John Gabriel Borkman at the Bridge Theatre

This is Ibsen’s second to last play, written in 1896, but it felt as though it was a commentary on life, and public life, today. A pared back set and simple lighting allowed the words and the acting to do all the work. The writing is lovely, the characters are knowing, able to see others’ faults while managing to avoid seeing their own. It is quite a bleak play, in a bleak winter setting, but remarkable that they are all capable of finding hope in hopeless situations.

In the hands of a less talented director and actors, this could have been a tough watch, but Lia Williams, Simon Russell Beale and Claire Higgins make us care about the selfish, delusional, imperfect people in this play, and they can make us understand why they have made the poor life choices that they made.

It is a play about sibling rivalry, about self-delusion, and about how we use hindsight to justify past decisions. It is also about how difficult it is to learn from the mistakes of others – you can see the next generation heading exactly the same way as their parents. Yet, as throughout the play, there is the faintest sliver of hope at the end.

Don’t go if you are hoping for a light evening’s entertainment, although to be fair, there are many funny lines and light moments. Do go if you want an insight into our complex personalities and into the human condition. I am afraid that I have made this show sound difficult, but I left the theatre uplifted because, in every situation there is hope, and it is human nature to seek out that hope and grasp it. I felt that this play captured the beauty of a bright chink of light shining through the drawn curtains of a darkened room. Sorry about the hyperbole, but it is a great play and, I did really enjoy this production.

Flight Simulator by Virtual Aerospace

The Flight Simulator with Virtual Aerospace allows you to take off, fly and land a virtual airplane under very realistic conditions. It is the same machine that is used in pilot training. They have a huge choice of airports from which to take off and land. Because I am a complete novice, I chose to fly from Gatwick to Birmingham, a less challenging route. You can also choose the conditions under which you fly, I’m told that Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong, at night is a good one to pick, this is apparently very challenging and visually spectacular.

Michael was my trainer/co-pilot and I have to say that he really added to the enjoyment of the experience. He patiently described what all the dials did and explained their optimum positions for a smooth flight. He was calm and encouraging throughout the trip, gently reminding me what the array of lights meant and pointing out which ones needed attention at any time. He also made the flight realistic, calling cabin crew to prepare for landing and speaking to air traffic control as I descended.

You won’t need any knowledge to get enjoyment from this experience, I had never even seen the inside of a cockpit before. I imagine it could be even more of a thrill for those with a previous interest in aeronautics. If a friend comes with you, they can also sit in the cockpit, enjoy your flight and applaud on a successful landing.

Virtual Aerospace is in Shoreham-by-Sea which around an hour and a half from London. The airport is about a mile from the station and there is a taxi rank right outside. I chose to walk and it took about 15 minutes. Shoreham is a pretty seaside town and has plenty of bars and restaurants if you fancy turning the experience into a day out.

Gin Tasting and Distillery tour at the City of London Distillery

The makers of Whitley Neil Gins are The City of London Distillery, and on many evenings they host distillery tours and gin tasting evenings. These are held with groups of 10 people or less. When we arrived we were given a welcome drink, ours was dry gin and prosecco, while we awaited the arrival of the other attendees. Once they arrived we were taken to an alcove to the side of the main bar where tables were set up with four gin flights, botanicals and an information sheet.

To start we had a brief rundown of the history of gin and the difference between different types of gin. Then we tasted the first two and chatted about their taste. They will bring tonic or any other mixer you have with your gin. After a few minutes discussion we were brought to the still room where we got to meet the stills. Yes, they all have names and they are spoken about as though they are people. The tour was interesting and lively, because Stephen, who was our guide, was obviously interested in his subject with regard to both history and taste.

We heard how the gin is made and how it is flavoured, then we went back to taste the last two gins. Perhaps I was lucky with the crowd on this occasion, but by the time we were tasting the final gin, our conversation had moved on to more general discussions – about holidays, museums and London life. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. There was an amount of background noise, enough that you would notice it, but certainly not at a level that would disturb your evening. The tour and tasting event lasted a little over on hour, and a few of us stayed for an extra half an hour while we finished our tasting flights.

A real bonus was the discovery of the Whitley Neil/London Distillery Bar in Bride Street. There are not many bars that are not rammed on a summer evening in central London. The bar itself is lovely, and it is relatively quiet given its position just off Fleet Street, about a three minute walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. It is underground and down a small alleyway, so not many people will know it is there – however despite this, it is very easy to get to, less than a 5-minute walk from either London Blackfriars or City Thameslink stations. There are also many bus routes that go up Fleet Street. I will remember it for when I am next meeting a gin drinker in the City.

Van Gogh Immersive Experience

A company called “Life You Deserve” – A website which hosts curated activities for the over 55s in London, has asked me to create content for their website. They suggest an activity, they pay for my ticket and travel and in return I have to review the event and say how suitable I believe it would be for their client base. I send them some photos and video clips and they will edit it all into a short video that they put onto their website.

This all sounded interesting so I have agreed to do it. It fits in well with the idea behind the London Lark and with a little luck it will inspire me to reignite the blog which I had left lying dormant over the past couple of years.

This is the first one I did. It was The Van Gogh Immersive Experience.

It takes place in a huge old building in Commercial Street, just across from Spitalfields Market. They try to immerse you in his life from the moment you enter – offering you perfumed tea to drink while you read about his life and works. They have many recreations of his works throughout the exhibition, some converted into moving images. It is very interactive too you are encouraged to try his techniques and then post them on the walls just before you leave. There is an ingenious room where you get to sit under his starry night and amongst his flowers, I really enjoyed it and found it very relaxing.

The Virtual Reality section of the exhibition costs an extra £5, but do not miss it, for me it was the absolute highlight. You walk through his life and paintings at Arles. Virtual Reality has come on so far since I last tried it a few years ago – it really did feel like I was walking through his paintings.

Of course they do not have any of his actual paintings at this exhibition, they are all recreations, so it is perhaps not one for the purists among us, but it was hugely enjoyable. I loved it, I stayed about an hour and a half and when I left I felt that I had learnt so much about Van Gogh his life and his painting and whenever I go into a traditional gallery, I will certainly make sure that I see the Van Gogh if they have one in their collection.

My intention is to continue blogging about London things and occasionally add these Life You Deserve videos when they are kind enough to make a video for me. I am looking forward to being back in the world of blogging! Also, I’m surprised at how much practical stuff I’ve forgotten about tags, categories and how the blog looks – so if you spot something that need improving, I will be grateful for the feedback. Cheers!

Porches Velho, Porches, Algarve, Portugal

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Porches Velho is a restaurant that could be called a hidden gem. Porches is an attractive village about three kilometres inland from the Southern Algarvian coast, between Carvoeiro and Armacao De Pera. It is quiet and calm, with narrow cobbled streets and is relatively untouristed, even in the height of summer. The area is famous for its pottery and the local workshops are certainly worth a visit. However, the largest of these are on the nearby N125 and not so many people go into the village itself.

The village has a pretty church. Its bells rang (8pm on a Wednesday, if you would like to try to recreate the effect) as we walked up the hill to the restaurant and a sliver of moon shone over its steeple, making us feel a little like we had stepped into a spaghetti western, so the romantic scene was set even before we entered the restaurant. The room itself has high vaulted ceilings, it is a 200 year old converted wine cellar. It has thick whitewashed walls decorated sparsely with antique agricultural equipment, tiles and old fashioned lamps. It oozes Portuguese tradition from every beam.

Porches Velho is a “Restaurante Tipico Potugues” which means that it serves classic Portuguese food. The tables are dressed in white linen with white napkins and soon after you are shown to your table the waiter brings the couvert dishes, fish paste, olives, pickled carrots and pickled beetroot, also a basket of sliced local bread with oil and butter. The wines are all Portuguese and there is a full list to choose from.

The starters consist of fish, soup or vegetarian dishes. We had a Portuguese Gazpacho and the vegetable soup. Both were excellent, the vegetable was thick and hot and the Gazpacho was spicy and juicy. The main course menu has many traditional dishes. Rabbit Cataplana, Alentejo Lamb and chicken casserole are among the interesting choices.

We went for the Old Portuguese Style Steak and the Medallions of Black Pork Tenderloin. The Pork was perfectly cooked, and served with a sauce of wild mushrooms on the side. The sauce was delicious and thick with different types of mushroom. The Steak is served in a deep dish, covered in serrano ham, surrounded by sliced potatoes, in a thick brown gravy and topped with a fried egg. This is a traditional way to serve steak in the Algarve and many restaurants offer this dish. This particular version though, was beautifully tender, the steak was very good quality and one of the nicest that I have had.

For the dessert offering, the waiters come to your table carrying the choices available. This is a clever idea, as one is much more likely to be tempted by seeing the dishes than by reading about it on the menu. The ice-cream is homemade and I can certainly vouch for the chocolate one being rich and flavourful.

The service was very good, we felt that they were genuinely interested in our opinions of the food and went out of their way to ensure that we had a good evening. Porches Velho is a wonderful Portuguese Restaurant with lovely traditional Portuguese hospitality. It is a hidden gem of the Algarve, a little of the beaten track but all the better for it and certainly worth the trip to visit it. Highly Recommended.

Mac & Wild, Great Titchfield Street, London W1W

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Mac & Wild is a restaurant that markets itself as serving the highest quality ingredients in its dishes – with a Scottish bias. It is known for its venison, steak and salmon. It is listed in the 2018 Michelin Guide and the Evening Standard named it in their “5 best places to eat game in London”. In 2016 it won the award for the best burger in the UK and it is in Time Out’s list of the best in London.

It opens for dinner at 5.30pm and we arrived, without a reservation, before 6. The place seemed pretty quiet, but they told us they would be able to squeeze us in at a table near the window. It was a damp autumnal Tuesday so I was a bit sceptical, but sure enough, by twenty past six they were turning people away and the restaurant was packed by the time we left at 7pm.

The room is long and narrow, decorated in a rustic style, with plain walls, rough hewn wooden tables and chairs and monochrome photos of Scottish countryside on the walls. There is a cellar room too, the same shape and decorated similarly. Even the bathrooms continue the rustic theme, with an old fashioned overhead ceramic cistern and a chain pull flush.

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The menu is basically steak, venison, salmon, cod or hamburger. The sizes and cuts of steak vary according to their stock, they have a list on the wall and cross them out as they are sold. There are vegetarian starters and one main course on the list.  We ordered the scotch egg and fish bites to start. The fish was delicious as was the egg. We were here late October and the Scotch egg came Halloween style – stuck with a syringe and oozing blood! Very funny, but possibly not for the fainthearted.

The burger has two patties, one beef and one venison, it comes with caramelised onion melted cheese and béarnaise. The taste is good, a nice meaty flavour, juicy and with a lovely texture. Be aware that it will come rare unless you ask for it to be well done, unusually they did not enquire when we ordered. The bun is a nice toasted brioche and the chips are skin on and tasty.

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It is served on a tin tray, with the chips in a small metal bucket by its side. For a restaurant that is proud of its Scottish heritage, a plate seems like an odd thing for it to forgo. At least it did come with a knife and fork. The lager was quite pricey, a hair under a fiver for a small tin. There are a number of wines served by the glass and the Pinot Grigio Rose was good. The service is excellent, the waiters are likeable and honest, they seem genuinely invested in making sure we had a good time.

All in all we had a really good experience. Mac & Wild are proud of the provenance of their ingredients and this shows in the quality of their burger.  If you plan on going, I would certainly recommend that you book – even as we left there was a couple standing outside in the drizzle waiting for us to pay the bill, so they could have our table.

 

A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre, London SE1

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Once upon a there was a very talented author. His name was Martin McDonagh. Everybody loved his work and he wrote some wonderfully funny plays and some wonderfully clever scripts for films. However, Mr McDonagh had a terrible secret!

Do you remember Shakespeare’s infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters? Well, Martin had stolen the most talented of Shakespeare’s monkeys. He kept it chained to the typewriter and in reality, it was this monkey, who ghost wrote all of his stuff. It was really the most clever monkey, that had the brightest and funniest ideas, and all that Martin McDonagh had to do was to make sure that he edited them carefully.

Well, one day Mr Shakespeare realised that one of his monkeys was missing. He wasn’t sure which one, because he did have an awful lot of them, but he counted them up and, sure enough, he had infinity minus one! Impossible? Impossible but true! He could not let this happen so he determined to spend eternity looking for his monkey, and sure enough, after 300 years, he found that the missing monkey was living in the office of Martin McDonagh’s house.

Shakespeare decided that he would expose Mr McDonagh’s secret by putting a spell on him, which would impair his editing abilities. This would allow, just one time, the monkey’s writing to be issued straight to the world exactly as it was written, with no oversight at all. Shakespeare turned out to be a very clever magician, the spell worked perfectly and Hey Presto! in 2018 “A Very, Very, Very, Dark Matter” was issued upon the world!

As it happens, this show is not all bad. Granted, you will leave the theatre thinking, “What have I just witnessed?”, but the show is full to the brim with ideas. Some of these are funny and clever, some of them less so. It is a touch of genius using the voice of Tom Waits as narrator, his resonant, off beat tone suits the storyline perfectly.

Phil Daniels is wonderful as a foul mouthed Charles Dickens, but it is shocking to hear his young children using the same words, an interesting juxtaposition, I suppose.  Jim Broadbent plays Hans Christian Anderson as an amiable buffoon with deep psychological scars and sadistic overtones. This would be an impossible task for a less talented actor.

Johnetta Eula’Mae Ackles makes her debut here in a starring role as Marjory. This is the most troubling part in the play and she carries it off very well, you would never know that it is her first major role. Martin McDonagh is always able to attract the highest quality actors and the depth of talent throughout the cast is the strength of the show.

This play has so much going on that it is impossible to make sense of it all. At points, it seems like a random jumble of weird toys thrown together by a wayward child. It has  many different ideas running around, some of which will make you uncomfortable, but one thing you can say about Martin McDonagh is that he never plays it safe. This is probably not going to be the most coherent show you will see this year, but I can guarantee that you will not be bored.

Macbeth, RSC Barbican Season, Barbican, London EC1

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2018 is turning out to be a Macbeth fest, with 4 major productions in London at various times through the year. Spring brought a Punk style, post apocalyptic version to the National Theatre. Autumn had The National Youth Theatre’s stylish and stylized, gender fluid adaptation. Shakespeare’s Globe has a Macbeth opening just now which will run to 2019, and this, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s interpretation, has been playing in Stratford through the year and will be at the Barbican until January.

Here we have a large cast, big names and high production values. The Barbican has a huge stage which is kept fairly minimal throughout, a digital clock, ticking down the seconds, dominates the set – reminding us of the passing of time. The witches are a stroke of genius, three schoolgirls dressed identically in red dresses and shoes with white wool tights, advancing together across the set and speaking in unison. Slightly reminiscent of the film “Don’t Look Now” but certainly the eeriest Macbeth witches I have ever seen.

This is a Macbeth that emphasises the psychological horror of the story. It is a brutal and murderous play, but priority is given to the effects of the violence rather than the violence itself. Polly Findlay, as director has made a clever and thoughtful direction decision in doing this, because we get to see more deeply into the characters of Macbeth and his wife, without losing any of the malignancy of the tale.

Niamh Cusack proves herself to be one of the finest actors, as Lady Macbeth. She is the instigator of the action, she drives and encourages her husband in his moments of doubt. We are always aware that her ambition is not hers alone, it is for them both together – and when she realises that his ambition has gone past hers, that she cannot stop him and that she has lost him, her descent into despair is palpable.

Christopher Ecclestone is Macbeth, he plays him as a modern day fighter, comfortable in battle fatigues, yet ambitious enough to don a dinner suit to schmooze at parties. His acting is a tour de force, we see him grow in ambition as the play moves on. The first undefended murder hits him hard, but each death gets easier and less affecting, until near the end they all just chalk marks on a blackboard, made by the watching porter.

This is a cold and dark Macbeth, perfect for a winter night, one that will stay with you as you sip your whiskey in the pub on the way home from the theatre. A great production of a chilling play. My favourite Macbeth.

 

 

 

Macbeth, National Youth Theatre, Garrick Theatre, London WC2

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This is the third of the National Youth Theatre’s West End season that I have seen, after Consensual and Victoria’s Knickers, which were on last month at the Soho Theatre. I am pleased to say that Macbeth maintains the high standard set by the first two.

This is a contemporary and stylish version of the play. It was interesting to see Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Duncan, all as women, it was good to see how little it changed the dynamic of the piece. Of course, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both ambitious, determined characters and this setup underlines that each has their own portion of the guilt to bear. Isabel Adomakoh Young as Lady Macbeth does a fantastic job of displaying her ambition when strengthening her partner’s resolve at the start, and then showing her despair when she feels it has gone too far. Olivia Dowd as Macbeth makes us see  how difficult it is to carry out the first undefended murder and then shows us that each successive one becomes more easy, until by the end she doesn’t care how many lives it costs as long as she keeps her power.

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The witches in this Macbeth are fantastic. They look both dramatic and other worldly. Their movement and utterances are chilling, perhaps the best realisation of the witches I have seen, in a perfect combination of costume and delivery. The direction with regard to the apparitions is masterful too, they appear as though spawned by an archfiend that the witches have conjured up. This is a Macbeth where the effects of the supernatural world are strongly felt.

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Back in Scotland, Jay Mailer is good as Ross, Oseloka Obi is a strong and sturdy Macduff and Jamie Ankrah is great as a soldierly Banquo. This is a very accessible Macbeth, Natasha Nixon as director has been clever in managing to convey the horror of the tale while minimising the blood and the gore. I really enjoyed this stripped down, stylized telling of the Scottish play. Its on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons at the Garrick Theatre until the 7th December.

It has been most enjoyable to see 3 of the NYT West End shows this winter, the standard of acting has been very high and I am looking forward to seeing many of the actors on stage or screen again in the near future. If you are in town when the next year’s season is announced, it is worth looking up – the tickets are such good value for a west end show and the productions are excellent quality.  I have to say that, for me, The National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s West End seasons are a highlight of the theatre year.

Stories, National Theatre, South Bank London SE1

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About a year ago. I saw Nina Raine’s last play, Consent, also at the Dorfman Theatre here at the National.  It was the strength of the writing in that production that drew me to see Stories. This is a play about Anna, a woman approaching 40, who is desperate to have a baby. She does not have a partner and she is investigating the options available to her as a would be single mother.

The Dorfman theatre is an intimate venue when laid out in the round, suited to the living room settings of this play. The show consists of multiple short scenes and the automated set changes where the sections of the floor rise to make a table or slide in to form a bed are very cleverly done. They contribute well to the maintaining the pace of the drama, through the constant scene changes. The clean IKEA lines also felt nicely contemporary.

Anna is played by Claudie Blakely with a controlled desperation, knowing that if she shows it too much, that she will frighten baby fathers off. Sam Troughton plays all the prospective sperm donors and he is almost too good at this, in that his changing performances are very funny and at times this becomes the focus of the play,  distracting your attention from the main storyline. Anna is the only person in the entire play that is one person playing one part and this diminishes the clarity of the piece somewhat.

Brian Vernel is excellent as Anna’s younger brother and Stephen Boxer is fantastic as her Dad. They have great lines and the spiky but caring relationship the three of them have is beautifully conveyed. The rest of the characters are less fully rounded and although they have some very funny lines, they are sometimes two dimensional ciphers. I found this particularly true of Natasha and Girl. I did realise, eventually, that they are meant to represent Anna’s inner child and inner parent, but I am not sure what they added to the story.

I think there might be brilliant play in here, but the story is not presented clearly enough to follow easily. Nina Raine is a fantastic author, there are probably few writers who can capture current bar and dinner table conversations as well or as wittily. This is not the ground breaking piece that she will one day write, but I enjoyed it well enough and I will continue to look out for shows that she writes in the future.