on the idea of Shrek as a musical before seeing the show, but I was blown away by how funny the song lyrics were (personal fave: Princess Fiona's 'I Know it's Today') and the costumes and overall staging were absolutely enchanting. The dragon was a thing to behold and I especially loved that the closing number (the same as the movie: The Monkees' 'I'm A Believer') was performed whilst dancing atop a giant wedding cake.

Rick's Cafe in all it's glory.

In March, I attended my second Future Cinema event, Casablanca, at the Troxy. After last year's spectacular Grease event, this one had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it did. The Troxy was totally transformed into Rick's Cafe and the Blue Parrot restaurant. There were cocktails and gorgeous food, casino games and a live band playing period music and of course, the classic film itself was screened later on on the big screen above Rick's. The Troxy looked truly beautiful and the whole evening was a super fun step-back in time. I particularly enjoyed the excuse to get dressed in my best vintage frock and admire the plethora of ties and fezes worn by the men. Plus, having a secret identity for the evening was also fun.

Future Cinema identity card.

Future Cinema are absolute stars at this sort of event and their performers really do add to the whole experience. The kerfuffle that was created when a "fight" broke out in Rick's was a great bit of drama that led to a staged shooting, and while we queued to get in, we were patrolled by guards and had to have our "passports" stamped on entry.
I will certainly be happy to have another Future Cinema adventure sometime soon.

In April I paid my first visit to the Saatchi Gallery. Putting to one side recent newspaper revelations about the owner, a certain Mr. Charles Saatchi, it is an extremely interesting collection on display. When I went, the major exhibition was on contemporary Russian art which is not an area that I am particularly familiar with, so it was a real eye-opener for me. Some of the pieces were completely off the wall but the message behind them was surprisingly touching when you looked past first impressions. I couldn't resist buying a framed print of a section of the huge piece by Gosha Osretsov titled Sex in the City.

My print from Sex in the City by Gosha Osretsov.
Little Gulliver cradled by my dad.
Also in April, I found myself in the unique situation of being foster mother to a baby squirrel who we discovered cowering outside my neighbour's house. The poor little mite had apparently been orphaned and his claws were so short that he was unable to climb a tree to hide from predators. I took him indoors and kept him in an old pet carrier belonging to my cat while we figured out a plan of action. As a child, I had always dreamed of having a pet squirrel so I thoroughly enjoyed having him around. I fed him nuts, raisins and grapes which he seemed to enjoy and he was extremely playful and friendly. He liked to sleep wrapped up in my arms and he had lots of fun with a kitchen roll that I gave him to play with. He stayed with me for a little over two days in the end and he was such a lovely little fellow that I was sad to part with him when the time came. I took him to the wonderful Folly Wildlife Rescue in Tonbridge where he was given the name Gulliver in honour of his travels and was  rehabilitated alongside four other orphaned baby squirrels and later released into their surrounding land with his newly acquired family. I cannot stress enough how vital the work that Folly does really is, none of the other charities I contacted were very interested in helping squirrels because the grey variety is classed as vermin, and in many cases he may well have been euthanised. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending and I am thrilled to think that my childhood dream was (briefly) realised.

In May, I went on a bit of an exhibition binge and saw three in the space of a couple of weeks. The first was Lottie Davies 'Memories and Nightmares' at the L.A. Noble Gallery. For those unfamiliar with Lottie Davies' work, she is a terrific photographer who creates lavish dream-like scenes based on tales told to her of people's childhood memories or particularly vivid nightmares. Her work is extraordinarily emotive, with the story behind each vignette posted beside the photograph. You almost feel like you have entered a fairytale realm. A picture of a happy memory may have such an inviting feeling that you yearn to be able to jump into it in the manner of Mary Poppins and her charges with Bert's chalk drawings, yet the chills you experience when looking at a scene from a nightmare are enough to make you want to back away lest you are sucked in as that unfortunate child was in Roald Dahl's twisted tale, The Witches.

A memory and a nightmare by Lottie Davies.
Ilona and Hannah at the Hayward Light Show.

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery was my next stop. I had high hopes for this one and I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed. I did enjoy the trippy craziness of some of the rooms and we managed many a laugh, but other exhibits were frankly, a bit pretentious or, indeed, a bit 'meh.' It was a little irritating that you had to queue to go inside the rooms with no real idea of what was inside so sometimes you would wait a good ten minutes for nothing much, although the rewards in others made up for this to an extent. However, it was worth a visit for the spectacular water and light installation in one of the rooms alone. Verdict: Hit and miss, but a lot of fun.

Pop art beer bottle from Tate Modern.
My favourite exhibition of the three was the Lichtenstein retrospective at Tate Modern. There was a huge range of his work on display that covered all areas of his artistic career. I adored seeing so many of his most famous pieces but it was also wonderful to see a lot of his lesser known pieces, particularly those from his later years. Any fan of Lichtenstein's couldn't have failed to be thrilled by it all, but even a newcomer to his work would have come away feeling they knew the man behind the canvases. Tate Modern also score bonus points for the special Lichtenstein beers by Brew Dog on offer in the gift shop. Not sure I can ever bring myself to drink mine though.

In June, I went to see one of my fave funny ladies, Gina Yashere, at the Udderbelly. I've been a huge fan of Gina's ever since she used to do a weekly sketch on Lenny Henry's show back in the nineties and after seeing her in Soho a couple of years back, I was expecting major laughs. Thankfully, I got them. Ms. Yashere has spent the last few years in the U.S. and a lot of her material is inevitably focused around her alien status there, but my personal highlight of the set was her toilet ninja routine and her tales of the "dick deck" on a gay cruise she was asked to perform on. Despite a particularly annoying front row fan/heckler who seemed to think he was part of the show, Gina kept the gags coming and was unfazed by his interruptions.

As much as I love the Udderbelly venue, it was quite cold in the big purple cow despite it being mid June and Gina was forced to perform in her hoodie and keep a tissue on her at all times. This did sort of add to the laughs though as Gina complained about her return to the UK coinciding with the coldest June for years. In an ironic twist, outside the venue we had been sitting in deck chairs sipping aperol spritz as though it was the height of summer.

A pretty pink cow at the Udderbelly.
Later in June, I had the pleasure of seeing the fantastic Paloma Faith at the O2. I'm always a little bit nervous about seeing a band/singer I have a huge love for just in case they may not be as good live as they are on my iPod, but Paloma was just spectacular. She was so charming and endearing in between songs, chatting away to the audience and reveling in the magnificence of a full O2, a venue so close to her childhood home of Hackney. I cannot tell a lie, I did shed a tear when she dedicated the evening to her parents who were there to see her that night, and I shed another during 'Never Tear Us Apart,' which gives me goosebumps at the best of times. It was a beautiful evening.

That same weekend I was back at the O2 for Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure. I have loved Eddie for many a year and I even met him last year in Covent Garden when I randomly bumped into him. He was wonderfully friendly and took a photo with me on my very own phone. I told him what an inspiration he was for all his marathon running and he was gracious and warm and just generally lovely. But anyway, back to the show. The night I attended, the show was being filmed for DVD release so we were lucky enough to get a bumper length set. We were seated way up in the Gods and being afraid of heights, the fact that I made it to my seat is a testament to my love for Eddie. He was brilliantly funny and oh-so spot on with his political satire. He also spoke in between takes for the video about his experience working with George Clooney and Matt Damon on the Ocean films and his intention to run for London Mayor in seven years. I have already pre-ordered my copy of the DVD and cannot wait to relive the whole night.

My love for Eddie Izzard knows no heights.

June was a busy month for me. I also went to see the new Sam Mendes directed production of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at the very same theatre as Shrek had been at earlier that year. We were lucky enough to get preview tickets at a knockdown price and our seats, unlike at Eddie Izzard, were in the first few rows from the stage. I honestly cannot put into words how amazed I was by the sheer spectacle of this show. Everything about it was just fantastic. Douglas Hodge is a terrific Willy Wonka, much more in the style of Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp, and Nigel Planer makes an excellent Grandpa Joe, but it's the children who are the real stars of the show and stars they certainly are. Every one of them was pitch perfect in their roles as the lucky golden ticket winners with issues. I was a little perturbed at first to learn that the music would not be the same as in the 1971 classic, and although not all of the new songs quite hit the mark, most are uproariously funny and all are performed to perfection.
Sam Mendes is not just an Oscar-winning film director, it turns out he is also a theatrical genius. You truly won't believe your eyes at how some of the stories biggest moments are staged (think Augustus in the pipe, Violet as a blueberry, etc.) and the Oompa Loompa costumes are an unexpectedly clever invention. The great glass elevator is brilliantly done and the sequence in which the children and their parents are introduced via a giant television set is inspired, but the scene in which Mike Teevee is shrunk is the stand out moment for me. It's hard to explain in written form how tremendously clever it is so I won't even try. Just go see the show if you get the chance. You won't regret it.

Later that month, I saw Parks & Recreation star Aziz Ansari do his stand-up routine at the Hammersmith Apollo. For those who are unaware of Aziz, I implore you to check him out on Youtube. He had us in stitches with his observations on how hard it is to know how to be a grown-up and having no real idea of what you are going to do with the rest of your life. His thoughts on sexting were particularly hilarious and seemed to strike a real chord with much of the audience.

My next outing was at the London Wonderground in Southbank where I saw Boris & Sergey's Vaudevilian Adventure, which is truly a show beyond any logical description. The show revolves around two faceless puppets, the aforementioned Boris and Sergey, and begins as a tongue-in-cheek attempt by the two at a real vaudeville style show. It is very silly but very funny. Boris' rendition of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights will stay with me whenever I hear the song from now on, I fear. The show then abruptly takes a darker turn when a gambling element is introduced and Sergey gambles his soul away. The dark twist at the end of the performance left us more than a little stunned and also strangely emotional. A truly unique piece of fringe theatre that I think is probably an acquired taste, although I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally, I rounded June off with a trip to the BFI for a screening of the film noir gem 'Gilda,' as part of their Rita Hayworth season. Rita Hayworth was an absolute screen goddess and Gilda is, quite possibly, her finest moment on film. I pretty much want to be Rita Hayworth in Gilda! Hayworth always said that the role overshadowed her career and she is famously quoted as blaming the role for her failure to attract the right sort of man.

"Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me," she complained. "No one can be Gilda 24 hours a day." It isn't hard to understand why Gilda had such an effect, but I don't think that Hayworth gave herself enough credit for how much of Gilda's appeal was down to her portrayal and beauty.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, after ending the month of June with a classy film, I began July with a good old cockney knees-up courtesy of Chas & Dave at the Brentwood Festival. It may not be very cool to like Chas & Dave but in the words of the men themselves, I don't care! The whole festival was an excellent event but Chas & Dave were a full-on riot. They played all the usual suspects and several encores. In fact, if the crowd had had their way, they might've still been playing now! Say what you like about them as songwriters but you cannot deny how talented a pair of musicians they are, and how on earth they manage to sing so fast and sing different lines at the same time as one another, I honestly have no idea.

Chas & Dave in action.

So there you have it. That's my year so far. I am going to try my very best not to leave it so long before my next update. I've enjoyed reliving the best bits of the last six months. I promise not to make the next post such a long one, though. I don't relish the idea of reading through this for typos.

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