SAD SONGS: BLUES IN THE NIGHT @ KILN THEATRE

THEATRE

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Soaked in the sway of sex, borne along on a radiance of double entendres, this study of three hard-done-by women who board in a rooming house above a jazz club is structured around a song cycle of blues. Dialogue serves mainly as a bridge between the tunes-music provides the central narrative thrust. The three ages of women are represented by the trio of actresses: Sharon D. Clarke the wise elder, bowed but not entirely defeated by a lifetime of regret and misery; Debbie Kurup a good-time gal moving inexorably into the latter seams and stages of weary experience; Gemma Sutton a recent arrival, fresh but well on her way to the first sup of disappointment and disillusion, innocence inevitably on its way to sully.

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Clive Rowe is on hand (in somewhat pantomime form) as the master of ceremonies of the club, and as the token face of toxic masculinity, signalling all of men’s egregious indignant behaviour towards women, their endless manipulations, injustices and defilements. The club stage-smoky, louche, loose-atmospherically dominates the set (with bar and staircase/lift anchoring the back, the orchestra and small dance floor thrust to the front), a disrepute around which the womens’ cramped rooms, like satellites, orbit.

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Clarke is the most magisterial in connecting with the messy emotions of the material (classic standards by such luminaries as Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen) whether soul shaking, feisty, lusty or frivolous-she continuously digs deep. Kurup brings a poised, wounded brass (although at times chilly technical precision) to her pieces. Sutton sings with a tremulous fear in her voice, the terrible knowledge that her hopeful ideals will be ultimately trampled.

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Despite the dispossession and disenfranchisement, the ways in which the world has conspired to belittle them, these women still find a way to rally themselves, shout out with vigour and verve and robust allure, inexhaustible sensuality. The blues, and their expression of it, will sustain and ennoble them through the worst as long as they are able. The audience will take flight, through the tears and joy, with them. Blues in the Night runs through 7 September 

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https://kilntheatre.com/whats-on/blues-in-the-night/

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SITES IN THE CITY: ALTERNATIVE EXPERIENCESk

PLACES OF INTEREST/RESTAURANT

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If you should ever find yourself yourself marooned in the City Centre suffering a belly insistent with hunger, surrounded with only the sad bellow of franchise enterprise, I am able to recommend a welcome respite-Breakfast & Burger, stood modestly in the shadows of such looming landmarks as the Lloyd’s building, the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin and the ever-decorous Leadenhall Market (itself choked now with mostly name-brand restaurants and retail). Speaking on behalf of its breakfast options (I will certainly return for a sampling of the lunch items), surely a less expensive and prodigiously portioned plate will not likely be found anywhere within the square mile. For a lowly £5.99, a diner will receive a fry-up (traditional or veggie, the veggie of which comes accompanied by its own combination of sides) with 2 eggs, 2 hash, sausage, bacon, beans and toast with choice of tea or coffee. A request for any style of egg other than fried will be firmly but politely denied.

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The decor is classic caff with an industrially polished modern brush, the clientele a mix of builders, particularly “woke” corporate suits and dazzled (but thankful) tourists who pleasantly stumble upon this Eden amongst the otherwise cold, impersonal, overly familiar options. Gerry’s, a true mainstay greasy-spoon caff located for years on Ludgate Hill, which I would have categorically advised visiting for its up-front, no frills cooking, has (I’ve just discovered) closed, unfortunately, a long-standing, defiant revolutionary against the gentrified march of the area exhaustedly given up the fight, silenced.

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Spice up the lunch hour by attending an afternoon play at the venerable Bridewell Theatre, just off Blackfriar’s, which tailors performances to the lengths of the traditional meal break. Hosting small, emerging production companies, the ambitious programme incorporates material ranging across the expanse of the medium, from musicals to dramas to comedies, one-person monologue confessionals to spirited full casts.

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The space is remarkably modern, spacious and professionally outfitted. Interesting fact: the venue was built atop the City of London’s first swimming pool, the tiled length of which can still be accessed via a floor hatch.

Bridewell Theatre

 

One of the newest attractions in the City is found in the nether regions of the imposing new Bloomberg European headquarters-the London Mithraeum houses the remains of a Roman temple discovered during the excavation for the new office space, temporarily relocated for the duration of the construction, then returned to its original site upon completion, an astonishingly generous, forward and respectful gesture both culturally and archeologically for a corporate behemoth to make (although Bloomberg has had a storied history with respect to the arts).

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For free (there is a booking policy, but it is possible to wander in and charm the attendants, in quieter hours, for entry without appointment), a viewer may descend into the bowels for a walk around the ruins and be treated to a brief sound and light installation-admittedly a bit naff-meant to bring the space alive, absorbed in the life as it was once lived. Upstairs, a large cabinet displays the hundreds of Roman artefacts that were uncovered during the excavation, a true historical treasure trove of objects.

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https://www.londonmithraeum.com/

So, an alternative day out in the City, then!

 

 

ON THE GREEN: THE TIDE @ NORTH GREENWICH

PLACE OF INTEREST/ATTRACTION

Given that this is a project in its first phase of being, I will refrain from too stern a critique of my premiere encounter with this new “linear park” located at the side of the O2 plaza, stretching out to the Thames waterside. Consisting of a series of sweeping elevated walkways with intermittent plantings, tiered steps and viewing platforms, the Tide (as the branding would have it) takes its style cues from such successful urban developments as New York’s High-Line Park and Chicago’s 606 (and countless others globally). Whereas both of these enterprises adapted existing (disused) train lines as the source of their structure and organisation, this is a purpose-built creation that very much wants to emulate the spirit and detail of its forebearers. As there is a velocity of development surrounding this initial stage (a major blossoming of new blocks of flats all around it, contributing quite a dusty atmosphere at the moment), perhaps the builders  have to wait for the housing completion before launching into the second wave of the park project. There are a few curious design elements which I hope will be re-conceptualised at future points, the most paramount of which is the currently dead, bare, shadowed concrete space underneath the walkways that will require quite an investiture of thought and creativity to find ways to brighten and animate it, to open it as a welcoming environment. The top walkway appears to have been built as nothing more than a way by which to reach the primary elevation from the lift, entirely missing an opportunity to create further pleasurable advantages of movement. A clumsy, blunt (level) gradation plagues the platform directly overlooking the Thames, a possible design flaw that had led to the erection of both a sign and rope to prevent spectators from stumbling dangerously from the sudden drop of step (perhaps the idea is to eventually border this with hedge or rail to visually distinguish the height difference). Despite the sense of incompleteness, of matters not quite being anywhere near being finished off, there is much promise in this project (this is the first kilometre of a proposed five-kilometre length)-on my visit, school groups were gathered with sketchbooks drawing the Canary Wharf skyline, workers lounged with their lunches, others strolled excitedly taking in the sights. Artworks have been installed throughout the grounds, a herald, perhaps, for the Line sculpture trail, one side of which launches nearby straight out of the Greenwich Peninsula, continuing on to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Encouraging engagement with the outdoors, enlivening an otherwise rather severe commercial public square, creating a new cultural corridor, and celebrating (and piquing an appreciation for) the natural wonder of the Thames, at heart this is a worthy and necessary project, and the hope is that it will become a major new attraction for both native and tourist alike.

https://www.greenwichpeninsula.co.uk/the-tide/

 

ANOTHER FINE MESS: EUROPE @ DONMAR WAREHOUSE

THEATRE

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Upon its initial production twenty-five years ago, the central refugee father-daughter duo marooned at an expiring small-town railroad station were fleeing the chaos of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. This  revival (the inaugural show of new Donmar artistic director Michael Longhurst) pointedly flatters the prescient issues of the original script and its continuing relevance, suggesting contemporary political realities with little alteration-the current cataclysms of Brexit, Trump’s endless border wars and crass pronouncements on migrants, the rise of extreme right-wing, nationalist parties the world over, the sheer number of displaced people seeking sanctuary regardless of safety or guarantee all fold in quite neatly (and effortlessly) to writer David Grieg’s primary manifest.

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In the shabby, dreary, deteriorating environment of the  station-nicely realised with a bare, dusty minimum-where trains have stopped running altogether (they now merely roar past the platforms, forces of great disregard, the town beneath contempt), the staff carries on in futile purpose. First unseen in what bustle exists, slowly focus grows on the itinerant couple who reside on the crumbling benches, weary and exhausted, soon to be the target of an unreasonable hatred and fear. The setting is meant to evoke a vague Middle Europa, although most of the cast speaks in a Yorkshire accent, better to push the point that this crisis strikes at an universal societal level-but it is this frustrating lack of specificity that ultimately hobbles the work, the narrative lapsing into the impersonal, the broad, although the actors work incredibly hard and attempt to furiously emote their way to definition.

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Situations take on a tedious inevitability, there are no surprises and all unfolds as you would expect.  The young men grow violent and racist as their livelihoods disintegrate and their choices fade. The fanciful station assistant, bursting with romanticised, adventurous  ideals of faraway places, drifts into an unconvincing romance with the migrant woman, who is less convinced through experience of better prospects or expansive possibilities elsewhere. The station master and the elder migrant, both dinosaurs, fall into a shared nostalgia for less fraught days, the slower, steadier negotiation of time, briefly renewing themselves in protest (it is this relationship that most successfully aspires to-and threatens-something that approximates authentic, dimensional human interaction). Another cast member represents the savvy figure who knows how to exploit the tumult of borders and crossings for economic gain.

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Yet none of these figures breaks out of the polemical straitjacket of the script which, rather than let its story grow organically out of the interplay of well-wrought individuals, allows the message to cripple the characters into mouthpieces. The budget seems to have been entirely earmarked for a final display of (literal) visual pyrotechnics, which certainly jolts and juices the audience awake, a conflagration meant to symbolise the sad end of affairs in disenfranchised boroughs, community members gnarled in inarticulate rage. As the characters never settle into the particular or peculiar, though, and remain mired in the notional, and because no great innovative insight or enlightenment is forthcoming, it’s difficult to feel genuinely haunted by the tragedy that transpires. Europe continues through 10 August

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https://www.donmarwarehouse.com/

GOSSAMER: [UN]SEEN @ ARTHOUSE1

EXHIBITION

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The three participating artists’ delicate works exert a fascinating effect upon the gallery space that hosts them, lifting it of any material weight or sense of solidity, collaborating in a tender crime of ethereality in which a viewer can’t help but become enmeshed. A sense of being grounded is gently ceded in favour of a keen drift, a frolicsome flotation.

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Hanna ten Doornkaat’s wooden block pieces adorn the walls like primal communications that flirt just at the edge of definition (unfolding inscriptions of a secret language that spiritedly elude comprehension or garbled broadcast signals), the physical bodies and marks of which speak and reveal sudden confessions and evasions, admissions and erasures, lights and shadows.

Annamarie Dzendrowskyj’s spectral, gauzy studies (which find their apotheosis in her Between the Space I-IV series) tease through a haze of awakening consciousness, caught at the intersection between memory and imagination, a skein of half-remembered landscapes and states of feeling existing with tenuous grace and fragility, forever at the precipice of being lost and overridden.

Sinta Werner’s architectural “interventions”(both on-site and in a collection of manipulated photos) playfully and wilfully exploit perspective and assumption of the knowable dimensions of a space. Both her Broken Line (a row of tiny mirrors that runs the floor length of the larger room of the gallery, creating a decorative, transitory  border that invitingly diverts attention to new spatial encounters) to her Echoes I-XIV, a series of 14 “false” painted shadows inset into the corners and crooks of the walls so as to create a double exposure (and a true trick to perception), drag an immobile gallery space from its usual formal reserve into active engagement-it is now a subject, a relation.

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Her photo “collages” stage 3-D projections onto staid images of public and private spaces, evoking unforeseen dimensions, connections and covert angles, directing the senses to multivalent possibilities. In the nurturing realm of Arthouse1, far from an inhospitably blunt, uncultivated and obvious external world, these pieces are allowed full expression and flourish to contemplate lines not so well-drawn and boundaries diaphanously dissolved-an exaltation of the substantial insubstantial. [Un]Seen continues through 3 August

http://www.arthouse1.co.uk/current.html

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LABOURED: SWEAT@ GIELGUD THEATRE

THEATRE

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Not to disparage a Pulitzer-Prize winning script and a production that has been praised to a near-celestial degree, but this tale of the travails of a group of working-class labourers at a steel-tube factory grappling with downsizing and sudden unsteady fortunes flirts dangerously with agitprop in its absolute and studied refusal to invite any larger perspective than the one needed to score its points. This is, of course, a valid choice, yet the consequence is a failure of dimension or depth.

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Much of the material was birthed out of a two-year residency author Lynn Nottage spent with the denizens of the tarnished post-industrial town of Reading, Pa., so perhaps much of what is related is truth-but it doesn’t then seem to be properly expanded to the imaginative or poetic potential of theatre. Much of the first act proceeds at the casual pace of a weekly television series, the main cast of characters meeting at a local bar to caustically, but affectionately, grouse about work conditions and personal crises, all the while a resentment (fuelled by racial and ethnic tensions, a troubled sense of the demise of tradition) festers and foments into dangerous agitation.

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The whole of act 2 plods along, the same scene enacted by different sets of characters, until a crescendo of shrill violence, long simmering, explodes. Although the performers bring what nuance and subtlety they can to their individual personas, Nottage does a disservice to the main body, as most everyone (except for a sainted few) default to the worst aspects of character (drug addictions, violent indulgence), although certainly in crisis some find reserves of strength and resolve, seek out productive alternatives or become politically engaged.

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The person with the most sense, sanity and hope is (doubly) victimised, the second time savagely and irrevocably. The immigrant is canonised as the most capable of human compassion, which, quite beyond all the other emotional struggles of conflict and dissension, is seen as the most important trait-admittedly, this is startlingly (and unexpectedly) communicated to great effect in the final, heartbreaking scene. The corporate sector (not given a voice at all) is demonised as an unfeeling, remote, conscienceless  monstrosity concerned solely with the bottom line and profit, when circumstances that give rise to such tragedy are a much more complex set of arrangements and scenarios than this particular script would credit.

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Poor Cynthia, promoted from the floor to a supervisory position, has to shoulder much metaphoric weight in this respect, representing all the skewed associations in management structure  (it’s in the unravelling of its central deep-bonded relationship between the three lead female workers as conditions worsen, and as temperaments fray and grow vulnerable,  that the play achieves its greatest power-drink-addled Jessie, quietly lamenting her choice not to exploit the opportunity to travel in her youth, catches on a sudden seizure of feeling that is soul-shredding). Nottage has a surfeit of heart and sympathy for her discarded characters, in the ways in which what is certain and sure may at a moment’s notice spin off into disorientation and despair, in acknowledging the cruelty at the heart of the capitalist machine, but there needs to be more rigour in its head-the way it goes about its messaging has a very self-satisfied and rather smug approach. The suffering characters are more than justified in their suspicions, and the difficulty in being able to see outside their own plight, but it’s Nottage’s responsibility to locate the pain against a wider canvas, not just offer up an array of sanctimony. Sweat runs through 20 July

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https://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/tickets/sweat/#

 

FLAVOUR RAGE: FATT PUNDIT

RESTAURANT

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Refreshingly free of overdetermined decor and gimmicky menu options, this new Soho spot will rise above the dense kitchen clamour of its countless neighbours solely (and prominently) through the sheer, fundamental, simple beauty of its expertly crafted dishes. Serving up an intriguing hybrid of Chinese/Indian recipes (originating from the Tangra region of Kolkata, an area to which a great number of Hakka Chinese from Canton migrated), the plates offer a seductive, unfurling dimension of taste, spice and herb. Meals commence with tender dumpling parcels (in colloquial parlance called momos) filled with delicately seasoned portions of vegetable, beef, chicken or (for the adventurous) goat in aromatic sauces of soy, garnished with garlic, chilli, cardamom, garam masala, ginger and coriander, supple little pillows of joy.

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Veggie mains were all of high quality (the seafood, meat, poultry and game choices, ranging expansively from prawns and crabs to venison, rabbit and lamb to steak and chicken will keep carnivores more than happy-many an online review confirms this): crackling spinach was a luscious assemblage of ribboned green swirled in a sweet yogurt accented with a tangy plum and date sauce and the finish of crunchy pomegranates; Hakka chilly paneer immersed soft chunks of cottage cheese in a sweet soy dressing with shallots and a kick of white & black pepper; best yet was the sticky sesame vegetables, fritters drenched in a sweet batter, the addition of manuka honey and chilli deepening the satisfaction.

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Either burnt ginger or Szechuan rice provides the perfect bed upon which to place these dazzling savoury specialties. Desserts thrill the senses as well: the sizzling brownie with vanilla ice cream (incongruous menu item though it may be) is served in a hot iron skillet upon which is poured a pot of chocolate sauce, the ingredients cooking into a warm froth of confection.

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Most pleasing to the palate is the mango shrikhand, a cooling, velvety base of hung yogurt mixed with saffron and coated with soft kernels of honey comb (perfect for calming and rinsing the mouth of any lingering throb of spice). A crisp, invigorating Pinot Grigio from Slovenia completed the meal. For certain, the craving and taste for these dishes will assault me with force on a regular basis. And for the area, the food and drink is very reasonably priced. Long a staple of the food-going experience in places such as Hounslow and Harrow, I am ecstatic for this modest yet chic opportunity to acquaint myself with this cuisine.

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