Apologia, Trafalgar Studios, London

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I went to the first night of the previews. I really enjoyed it. The action takes place over an evening birthday party and the morning after. It was a little slow to get started but after that, the first act is good; the script is funny, arch and sharp. It appears to be a play about nostalgia for the idealism of the 1960s and children with abandonment issues. However, the second act is transformative, I love how it turns your perspective on its head, we get to know the characters better and see their motivation differently. The play is really about women’s place in society, whether this has changed over the past 50 years and about the price people are willing to pay for attempting to bring about change.

The direction is simple, Jamie Lloyd lets the words speak for themselves. The set is clever, the stage is framed like a picture or perhaps the old photograph given as a birthday gift.  The whole cast is good, but this play is really about the women, Laura Carmichael and Freema Agyeman are both outstanding and Stockard Channing is amazing.

The writing is great and I will be looking out for other plays by Alexi Kaye Campbell. I guess there will be a few tweaks before the general opening, but it got a full standing ovation on the night I went. I hope the critics like it as much as I did and that Apologia is a huge success.

Campania Gastronomia, Ezra Street, London E2.

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The setting is idyllic. Even for hip and trendy Hoxton, this place has style. Ezra street is a small cobbled lane off Columbia Road. The restaurant itself is set in a Victorian terrace, it appears to have been converted from a shop or a terraced house. You will need to have your wits about you when looking for it, as the shop says S. Jones over the door and the name, Campania, is just written on the window.

The interior is decorated in washed plain wood, the crockery is old fashioned but pretty. It is mismatched, like the tables and chairs. It has a 1940s or 50s feel inside. The yard of the house has been covered over and holds a large benched table that seats about ten, this would be a good place to bring a big group. There are also seats outside on the street.

We found the service to be very good, our waitress explained the menu beautifully. The menu is short, but everything does feel home made. Our shared platter to start was lovely, it contained something for everyone. The pasta was made on the premises and it was nice, the risotto was good too. This being in the more fashionable part of town, the prices are at the top end of the price spectrum, without being excessive. The house rose wine, was not cheap, but it was delicious.

It was very busy, Luckily we had booked, as it is quite small, maybe 36 covers, and they appeared to be turning people away all evening. If you are planning to go for lunch or brunch, after visiting the flower market, on a Sunday, you will certainly need to reserve your table. The passageway down the side of the restaurant is pretty, with an old fashioned wooden sash window and a Victorian looking street lamp in a narrow, brick lined, cobbled street. It is very photogenic. If you are going out with visitors to London, this would be a charming, quirky place to take them.

We enjoyed our evening and would definitely return.

City of Glass, Lyric Hammersmith, London

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City of Glass gets you into the theatre by pretending to be a type of film noir story, but after you have been watching for about ten minutes, you realise that it is attempting to be something deeper and more challenging. This is a problem, because when you go in expecting a nice murder mystery, you may not be in the right frame of mind to consider the slipperiness of language and people or how the slow descent into madness might feel.

This is a stage production of a 1980s book and, perhaps, it is easier to follow if you have read this first; however, I found the dialogue too oblique, and the way the characters morphed into each other was confusing. I felt like each person was speaking in a vacuum. I did not feel empathy towards any of them or from any of them towards other characters in the play.

This was a shame because the set design, direction and cinematography was among the best I have seen on a theatre stage. I loved the way the same stage moved between places and times so seamlessly, and I enjoyed the way the changing set was able to propel the story onwards all by itself at times.

Although I don’t feel able to recommend this particular show wholeheartedly; when 59 Productions pick a less tortuous and more coherent story to put on, I think they have the potential to deliver an amazing show.

 

Obsession, Barbican Theatre, London, 2017

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Obsession is well acted, Jude Law and Halina Reijn are both moody and muscular, in fact, all six actors are good. The direction is classic Van Hove, there is a big sparse set, both the stage and the actors get very messy during the course of the show, and there is innovative use of both technology and sound. The story is good, it has, after all, spawned three quite different and successful films.

So, I’m not sure why this stage production was not to my taste. Maybe, it was too abstract. I did feel that everything was full of symbolism, but that there were some symbols that  I didn’t understand. Why did Joseph sing opera? Why did Anita bare her breasts at Gino at that precise moment? Why did Johnny meet nicer people at the seaside?

I have few individual criticisms of the play. I felt the nudity was gratuitous and possibly  sexist. Why was Hanna nude but not Gino? There had been a very well done and sultry sex scene earlier where they were both clothed, so I’m not sure why they changed this for the bathing scene. Either both naked for both scenes or neither, just to have the woman nude felt uncomfortable.

Obsession has some great moments, and the ending is dramatic. I really enjoyed Ivan Van Hove’s trademark touches.  However, this show was less than the sum of its parts, it did not hold my attention throughout, and ultimately, I left the theatre disappointed.

Hawksmoor, Deansgate, Manchester

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I like the Hawksmoor ethos. They eschew ostentation. They keep it simple. They do it well. Hawksmoor Manchester stick to this blueprint. The décor is wood panelling, wooden floors, leather banquettes, and solid tables nicely spaced. The have proper napkins, good plain crockery, and the cutlery is steel and sturdy.

The menu is relatively short but you can be sure that everything on there is  prepared to a high standard. On the night we went, the potted beef with Yorkshire pudding was an excellent starter. The Caesar salad had romaine lettuce, anchovies, parmesan, croutons, and plain but perfect Caesar dressing. The fillet was high quality, soft and tender; even though it was rare, and the rib-eye had just the right amount of fat to bring out the flavour of the meat. This is all as you would expect from the Hawksmoor brand. The chips were full cut and well cooked. The mac and cheese, which we ordered as a side, was indulgent.

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The wine by the glass was excellent, the Malbec robust and rich, and the Pinot Grigio Rose was dry and pale, possibly the nicest I have had. The service was impeccable, just as it always is at a Hawksmoor restaurant, never too close but always at hand when you want something.

If I  have a misgiving about Hawksmoor Manchester, it is the bar. The area here veers toward the austere. It feels a bit more like a church vestibule than a comfortable place to chat and wait for friends. They have good wines and all sorts of premium spirits, but their beer list is short, and it has little recognisable on it.

The restaurant is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Everything is of the highest quality, and if you want somewhere that you can rely on to deliver a fine dinner, in pleasant surroundings, with polished service; then Hawksmoor Manchester should be one of the first places that you consider.

The Other Palace, Victoria, London, SW1

The Other Palace started life as St James Theatre in 2012 when it was the first newly built theatre in Central London for over 30 years. It was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Really Useful Group, last year and has been rebranded and it intended as a place to develop new musicals.

The opening season looks very promising.  The first show was  “The Wild Party” which was an auspicious start . This was my review of it. The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.  Later in the year The National Youth Music Theatre will be bringing “Sunday in the Park with George”. A musical based on Fellini’s “La Strada” should be interesting too.

The complex itself, is a space containing two theatres, a restaurant upstairs and a ground floor bar. The building is glass fronted on the ground and first floor making the entrance, bar and restaurant feel bright and airy. The main theatre is relatively small, with around 300 capacity, nicely laid out, with every seat giving a good view of the stage. The studio is quite intimate, capacity around 100, it was laid out as a cabaret bar, but seating arrangements could be flexible. The cabaret tables and chairs worked perfectly for the show on at the time.

The upstairs restaurant, is modern and light. The setting is lovely. I have not eaten there since it has been rebranded as The Other Naughty Piglet but I have heard good things about, Naughty Piglets, their other restaurant, in Brixton.

The bar is set slightly lower than ground level, it catches the light well and it is a comfortable place to chat. It’s not huge, though, and does get crowded during the interval, this is a bar where it is definitely worth pre-ordering your interval drinks. The house white and house rose were both dry and good quality.

The Really Useful group have made a shrewd buy in this handily located theatre. It is  very close to Victoria Station and right across the road from Buckingham Palace.

I love the idea of it being a place to refine new work and I wish them every success in their endeavour.

Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly Circus, London.

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Here is a restaurant and bar complex with the Wow! factor. This really is a hidden gem. Its address is Piccadilly Circus because it is underneath it, but to find Brasserie Zedel, you need to stand on the corner between Regent Street and Shaftsbury Avenue and look up the narrower street between them. Its entrance is actually in Glasshouse street, you will see a few tables and chairs outside, under a red awning.  Enter the unassuming looking café with and descend the circular staircase and you will arrive at a subterranean vestibule that looks like the set of a 1950s French film.

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This alone is surprising, it has a number of  doors and passages off it. One for coats, one for toilettes, one with a dinner suited man inviting you to the Bar Americaine, a post WWII, French/American style cocktail bar. One of the doors leads to Brasserie Zedel, a huge opulent ornate dining room, replicating a high end Parisian restaurant from some more glamourous era.

The room is very big and it is decorated in pink marble, polished chrome and mirrors, which makes it seems even larger when you first enter. It is busy and noisy and you feel like you have stepped into some hidden world. It is hard to believe that you are beneath Piccadilly Circus.

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The menu is French, and in French but our waiter offered to translate, if we needed. The food is good, without being as spectacular as the surroundings. The prices are reasonable for central London and there appears to be some good value fixe price offers available. Despite its size, it is worth booking or there is a good chance that you will eat sitting at the bar, this is perfectly comfortable place to eat, but if you come here, you will want to get the full experience.

It has a nice wine and cocktail list, many good wines by the glass and wine by the bottle seemed good value for the quality. The service is good, although there are so many staff that you will be served by many different people on the one visit.

Our experience here has been good, and it is very handily situated if you are looking for somewhere to eat, either before or after the theatre.

The real reason to go here, however, is for the amazement of your party when you bring them into such an astonishing venue, so centrally located, in the heart of London.

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