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.