Thursday, November 05, 2009

ZZ Top Rocker Takes The Tube

Originally on Londonist here: I ponder the potential for
tube-based adventures with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top

If you're preparing to head home on the tube, be vigilant for the famous grizzled beard of Billy Gibbons, guitarist of the honourable rock band ZZ Top. He favours the tube over a fancy limo as demonstrated when he played Wembley last week, and took the Metropolitan line there, unaccompanied. Gibbons wanted a taste of the Londoner's everyday public transport... and his wish came true, as the Circle Line broke down the instant he got his ticket.

A bus to Baker Street got him on his way, along with ZZ Top fans coincidentally heading to Wembley for the concert too - and he beat his bandmates by a satisfying 45 minutes. The carriage must have been packed with folks too afraid to sit next to him in case he a) asked for 10p for a cup of tea, or b) was actually Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.

Being a god of rock means further forays on public transport are unlikely, but Gibbons won the Marshall 11 award at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour awards this week, and he can frankly do whatever he likes. Except get the Circle Line when it decides not to work or inexplicably turns into a Hammersmith and City Line train at Euston Square. Not even 40 years in ZZ Top can change that.

Tube Passenger #1: Well, that was exciting wasn't it! Rock and roll! On the tube!
Tube Passenger #2: You know... that wasn't him. That's not the guy from ZZ Top
Tube Passenger #1: But... the beard. The beanie hat. It was him, wasn't it?
Tube Passenger #2: No, it was Derelict Messiah. He always gets the tube when it rains.
Tube Passenger #1: But... he signed my paperback. Look, that's his signature.
Tube Passenger #2: That's not his signature, it says "Feck yer arse-face gibbon monkey." And he licked the spine when you were looking for a pen.
Tube Passenger #1: Oh. Oh my god. Oh my god, what do I do with it now?
Tube Passenger #2: Sell it on eBay. Or burn it.
Tube Passenger #1: Ah. Yeah. I'll think about it. Hmm, sticky...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Theatre: The Abattoir Pages

Originally on Londonist
here: I write about a horror theatre thing that had great atmosphere and effect but an unappealing script and plot.

You are invited to a secret party in the old abattoir by horror author Helen Mayer. You are called to the door. You are led into the dark. And you are kept there for the rest of the evening.

The Abattoir Pages by Foolish People (previously presenting Cirxus) and Guerilla Zoo, is staged in the old abattoir, Clerkenwell. Combining theatre, art installation, straight-up horror attraction and treasure hunt, it explores Gaelic and Pagan rituals, tenuous musings on artistic creativity, torture, abuse and human depravity.

Creepy moments abound in this impressive, genuinely scary space full of terrifying dark damp spots, embellished by impressive set and lighting. Forbidding masked ushers glide about. Talking is forbidden. The audience wanders freely around paintings and sculptures. A hidden bar with entrance test is a nice touch. Convincing dread and fear pervades throughout. Spatially and visually, The Abattoir Pages delivers all the right atmospheric, decorative thrills.

However... We never found the treasure hunt. When the first cycle ended we didn't know when or how to leave. Once the initial chills subsided, the less rewarding elements of The Abattoir Pages became apparent: it's a spine-tingling set but a toe-curling script. Picturesque girls in Camden Market couture muttered incredulous lines like "The human story is the blade which kills the truth of history with the poison of myth." Incomprehensible scenes played out between attractively tortured characters, all talking impenetrably about The Book, The Forest, God, Creation, Gwyllt... it was rather a relief when Helen Mayer and her wretched book were finally dealt with in the (anti)climax.

Like a Haunted House computer game designed by David Lynch, you could wander around for 30 minutes and be quite satisfyingly spooked. But the effects are blunted by a script mangling psychotherapy in a Gaelic mythology writing workshop. It's an entertaining Halloween outing at one of London's genuinely scary spaces, but go for the atmosphere, not for the theatre.

The Abattoir Pages at The Old Abattoir, until 1 November. Three entry times each evening: 7.30, 8.30 and 9.30 and special Halloween matinee performances on Saturday 31 October and Sunday 1 November. For more information and to book, go to The Abattoir Pages website.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Theatre: Tips For A Small Town Anywhere

Originally on Londonist
here: I write about the amazing time I had at the latest Coney (Rabbit) adventure)

So this is the play: A Small Town Anywhere. And this is how it works: A Small Town Anywhere. And that's almost all that we can tell you because this is such an extraordinary and unique theatrical experiment, anything we tell you about our own experience of the event will sound like 1) completely incomprehensible nonsense a nd 2) be totally unrepresentative because every time this plays, with a different group, it turns out dramatically different from anything before.

Here is what we noted about our visit to A Small Town Anywhere:
- everyone takes part, even the quiet ones. Everyone is important and everyone has a role
- the audience becomes the performers so there is no audience to perform to
- there's quite a similarity to Home Sweet Home but without the "build your own" element in creating the town
- the town crier has a lovely voice
- "it's a bit like a really sophisticated game of Wink Murder, with sort of Big Brother elements... and dressing up"

Here are some tips for taking part in A Small Town Anywhere:
- book in advance
- reply to the historian Henri and follow the links he sends you (even if you do this on the day, Henri will be happy to correspond with you)
- if you have the time and inclination, build your backstory
- don't bring your own hat to the show, one will be provided for you
- make friends in the town, but be wary of anyone who makes you uneasy
- have a drink in the pub
- write letters to everyone you know
- be vigilant about the last post, don't miss the collection time
- beware the Raven

Puzzled? Intrigued? Are you thinking "WTF?" Book a visit to A Small Town Anywhere and find out for yourself... this is an adventure you make your own and we highly recommend that you try it.

Until 7 November. For more information and to book, go to the BAC website

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Storm in a Bowl of Shark's Fin Soup

Originally on Londonist here: I write about the shark's fin soup controversy in London's top restaurants and introduce the melon alternative.

Shark's fin soup: it's basically boiled cartilage. And this week, it is served with extra controversy, courtesy of a spat at The Dorchester Hotel's China Tang restaurant that serves this contentious concoction.

Conservationist / film-maker / double-barrel surname Lord Anthony Rufus-Isaacs complained when he was offered a bowl of hot cartilage broth at the super up-market Chinese restaurant, protesting that there is an international campaign against 'finning' which is the process of cutting fins off live sharks then throwing their bodies back into the sea to bleed to death.

China Tang owner, the knighted Hong Kong entrepeneur Sir David Tang reacted to the complaint equally strongly, accusing Rufus-Isaacs of abusing him personally and insulting the entire Chinese nation with his comparison of eating shark's fin soup to 'eating warm monkey's brains.' Both dishes require ghastly preparations but using one to illustrate the other's cruelty is 1) not making the case against finning on its own terms and 2) dangerously close to making a stereotype of Chinese cuisine.

China Tang rejected the complaint, explaining that shark's fin soup was taken off the menu several months ago and it was offered to Rufus-Isaacs by mistake. As shark's fin soup is a dish for special occasions, we would like to offer a recipe for shark-friendly fake-fin soup for a conciliation meal: shark fin melon soup. Yes, celebrate! There is a melon with a fibrous texture just like the fine shreds of shark fin when cooked in broth, and can be made without harming any marine life! Sir David, Lord Anthony, we think you can be friends and dine together after all.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 9: Boning a Chicken

Yes, that chicken has no bones! Yes, I boned a chicken! I totally boned a chicken and I was so damn proud of myself... it's not a task for the squeamish and should you wish to attempt it, I recommend sharpening your knife to 'scary' in order to get it done neater and with more panache than I managed. I took a quality chicken and started by cutting along the back bone, slicing the flesh away from the carcass. When I got to the top of the leg, I sliced along the bone and did a nifty bit of handling so that I cut away the whole leg bone by turning the flesh inside-out as I went along. It was quite gross and quite hard work but extremely satisfactory to remove the whole thing and see the chicken remain intact. I moved along to the other side of the carcass, almost like peeling an apple as I worked my way round to the other leg and removed the bone in that too. Then I was left with a sort of chicken 'splat' - a big floppy, fleshy thing that looked chicken pulled out from under a truck. Not very appealing but I was working towards my big finish which was getting a big ball of sausage meat stuffing (six of Tesco's Finest sausages removed from their skins plus breadcrumbs and onion) then reshaping the chicken around it. It was a HUGE success and the reshaped chicken was very convincing, it roasted like a dream and carving... well, you can imagine how easy the thing was to carve. I boasted about this boned chicken for weeks and lived off it for days. A triumph which I hope to repeat soon. Maybe for a special boneless Christmas. If you're keen to see photos, let me know and I'll give you access to the chicken boning in progress on Flickr. I'm wary of posting lots of pics of me hacking away at a raw chicken with so much glee, so just ask if your curiosity gets the better of you...

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Champagne Picnic On The Deck, National Theatre

Originally on Londonist
here: I sample an exclusive picnic and matinee deal on The Deck at the National Theatre

If you’re having a staycation and want to indulge this summer, or if you want to make a theatre trip extra special, this is an excellent offer. By 'this', we mean an exclusive champagne picnic on The Deck private function room atop the National Theatre, open to the public for a picnic and theatre matinee special offer. The function room is not just a room but an impressive, flexible space on the third floor with amazing views, good service and tranquillity literally far above the bustle of South Bank.

We made false starts in the wrong lift and stairs but emerged onto wooden decking, blue skies and elegant table and chairs. Once seated, we were given champagne and picnic boxes with proper cutlery. Potted ham in rustic glass jars, a fresh summery salad of asparagus, broad bean, squash and goat’s cheese, artisan bread and cheese, home made piccalilli that had us smacking our lips... and then not one but two puddings. Each. The chocolate pot was excellent: light, fluffy, rich. The Pimms and strawberry jelly was pure English summer in a miniature tub. Equally good quality vegetarian and non-dairy picnic boxes are available.

There are two more bookings this Saturday and Sunday (15 and 16 August), so grab your chance to enjoy this deal. The theatre matinee will be Time And The Conways, a J B Priestley classic that can’t be anything but good considering the success of the last An Inspector Calls, the last Priestley play staged by the National Theatre.

There's a lot of quality, well chosen food in the picnic box and the champagne flute is far from a thimble. Get there at 12noon on the dot to make the most of your pre-theatre slot, and to be sure you have time to finish everything in that very generous picnic. Tip: there’s a lot of Pimms in the Pimms and strawberry jelly so go slow!

Champagne picnic and ticket offer at The Deck, National Theatre, £40 per person including theatre ticket. For more information, go to The Deck website.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 8: Being a Girl and Owning Lots of Make-up

It's fun to be a girl, but it does seem to involve owning lots of non-essential stuff. I rarely wear make-up and yet... I have 15 lipsticks. They're all roughly the same colour. I'm not fussy about brands. I don't seem to discriminate between the types of lipstick either - pencils, traditional twist-up tubes, those lipgloss-style things with the sponge tip wands, skinny lipstick, miniature lipsticks, colourful goo in pots. I've got a stash and they never see light of day except on special occasions. However, ask me to get rid of any of them and I will defend them like they are my first born children.

So here they are, having a moment to shine, in a photo on this blog as they will probably never have the chance to shine on my lips. God bless womanhood and all its mysterious, incomprehensible glory.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nature-ist: Featherstone Street

Originally published on Londonist here: I share a scrap of urban gardening with the public.

Londonist takes a walk on the wilder side...

What is it?
A bench. Some dusty planting. An attempt at a pergola and what can be kindly described as a Japanese influenced rocky corner. Some perky bright flowers. Not as much rubbish or dog poo as you might expect.
Where is it?
This is the 'pocket park' at the far end of Featherstone Street, running parallel behind car-choked Old Street. Not sure who arranged this bit of greenery and 'relax on me for a short while' street furniture, not sure who takes care of it but it's there, and it's rather nice.
Why has it tickled our fancy?
Old Street and surrounding areas is not very generous in its green spaces so this tiny strip of planting is a mini-oasis. Placed anywhere else, the Featherstone Street flowers would be a bit silly and cumbersome (it would be laughed out of Hampstead) but being in the heart of grubby-chic Old Street area makes it more than welcome for the fume-weary foot passenger. A nice spot to rest a short while, sip a coffee and escape from the clamour of the roads nearby - whoever decided to make Featherstone Street flower, we salute you.
Nature notes:
It's hardly a jungle and there's not much horticultural richness to comment on, but there's an orderly, cared-for feel about the spot. And that pink is the right shade of dazzling to lighten the step of any passer-by.

Click on the link above to view the map of all Londonist's Nature-ist articles..

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Theatre Review: Pornography by Simon Stephens @ The Tricycle

Originally on Londonist here: I share my view on the London premiere of Simon Stephen's play about the London bombings.

Simon Stephen's Pornography at the Tricycle Theatre features pervasive and recurring irrational urban fury: sudden urges to stab strangers, hating fat people etc. Sean Holmes directs an extremely focused cast in this tense and subtle production, developing the ambiguous, mystified and self-absorbed reactions to that week in July 2005: Live 8, G8 summit, the Olympics bid, the 7/7 bombings.

The characters barely overlap but the cohesion of writing, directing and acting impressively brings it all together, making even the bomber like the others: he needs a coffee, he gets the train, he nurses a secret desire to transgress against the city that has alienated him and disappointed him. The schoolboy says and due to the strength of the ensemble, we know the others are also thinking: “I would do these things. If I was forced to, I would”. Could you ask strangers for food if their barbecue smells nice? Could you kiss your brother if you fancied him? Could you righteously bomb a city if it is full of sinners? And what if you start to think you should rather than could?

The line between "I might..." and "I must" is what the play dances around and keeps audiences on edge for when or if that line will be crossed. Stephens really likes to make audiences uneasy, either stretching tension to unbearable lengths through silences, unfinished sentences and abrupt twists in tone or through uncomfortable moments of action. Direct addresses to audience are interspersed with dialogue scenes, eventually unsatisfying but from the similar format of One Minute is clearly a style Stephens favours. It works; it involves the audience, makes it personal and immediate but the characters' interaction with one another are the most compelling moments. An important, uncomfortable, play for London and for everyone who has ever asked: “Why do you think it's like this now?”

Tip: Stay on after curtain call to see the projections on the backdrop.

Pornography, at the Tricycle Theatre until 29 August. For more information and tickets, go to the Tricycle website.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 6: Food Nobody Else Likes

I've talked a lot about food one way or another in The Happy series and I have now come to what is a deeply personal and potentially highly controversial entry: the food I like that no one else likes.

Growing up in a traditional Chinese household with non-English speaking parents and the patriarch coincidentally a chef by trade, I have had broad and deep exposure to the extremes of food. Chickens' feet, duck tongues, fish lips (the gills, actually), birds' spit (it's technically a nest but it's a nest made out of spit), dried things ranging from herbs to berries to seahorses (yes! dried seahorses! dried seahorses in a jar that my mother once made into soup!), all sorts of endangered fungi including wood ear, white cloud and the one that looks like black hair pulled from a plughole - nothing much can freak me out. I don't necessarily like all these things but cooked the right way and served in the right circumstances, I have enjoyed some of them enormously.

But these are foodstuffs too exotic and specific to make the list for this entry - and besides, a lot of these things are widely loved and sought after by the Chinese community, so it's more freakish and confessional to say that I, a Chinese person with experience of these things, do NOT like these foods. Instead, the list will be of items widely accessible to British readers and will say a great deal about my eating habits and what I'm likely to hide at the back of the fridge when decent people come to visit.

In no particular order:

Findus Crispy pancakes
Jellied eels (god, I *love* jellied eels)
Potato waffles
Chip shop curry sauce
Tinned chilli con carne (this fills me with shame but I was such a scabby student, I came to cherish this stuff during finals)
Instant mashed potato
Ginsters Cornish pasties
Burnt melted cheese
Cold peas mixed with mayonnaise or creme fraiche
Peanut butter (smooth) and marmalade on cream crackers
Plain cream crackers by the handful
Pickled herrings / rollmops (but oddly, I get very upset if I accidentally eat a fin)
Outlandish flavours of Apericube [link] (but I don't like Dairylea)
Tinned mackerel in mustard sauce
Samosas from the chiller cabinets in dodgy cornershops
Unbelievably smelly, weeping St Agur cheese - it has to ooze to appeal to me
Anchovies, anchovy relish
Tinned okra in tomato sauce
Instant noodles straight out of the packet, without touching any water

There are more but I've got to stop there before I lose all credibility as a foodie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Operation Cockney Sparrow and the Parakeets of Kenley

Originally on Londonist here: I share some overheard dialogue about the bird situation in two completely separate parts of London.

Two pigeons, pecking around a copy of The Evening Standard outside Bethnal Green station

Gordon: Sparrows. Loads of them. Taking all our bird feed. This is our borough. This is our place. Bloody cheek.
Brenda: Says here their number has dropped 70 per cent since 1994. And they need saving, so… [reading from the newspaper] “The London Wildlife Trust is working with the Peabody Estate to make Whitechapel, Hackney and King's Cross sparrow-friendly, with the help of Lottery funding.”
Gordon: They’re only chucking Lottery money at it!
Brenda: Well, look at what the project is called: ‘Operation Cockney Sparrow’. They’re Cockneys. This is their home, I suppose.
Gordon: It’s our home too. Can’t see anyone growing effing hawthorn and blackthorn for us.
Brenda: You wouldn’t like it. Scratchy things; I’d prefer a nice ledge, clean edges, not hedges.
Gordon: I swear, I’m gonna take off to Kenley, live with the parakeets. They know their place. Not sure I could stick Croydon though.
Brenda: Breeding like rabbits, them parakeets. Better get down there quick and nab yourself a rooftop before they get all Hitchcock on the council and swarm the place. Live for ages too, those exotic ones really know how to hold on, so even if you get on the waiting list, you’ll still be here in Bethnal Green with the chirpy-chirpy sparrowboys waiting and waiting for one of ‘em to shuffle off their perch.
Gordon: And Lord knows, no one ain’t gonna put poison down on them pretty birds. Bright green, they are. Beautiful birds… beautiful.
Brenda: I hear they’re noisy though.
Gordon: Ooh, can’t stand noisy neighbours. Sparrows chirping their little heads off - that’s got a London charm. But those parakeets… who knows what they’re saying?
Brenda: Still won’t get ‘em exterminated though. Not like us. One poorly aimed crap and the whole lot of us are persecuted. Persecuted!
Gordon: No, no hedges for us. Nobody loves us. Don’t know why. [Pause]
Gordon: Come on, Benny says he saw a big puddle of vomit near the pub.
Brenda: Quick, before the lunch crowd gets in before us!

They swoop off low through the crowds towards the pub.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 5: Hitler Cat
This cat prowls around our courtyard, along with Black Cat with Blue Collar, Big Angry Tortoiseshell Cat and Big Black Cat (no collar). We also have lots of birds pottering about in the courtyard, all of them enjoying the four sides of back gardens backing onto the space. I first spotted Hitler cat a few months ago and was so delighted with his Fuhrer appearance, I shot across the flat and burst in on my sleeping husband, shouting 'Hitler cat! Hitler cat! Outside! He's outside!' Since then, every time we spot Hitler cat, we dash around the living room shouting 'Hitler cat! Hitler cat', falling over ourselves to grab our cameras and generally collapsing into giggles at the sight of it.

That cat. He looks like Hitler.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Live Art Review: Plane Food Cafe @ Artsadmin

Originally on Londonist here: I review a dinner lecture in a fake plane complete with aeroplane seats, stewardess trolleys and unpleasant super-heated pasta.

Doors to manual...

...and the steel door of the shipping container in Toynbee Studios' courtyard rolled back. Ten bemused diners were ushered in to the cramped but admirably authentic aeroplane interior of the Plane Food Café. The smell of the super-heated plastic containers was the same as the food they held; we sat politely with seatbelts fastened, safety bibs on, awaiting artist Richard Dedomenici and his stewardess to serve us from the trolley.

We got dinner, we got drinks and the inflight info was Dedomenici's film about birdstrikes and how geese can detect radiation. It was informative, funny, irreverent while serious in tone, irrelevant but focused. We learned about 'snarge' (the mushy results of a birdstrike) and airport birdscarers, we were also gratefully distracted from the spaghetti bolognese that had the texture of mashed potato mixed with tennis ball shavings, coated in gluey, pungent transparent melted cheese that sat on our laps.

According to Dedomenici, aeroplane meals taste different outside pressurised aircraft cabins: tastebuds and smell receptors are hindered by cabin pressure so in 'normal' surroundings (such as a fake aircraft cabin inside a shipping container in East London), the food should taste spectacular. It does not. For those who have never flown before or are facing a recession without flying, it was eye-opening as to how much better our lives can be without food and conditions like this.

We ate, we learned, we laughed, we dropped food on our safety bibs and then we emerged a swift 30 minutes later, quite sure flying in real aerospace is a Bad Thing (and the food is lousy) but a short hop with Dedomenici Airlines is a Good Thing. This artist's unique lecture / dining / installation method makes you belch, think and laugh all at the same time.

Plane Food Café continues at Artsadmin until 21 June. For more information and to book go to the Artsadmin website.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Happy on Hypatia Avenue No. 4: Eclectic Saturday Morning Reading

From left to right, top row: Private Eye, The Big Issue, Grazia, Viz, G2
Front row: One Eye Grey, Reader's Digest from January 2009 which I found in the office and was compelled to bring home for some insane, time-wasting reason.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

One and Other: I Stood On The Plinth And I Liked It

On Sunday 23 August 2009, I was on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square as part of Anthony Gormley's One and Other installation. You can see the video of me enjoying my 8.00am hour-long slot here and read more about my choices for the special occasion in my profile on the page. There are also photos here.

It was absolutely magical being up there. It's quite peaceful at 8 metres high and there weren't many people in the square at that point - but it wasn't so early in the morning that it felt deserted and empty. It felt like the city was just waking up and tottering out to see what was going on while I stood up there. And the bells of St Martin in the Fields marked out the segments of my time, the fountains started up halfway through, the sun shone brightly like a blessing and the beautiful voice of my faithful friend Katy pealed out around the dazzling square as she sang our wedding song again, not once but twice in the hour I was a piece of art.

The ride across the square in the cherry picker and the dizzying rise to the plinth was brilliant. The smiling faces all looking up at me as I stood there, the strangers who pointed their cameras at me and waved back when I waved at them, the mild aura of good will and good cheer as people came and went, glancing up at me smiling with my bouquet and bright dress and big headpiece... it was sublime.

I chose to be a bride again for all sorts of reasons...

... I'm quite small and wanted to be sure to be seen, and as my wedding dress is the brightest thing I own, it seemed a good theme to work with
... brides are treated like sculptures or models on the big day, stared at and admired and talked about. A very good analogy for standing on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of an art installation, I thought

... I wanted to throw my bouquet again as I cocked it up the first time, and I did think that with some height, I could do a good bouquet toss this time

... I love my husband very much and a lot has happened in the three years since we married which has made me want to tell him and the world how much he means to me and how happy, how complete he makes my life

... how often does a woman get to wear her wedding dress again? It's still the nicest and best fitting thing I have in my wardrobe, so it was almost my default choice when I first got news of my slot

The experience was a bit spoiled by the events of the following week - I had been feeling unwell in the run-up to the plinth outing but fought the nausea and dizziness valiantly until I had been up and come down. The same afternoon, when I was lying on the sofa, I felt like the sofa was trying to throw me off itself, or else I was marooned on a paddle boat in a choppy sea and was so motion sick in my own living room that I was vomiting quite severely. So off to the walk-in clinic we went, which then led me to A&E, which then saw me being admitted overnight to the wards so that I could be seen by a surgical consultant, have an ultrasound, a drip and lots of painkillers, anti-nausea pills and pregnancy tests for two days.

Turns out it was nothing worse than a bad case of labyrinthitis, an inner ear problem that causes loss of balance, nausea and a constant feeling of travel sickness. A week off work and lots of sitting very still, clutching my anti-nausea pills to my throbbing head has paid off and I'm cautiously much better now. Lucky I don't suffer from vertigo or else my plinth outing could have been quite spectacularly bad and vomitous. As it is, I think I pulled off my hour as art quite nicely. It's not an experience I'm likely to forget.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Bouncers for Boozy West End Theatres

First published on

West End theatres are employing security firms to keep control over rowdy audiences. Overdoing the pre-show and interval drinks, boisterous and obnoxious behaviour and Renaissance-era licentiousness in the stalls are causing great unhappiness to the actors and theatre staff.

Getting sexy when the houselights go down, relieving themselves in the aisles, taking photos and being drunken nuisances is so common now, the security staff already in place at hen night favourites such as Mama Mia! are just resigned to slurring, shouting and boozy misdemeanours.

Ironically, tickets are cheap in order to lure in first time theatre-goers. And package deals for big groups deliberately appeal to hen nights, birthday parties and outings for which the play is just a warm-up for further rowdiness. Theatres need bums on seats – but alas, these bums are turning out to be exactly the kind that need to be kicked out.

Banning alcohol in the auditoriums is one solution offered by playwright Ronald Harwood, but we foresee it could backfire like cheap ticket offers: intervals are usually 15 minutes maximum and for a determined hen party, that’s five tequila shots each before the bell goes. No drinks in auditoriums in these cases would not be taken as a ‘go slow’ suggestion, it would be taken as a challenge.

Perhaps the best solution is for West End shows to just give up after the first half and let audiences run riot all over the seats for the second half. They’re not interested in the ending, the performers already know how it turns out, so while the Bacchanal rages in the stalls and circle, the performers could retreat to well-stocked dressing rooms, Radio 4 and a nice cup of tea until time for curtains, at which point they can bow to the oblivious audience and go home for an early night, and everybody, box office included, is happy. Ish.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dominoes 2009: Watch them fall

Dominoes 2009: a Station House Opera project for CREATE09 and we were part of it. This section was in Mile End Park and was the start of the 15km route; the dominoes eventually crossed the road, went into Matt's Gallery and out of a window, knocking the last domino into a waiting barge on the canal which then travelled to Island Gardens to start the next section. This section eventually went through Greenwich Foot Tunnel and into the Old Royal Naval College where there was a big party to celebrate the best fun it is possible to have with several thousand breeze blocks.

Video by Hazel Tsoi-Wiles. Music by Jason Shaw under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 US licence

Originally posted on

Check out the Dominoes 2009 website, Flickr Group (including my photos) and other YouTube videos

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Theatre Review: A Lament For Medea @ The Arcola Theatre

The squish of a sodden soft toy underfoot as we are led carefully into six inches of water in a darkened, flooded studio theatre encapsulates the uncomfortable and unnerving atmosphere of A Lament For Medea. This short (under an hour) performance is stiflingly intimate; the hypnotic slosh of water, the keening songs of the performers, the proximity of everyone else dangling their feet in the pool is a coup by Zecora Ura. The setting is extraordinary and the intense, ritualistic performances throws all who enter into the limbo world of Medea, post-murder, pre-consequences.

Zecora Ura created similar uneasy intimacy in their endurance theatre piece Hotel Medea and A Lament For Medea repeats elements from that exhausting, epic night, mainly Medea's persecution by the King's soldiers and the blank, awful moments after she has killed her children. A Lament For Medea is far more fractured and harder to follow, more a meditation on the character - the witch, the murderer, the woman scorned, the victim of abuse and torment - and less an evening of narrative. The queen slumped in her wheelchair is terrifying, pathetic, mournful and furious, as disjointed as the scenes of this lament for her. Yet it makes sense if you experienced Hotel Medea, like an epilogue or exorcism of Medea from yourself. If you didn't experience Hotel Medea, it is a bold and unsettling interpretation of the Greek tragedy, with a setting quite unlike anything done before.

Why the water? It felt like a novelty, then a distraction, then unnecessary. But in the final minute, it flowed red around our ankles with Medea's body floating either at peace or in stony defeat upon it. And it seemed best to leave her there, suspended in her own mythology, the blood-red water washing about her as we quietly slipped away.

A Lament for Medea at the Arcola Theatre, until 25 July. For more information and to book, go to the Arcola Theatre website.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New Look, Same Stuff, More Stuff

Look! Look at my Twitter feed! (Simultaneously updated on Facebook!) Look at my Londonist articles! Look at my photos! Look at my videos! Look! Click! Look again!

This is all rather exciting but I've had a long morning of html, xml, css and wtf with a small amount of ffs. Enough for now, I'll be back...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Twittering, Blogging, Facebooking, Londonisting, Everything

As usual, I'm everywhere at once and yet nowhere long enough to feel like I'm paying my fullest and most useful attention to the thing at hand. Instead of shedding things, I'm looking at ways to bring them all together and so work, think, dream and generally waste my time in a fabulous cross-platform manner. And here it is: my Twitter feed in the left hand column, updating this blog and my Facebook page while I'm on the go, via my mobile phone or at my desk whenever I need to get word out about what I'm doing, what I'm thinking, what I'm pondering for my lunch. What else can I do? What other joined up web 2.0.1 thinking should I explore?

Hello to all those still tuning in here: hello!