Follow one crying eye on

Ramblings on the topic of ENTERTAINMENT

I add short items to this page from time to time about my experiences at the theatre/cinema or other place of worship of the great MEDIA gods. 

I include links to relevant blog posts or pages elsewhere on this website.

I have always loved the theatre but whilst I was working I allowed myself to ignore it for far too long. My collection of production programmes (I was always determined to have a programme as a keepsake) reminds me that we went through occasional phases of theatre-going over the years, although when my children were teenagers they both performed in concerts and other productions and these tended to replace visits to professional theatre etc as we were limited on time. I suppose we were also limited by available funds, especially before I discovered discounts, previews and the like – or maybe those opportunities were less prevalent in any case in those days.

February 2022 – a busy week just ended, in which I have celebrated my daughter’s birthday with a delightful restaurant visit, attended a lunch talk at the RAC Club for my fill of culture (and friends) and a choral concert at St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square by the excellent Londinium chamber choir. But my comment here relates to a new television series This is Going to Hurt based on the book of the same name by former doctor Adam Kay and starring the wonderful Ben Whishaw. I listened to the audiobook a couple of years ago and knew this would be a ‘warts and all’ production. I had also seen the endless BBC trailers for it, which led me to expect a farcical feel, but I was perhaps not sufficiently prepared for the graphic opening scenes of traumatic childbirth (almost occurring in a paternoster lift, which was ridiculous and frightening and hysterically funny in a very dark sort of way) and the throwaway comment by the doctor to his junior “never let them see the size of the forceps” which sadly was a horrific reminder of my first-born’s arrival – AND NOW I DO KNOW THE SIZE OF THOSE THINGS, after 20 years of blissful (if slightly torn) ignorance.  I am looking forward to watching the rest of the series, partially through my fingers I expect.

I have just read some of the many comments about this new series on social media and in the press. Of course there are plenty of rave reviews and Mr Whishaw is being roundly praised (quite rightly, in my view), but there are many detractors also who accuse the writer, the BBC, and anyone else involved of crass insensitivity, misogyny blah blah. They don’t think it’s funny. Well, of course the subject matter is not funny and that is the whole point – the reasons why Adam Kay eventually left his job will no doubt play out clearly in the series as they do in the book. Gallows humour has surely always been a way of coping with trauma and awful situations. I recall one of the ways I coped with my own difficult labour (60+ hour! Kiellands foreceps as referenced above) was to make jokes about it (except in the really difficult bits, obviously). Of course, people with their own awful experiences, especially those which were genuinely tragic in nature, may not be able to watch this series, would be best advised not even to try and that is completely understandable. But the trigger warnings have been given, and they can surely just switch off. 

The rest of us can maybe hide behind the sofa with a double gin every Tuesday evening for a while.

January 2022 – despite the Omicron wave continuing to be troublesome, I have thrown myself back into the theatre in 2022. Firstly, Force Majeure at the Donmar Warehouse, then The Book of Dust at the Bridge Theatre and last night a preview of Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Old Vic. Both Force Majeure and The Book of Dust have received critical acclaim and I would not argue with this, and I won’t write much about them here.

Force Majeure was a bit of a romp on a steeply inclined ‘snow-clad’ stage, with actual ski-ing at times and plenty of laughs alongside the family ski-holiday angst and the character break downs. Rory Kinnear as the father (Tomas), and especially Lyndsey Marshal as his wife Ebba, were excellent and it was a great evening out.

Possibly less my cup of tea, but definitely gripping, especially for its stage effects, The Book of Dust was a family outing for us. I had found some top price tickets at 45% discount, but in fact three out of four of us had a poor view with much of the stage obstructed by the heads of the row in front of us. I have previously thought that there were no poor seats in the Bridge, so this was a first for me there. (I am very short when I sit down, but the rest of my family is not and so it was not just me being titchy!). I think Samuel Creasey, who played the lead character Malcolm, will be gracing our stages more in the future. Remarkably, this was his debut – and there was a definite reminiscence of James Corden at the National. We’ll see.

Now to my attempt to second-guess the critics for my latest preview visit…

I had bought myself a Baylis Circle ticket for the Old Vic’s A Number months ago, when I was having a manic ticket-buying drive with unused holiday money. As the date approached, I decided I wanted a closer look than the end-of-row seat up in the gods would offer me, so I stalked the OV website until I spotted a suitable Stalls substitute at a bargain price (thanks to PWC’s generous preview scheme) and gave the other ticket back for resale. Even donating the original ticket, I was getting a very good deal – and I am glad I did, because I had a great view and was far better able to see the facial expressions than I would have been from my original seat.

I was lucky to get that Stalls seat – the house appeared pretty much sold out, and there was certainly a big buzz around the auditorium. I think these cheap preview seats bring in the younger enthusiasts, and perhaps Paapa Essiedu also has a bit of a following in the younger age-group than my own. He was, in fact, the main reason I had been interested to attend, other than the intellectually highfalutin idea of making a comparison with the Bridge version of the same play which I had seen in February 2020.

The story develops throughout the various scenes. Initially, we meet a father (Salter, played by Lennie James) and his son (Bernard, played by Essiedu) discussing the recent discovery that the son is one of several – ‘a number’ of – clones which had been created by a now-deceased medic at the time when the father had wished to recreate his lost son who had died in a car crash with his mother. That story would be complex enough, but it develops throughout the play. The ‘original’ son did not in fact die in a car crash, but had been sent into care after his mother had committed suicide and his father could not cope with him. He is in fact still alive and returns to visit his father.

The son we had first met returns and discusses this further with his father, knowing by this stage that the original story was untrue. He cannot reconcile himself with the situation and leaves. We later find that the ‘original’ son has killed him.

In the last scene, one of the ‘other’ clones meets the father. He is aware that he is one of many, but it does not seem to trouble him. He has his own family and is happy. Father relates that his ‘original’ son has now taken his own life. Father is unable to understand how this third son can be fine with his lot and tries to find out more about the essence of the man – to no avail. The guy is just a normal person getting on with his reasonably pleasant normal life.

Essiedu plays all three ‘sons’ (Bernard 1, Bernard 2 and Michael Black), with a change of clothing and different voice and manner for each. The transition from one to the other is achieved by very quick costume changes facilitated by blinding spotlight flashes onto the audience, rendering us temporarily blind while a switch is made to an understudy who then keeps his back to us while he gathers belongings from the previous scene and leaves the set. Essiedu can then make an immediate entry in the skin (and the clothes) of the latest version of the son as the new scene opens. I liked this practical effect, even though the bright lights were startling the first time. It made it seem a little magical, perhaps adding to the supernatural feel of having so many clones, which is in itself a concept hard to grasp.

There are many existential ideas – of self, character, nature vs nurture, honesty, love – to consider here, and father and sons clearly each wrestle with these in different ways through the father-and-son dialogue. Naturally we have to hear the backstory, largely through father and ‘original’ son’s differing retellings, but we also hear how each is coping with the revelations as they come. All of this is achieved using slightly disjointed and sometimes halting dialogue between the father and each of the sons in turn. Essiedu is convincing in all three iterations of the son, bringing each to life. He seems to be fully in each of their skins, with the inevitable physical similarity and jarringly different ways of expressing his feelings. Of course, we need the physical sign-posts of clothing or hair style, but the fundamental differences of demeanour and ‘being’ are clearly felt.

James, in my view, has the harder part despite being only one person throughout. For sure we experience a change in understanding of his character as his motivation for the cloning of his first-born emerges, together with his internal processing and attempts at self-reconciliation. There are times when the fragments of dialogue, ending in part sentences and half-expressed thoughts, feel as though they are still on the page, with an almost visible ellipsis every few lines. (I confess that Roger Allam, in the Bridge Theatre’s version, was splendid at this and I may be being picky here.) It is – I am sure – very difficult to play.  I suspect it will become much more natural with more performances under the belt as the run progresses. But already there is that chemistry between the two performers, which is a joy to watch.

Both men seem to down-play the emotion, rather than over-egging the exchanges. Some of the revelations of the past are dramatic and shattering, and that’s clear and maybe deliberately understated, and I liked this. Paapa Essiedu may be up for award nominations here – his stage presence was magnetic. 

The Old Vic are using Es Devlin’s box set with a neon-light surround, housing a red-hued apartment (was this ironically womb-like?) for most of the scenes and a similarly red art-gallery space for the final scene. Interestingly, there are empty alcoves in the gallery where the pictures should be hung – invisible portraits reflecting the lack of human essence that Salter finds when meeting this clone Michael? The scene changes are simple, I suppose, but I thought it was an ingenious way to move from one son to another. (At the Bridge, I recall there was a rotating stage and the same room was used but we viewed it from a different aspect for each son.)

I expect there to be favourable reviews all round. 4* and perhaps 5*, although the play has been presented quite ‘a number’ of times in its 20 years (sorry!), so it may depend on whether the critics like the play itself or are tiring of it. (I guess Hamlet has been done a few times though, and that doesn’t stop rave reviews for fresh interpretations.)

If it can raise some money with full houses of adoring Essiedu fans, then I’m sure the Old Vic will take that regardless of the critics. The applause and cheers at the end were more than heartening last night. The only downside? With a running time of a little over an hour, it was over too fast! Before I knew it I was back on the train home, and wondering what will be my next production.

See below for earlier reviews and ramblings, or follow my blog

December 2021 – Hard on the heels of the critically panned Manor at the National (see November 2021 below), I was booked at the Young Vic to see another preview of a new play by a writer with a good track record. I think Best of Enemies by James Graham will have better luck with the critics than Manor. [Post script: It received rave reviews. Hurrah!]

Best of Enemies is based on the well-received film documentary of the same name. It is set in 1968 in the run up to the US presidential election, and centres on a series of television interviews run by the ABC network in an attempt to improve their viewing numbers. The ABC anchorman conducted these interviews with William Buckley and Gore Vidal, representing their views as a Republican and a Democrat respectively. 

The production had huge energy. Most of the cast played multiple parts, many of which were used to give historical context – including Aretha Franklin singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at the Democrats’ Convention (with attendant racial slurs as a result), Bobby Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, Enoch Powell, Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King Jnr and other real figures from the period. Although the series of interviews built up to the last one where the protagonists, played by David Harewood and Charles Edwards, hurl appalling insults at each other rather than having a reasoned debate, these were interspersed with scenes from the lives of Buckley and Vidal as they prepared for the programmes, and also with the TV network’s ratings battle. As a result, the discussions were given more context and the characters greater depth. 

It was an interesting choice to have a black actor play the Republican Buckley. From an article I read in the weekend newspapers, I had expected there to be more shocking words spoken by the estimable Mr Harewood, but in fact it was more subtle than that – I don’t think there was a shock-horror racist moment as a result, although there were plenty of references throughout the play which would be unacceptable today and about which 2021 audiences are warned in the marketing literature. The only big audience gasp for Buckley was his calling Vidal a ‘Queer’ on live TV. 

The main stage space (in the round – I had not been to a performance at the Young Vic before, so I don’t know if it is always set up like this) was empty aside from place marks, and at one end were steps up to the ABC production gallery with picture windows allowing us to see some of the scenes played out up there, and the interviewees’ friends and family watching as the programmes were broadcasting, but also served as projection screens for the many newsreel clips peppering the production. On several occasions, the actors declaim actual speeches from the time, bizarrely (and, in my view, very effectively) lip-syncing with the real person they are representing as shown on the screens above. There was also live-streaming onto these screens when the TV debates were going on – the interviewer and interviewees being filmed by period mock-up TV cameras (using iPads or other tablets I think, so that the actor operators could see what they were shooting – I really liked this as a device), bringing another dimension to the performances.

For other scenes – offices, hotel bedroom suites etc – basic furniture was wheeled in. Scenes were cut together so that Buckley prepared with his backers in his hotel room, which for the audience was the same bedroom space as occupied by Vidal as he simultaneously readied himself for the next bout of verbal fisticuffs.

The controversial interviews proved to be a ratings winner for ABC. The play reveals that these interviews about politics were effectively the start of big celebrity or politician TV debates which, rather than allowing reasoned and intellectual discussion, piled on exaggeration, personal criticism and shock tactics to entice audiences to watch. The beginning of the end, I suppose, and the theatre audience were invited to relate this to our present times. These themes are still going strong of course, and this was an interesting way of looking at them through the retelling of a period of history that many of us will not have studied or lived through.

With the playwright’s benefit of hindsight, Graham could slip in a few references for today’s audience to pick up (Trump/Reagan for sure), and this audience seemed completely engaged throughout as we caught the references, watched the ever-changing scenes and newsreel, and even some dancing!

If I’m being at all picky, I reckoned some of the accents were variable. Vidal, in particular, seemed to waver from upper crust British to American to mid-Atlantic. This may, of course, be the way Vidal spoke. Either that, or I expect it will settle down as the run progresses. I didn’t much care for Patricia Buckley (Clare Foster) but her stylised prancing may have been a faithful copy of the actual person – who knows, but it irritated me. These observations are minor though. This was a pretty slick performance all round, and the odd little uncertainty here or there will doubtless be honed to even greater effect over the run.

As the final bows were taken, there were many whoops from the punters, and several stood up to give the ever-more-popular ovation – I think this was deserved, and hope that the critics will feel this way too.

This time I was in the perfect seat. A top price ticket, but a preview, so much cheaper than normal, and one of only two individual seats on a corner. Admittedly, I was pretty trapped there, as far away from an aisle as you could get, but in these Covid-paranoid times, it was quite a relief not to be jammed between other people. The theatre staff were policing the mask-wearing as effectively as I have yet seen, so full-marks to them for that.

November 2021 – After a brief dalliance with the cinema to see the latest James Bond, and a fleeting (and horribly early morning) Supporting Artist experience in which I was thrilled to be able to give a most enthusiastic performance myself (alongside a proper actor – not allowed to say more – soooo exciting), I returned to my more usual place in the theatre audience for two new productions this month.

Keen to support our local theatre in Kingston upon Thames, I booked a couple of top price tickets and took Mr J along to see The Seven Pomegranate Seeds (by Colin Teevan) at the Rose Theatre.  This was essentially seven tales, set in present day but based on mythology: stories of seven women from Euripides’ plays. All the characters were portrayed by just two actors – Niamh Cusack and Shannon Hayes. With social distancing still very much in place at the Rose, we had an excellent view of the action which ranged all over the stage and up onto gantries at two levels above it. All that dashing around must have been exhausting, and at first we were not particularly impressed, but somehow we were drawn in and thoroughly enjoyed it as a spectacle and also as storytelling. It was a shame that the audience was fairly sparse and many of the available socially-distanced seats were left empty. I don’t think they’re using the upper circle at all these days. I suppose this was never going to be a box-office blockbuster, and we went on a Tuesday which won’t have been the most popular night out, but still… The reviews, which I read the day after our visit, were generally ungenerous. Maybe that also had something to do with it.

In contrast, the Lyttelton Theatre at the National was packed last night (22 November) for the final preview of another new play, this time Moira Buffini’s Manor. I had bagged a £10 ticket in the NT’s Friday Rush and had a seat on the very end of the front row. These are advertised as Narrow Seats and Restricted View, so my expectations were nice and low. Mind you, the last time I was in the front row for a production was for Present Laughter at the Old Vic (also a preview I recall) which kicked off my recent mania for theatre as documented here, so you never know!

Close-up view of Lyttelton ‘iron’

For sure, when I arrived the ‘curtain’ was down and I sat looking at characterless brown stripes wondering whether this would be tediously neck-achey. I need not have feared; as soon as the stage was revealed, I knew there would be plenty to watch from my peculiar vantage point. Although there were parts of the action I had to imagine a little for myself, due to the positioning of a splendidly ‘distressed’ armchair placed between me and centre stage, I never felt short-changed. 

It will be interesting to see what the critics make of this one. I loved the sumptuously wonky staging, depicting a run-down country manor-house. There was plenty of action and never a dull moment in the more-than-two-hour running time. One character fell down the huge staircase quite early on – I wonder how many bruises he will sustain during the run? No stunt men here. He ends up lying on a table for a very long time afterwards under a sheet apparently dead – dangerous on the evening when he finally concusses himself in the fall! But I quite like this sort of stage fun. If I’d been at the other end of the front row I would have been able to see how well he was hiding his breathing. I’m getting carried away remembering bits – so I think that is good in itself, and this is largely what makes the theatre such a great experience in my book.

With ten characters, none of which could be classed as only a bit-part, this was a nice ensemble piece – the conceit being that the troubled residents of the country pile are joined on a stormy evening by a random selection of stranded locals and tourists, as the river bursts its banks and the sea-wall is threatened. These include the local vicar, three members of Albion, a far right organisation, a local guy with multiple ailments who lives on a nearby caravan park and a mother/daughter A&E nurse and student. The eclectic mix of people allows exploration of a number of themes: the rise of the Far Right in the UK and the increasing fear of climate change are the main ones, but the former also encompasses racism and sexism. If I were being cynical, I would say that the inclusion of an alcoholic, an elderly gay vicar, a sudden budding lesbian relationship between the two youngest characters, a bit of simulated rogering on the kitchen table (these last two requiring the inclusion of an Intimacy Coordinator famous for Normal People no less, and to be honest seemed unnecessary – we’re not easily shocked these days, and I’m not sure this added anything) and a character with a physical impairment (blind) were over-egging the ‘issues’. Yes, I think I am going to be cynical – it was a bit all over the place. But it jogged along at a good pace and there were some proper laughs, including visual gags sometimes evoking old fashioned farce in places – eg the vicar emerging from his overnight armchair and blanket wearing a ladies’ pink fluffy jumper and just his underpants (ok, perhaps this was unnecessary too, but it was at least quite funny), and the pantomime gun-play unseen by the blind Ruth before it all turned nasty.

There was certainly some serious contemplation of far right attitudes to race and the place of women in society, voiced in different ways by a variety of character pairings – which, to me, may have been a little too contrived but managed to spread the messaging rather than have any one character pontificate for too long.

My front-row restricted view (and lack of personal height, perhaps) did result in a rather belated realisation that the sea-wall had indeed finally been breached, as the stage became awash and the lights dimmed to signify the end. So global warming is our real threat then. Interesting.

Tumultuous applause – although no standing ovation that I could see.

[Cast: Michele Austin, Peter Bray, Nancy Carroll, Liadán Dunlea, Shaun Evans, Amy Forrest, David Hargreaves, Edward Judge, Owen McDonnell, Shaniqua Okwok]

As a footnote, I was appalled that two men in the row behind me saw fit to have a foul-mouthed argument – possibly about mask-wearing, although I’m not entirely sure – DURING the first half of the play. This must have been noticeable onstage, and it certainly had me worried that actual fisticuffs were about to occur in my own personal space. And in the second act (one of the earlier aggro-men having departed and the other one having apologised to others around him), I was aware of a fellow front-row person a few seats along, swiping away on a smart watch – several times. I’m not sure why these people bother to come to the theatre at all.

[Further footnote: the critics HATED this one. The Times gave it NUL POINTS, the Guardian just one star. As an evening’s entertainment, I think that’s a little unfair, but what do I know? Their criticisms were along the same lines as my own ‘cynical’ observations above – but rather better articulated. Perhaps they are also commenting more on the general state of the National Theatre under its current artistic director and in that respect I will bow to them, but I wouldn’t advise people to stay away. There is still fun to be had with this one – and I wonder whether there will be cuts/changes in response?]

October 2021 – a return to the Bridge Theatre to see White Noise, which was excellent. There were some stark explorations of race (one of the characters hosted a phone-in programme called ‘Ask a Black’ which seemed to cover a number of the most common racist issues in a blunt – but rather effective – way. There was another shocking moment when a black character had a metal slave collar placed around his neck by his white ‘master’. (OK, there’s a lot to unpick here, but the master/slave relationship was instigated by the black man as a potential remedy for racist treatment from the police, and the ‘master’ was his white best friend, but this sure as hell brought out some of the worst ‘master’ characteristics as the play progressed.)

There was also some cleverly simulated on-stage sex – which somehow seemed a little shocking at a matinee. Perhaps that’s just me – not prudish, but somewhat surprised.

Anyhow, Bridge Theatre publicity has just pointed out to the world that White Noise is their 17th production, and I’m pleased to say that I have seen all 17, thus achieving (so far!) my stated determination to go to every one of their productions. 

Here’s a pic of all the programmes from these productions. You will see that I am missing three – these were for Beat the Devil, Nine Lives and A Christmas Carol. I know that there was no programme produced for at least one of these, because of Covid cutbacks or infection concerns. Otherwise I may have just failed to buy a programme – which is terribly bad form for such an obsessive.

September 2021 – after my second viewing of Constellations to see Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd (almost as marvellous as the Tovey/Douglas pairing), I took a break from the theatre to go on holiday to a jam-packed Cornwall, but last night (28th Sept 2021) I returned to the Old Vic to see Camp Siegfried, a new play by Bess Wohl about a summer camp organised in the 1930s by German Americans. The play explores the anti-semitism and Nazism of the immediate pre-second world war times in this section of North American society. Using just two contrasting characters and their intense relationship at Camp Siegfried, the production charts political indoctrination alongside and through their budding sexuality and the growing self-confidence of Her against the waning (or wavering) sure-footedness of Him. 

I had seen rather mixed reviews of this, and it seems that audiences had not flocked to see it: my initial booking for a mid-week matinée had been cancelled and I had been invited to reapply for one of a more restricted number of performances. I suppose the lack of familiarity with the play or its writer has been a problem, or perhaps (sadly) the lack of a big-name star. In fact, the actors were two of my main reasons to attend – alongside my general enthusiasm for going to everything at my favourite theatres (The Bridge and The Old Vic in particular) of course. I have seen both in other recent productions in London: Luke Thallon in Present Laughter at the Old Vic and in After Life at the Dorfman, and Patsy Ferran in A Christmas Carol at the Bridge.

Both were truly excellent in Camp Siegfried. Their relationship develops throughout the play and at each stage they are entirely believable, with great chemistry. And what an ordeal of line-learning that must have been! They are both on-stage pretty much all of the time – about 90 minutes with no interval and mostly an immediate switch from one scene to the next, with endless dialogue. Masterful. The time passed without a single down-moment. With minimal scenery to explore, this was no mean feat. 

Of course, the main theme of the play is serious, but there were several moments of humour and proper audience laughter (including some spontaneous applause). Important to have some lightness in amongst the emotion and the politics.

I hope more people go to see this. I also expect both of these actors to be far more of a box-office draw in future.


August 2021 – some catching up to do. As release from lockdown approached, I splurged some accumulated spare holiday budget on booking a huge number of theatre tickets. At one stage I had tickets for more than 10 events, benefiting from the advanced booking options available to me as a result of joining several ‘friends’ schemes at the various theatres I regularly attend. Early visits to Love Letters at Theatre Royal Haymarket, After Life and Under Milk Wood at the National, and Bach & Sons at Bridge Theatre are documented here.

Most recently I have done a couple of solo theatre visits: Constellations at the Vaudeville Theatre with Russell Tovey and Omari Douglas, and The Song Project at the Jerwood Upstairs, Royal Court Theatre. The slick dialogue between the two actors in Constellations was completely compelling. They made the 75 minutes of alternative outcomes to various scenarios pass extremely quickly and had no need of props or scenery other than the ethereal balloon-fest staging around them. The almost repetitive and quickfire exchanges were a joy to watch – and on a practical note I wondered how they managed not to get lost from one iteration of a scene to another. (Professionalism, I suppose.)

This production is being presented with four different casts, and I am scheduled to see another of the couples – Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd – perform in early September, which should give a great comparison. (Interestingly, I noticed on social media that yesterday both Anna MM and her understudy were unwell – so the matinée performance was given by Chris O’Dowd and Omari Douglas, a mix and match performance! If I’d seen this sooner I would have been on a train up to London immediately to try and blag a ticket. This is (presumably) a one-off and very unusual.

The Song Project was different, and my booking was largely an attempt to broaden my mind a little. I had not expected to warm to this particularly, but I wanted to experience something less conventional than I usually go for, and had purchased a cheap ticket in the rear stalls of the Jerwood Downstairs. In the event, there had been some flooding in the theatre (what more can they be forced to deal with after lockdown stresses, I wonder?) and the production was shifted upstairs to the much smaller space Jerwood Upstairs. I was invited to rebook with credit from my original purchase, and was lucky to be able to select the same date. 

It is indeed up many stairs to this tiny theatre space, and the seating is unreserved on upholstered benches (actually quite comfortable), so I had the worrying experience of trying to choose where I should sit on my lonesome. Lodging myself into a corner near the mixing desk, I managed to reduce my proximity to too many other punters, and we were all still wearing masks.

This turned out to be more of a music gig than a theatrical production, and once I had reconciled myself to that I really got into it. I’m not sure whether the first few numbers were just less good than the later ones, but initially I felt that the opening statement – ‘some things can only be sung’ – was daft because in fact much of the wording was almost spoken rather than sung in a melodic way.  Later on though, I got caught up in the performances of Wende (the Dutch singer/star) and the three other musicians on keyboards, cello and drums) and was perfectly willing to join in with the choruses when invited to do so. The rest of the audience also sang along – and even behind our masks this successfully pulled us together. Maybe it was liberating to have the mask, when we were asked to sing ‘Let it be, We’re the whole f***ing forest’ over and over. Haha – in public too! 

Oh, the power of live performances! Welcome back!

December 2020 – PANTO TIME! For the past several years, we have visited the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford over the Christmas period for their pantomime, taking our adult offspring and their much more junior American cousin. This has ostensibly been to ensure that said cousin understands more fully her English heritage, but also because we have come to enjoy the repetitive experience of this panto which may have one half-recognisable star each year, but always has the same villain, dame and best boy. And the same ridiculous song routine with almost the same props and shaving foam pies.

Of course, Coronavirus put paid to the 2020 pantomime and also to the traditional transatlantic visitation this year. But not to be defeatist, we went online for our panto magic and watched Sleeping Beauty as presented by The Original Online Panto Company, watching it on several different devices in different locations, and also participating in a Zoom call between family members so that we could witness each other enjoying it. Aside from a 3-4 second delay during the first act, which we rectified carefully during the interval so that we could see each other reacting exactly in time with the performance locally. It was most definitely not the same as being in the theatre with the daft antics of seasoned panto-addicted performers, but as a way of bringing us together on Christmas Eve, it most definitely had its moments. I’m not sure the sofas on either side of the Atlantic will ever be quite the same after some of the dancing (needed to be up off the floor to allow the laptop cameras to capture it – perhaps that’s the excuse!).

Podcasts 2020 – this has been the year I discovered the value of the podcast. I had dabbled for a while, but with the advent of the ‘one hour of exercise per day’ in lockdown 1.0 from March 2020, I found that the number of miles I was trudging in sometimes over-familiar places or on tedious suburban streets encouraged me to listen more widely than music on Spotify. I previously tended, in fact, to walk without earphones at all, drinking in my surroundings, and I still do this if I am walking somewhere new, but this is currently rare. So, in addition to adopting Audible as a way to devour certain types of book (mostly memoirs read by the authors themselves), I ramped up my consumption of podcasts. I have been devoted to BrexitCast/Newscast and to Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review (the splendid @wittertainment – which has occasionally inspired me to watch new things, even though I primarily listen to them for their comfortable bickering) throughout, and also Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail. Other regular listens have been Off Menu with James Acaster and Ed Gamble (this blogpost refers), David Tennant does a Podcast, The Road Less Travelled, and a number of different theatre-led podcasts from such as the Almeida and Old Vic. One of the most delightful was a series exclusive (I think) to Audible – the wonderful Titting About with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. I am hoping for more of this one in 2021. It surely doesn’t need a pandemic to enjoy this.

I think podcasts have been a great way to understand more about the news on Brexit and COVID 19 when I was tiring of the sensationalist TV news, or a way of understanding the arts more deeply, and above all an escape into humour which I always knew was important but find even more so now.

December 2020 – after November’s COVID lockdown, I had two visits to the Bridge Theatre in rapid succession. Firstly a solo trip to watch their version of A Christmas Carol, which was better than anticipated (and indeed received very good reviews). I had not expected to like Simon Russell Beale particularly, but thought he was an excellent Scrooge, and I enjoyed the way all the other parts were played by just two actors and a variety of simply but effective effects. Then just a few days later, I was back at the Bridge to see an installation called Flight which has been touring elsewhere. This forms part of a blog-post here.

November 2020 – we did a quick trip to our local theatre, The Rose Theatre just before being locked down again. In fact, the theatre kindly allowed me to exchange my tickets to bring forward our attendance – better for them as well, of course, to get the money and the bums on seats rather than have to give yet another refund. We saw Willy Russell’s Educating Rita with Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson. I believe it is now rescheduled for another week in February 2021. It was definitely worth the visit – and the nervousness of venturing into an indoor space when the virus was on the increase again – especially to see two people on stage together, interacting normally. Despite her ‘interesting’ accent(s), Rita was brilliant and, despite knowing the film (and therefore the plot etc), we were suitably immersed and impressed. More of this please! 

August 2020 – desperate to return to live theatre after lockdown was eased, I bought a ticket for the Donmar Warehouse’s ‘socially distanced sound installation and attended on the third day of the run. I reviewed it here

July 2020 – I posted a blog about TV binge-watching and other ways of catching up on entertainment in restricted times – here

June 2020 – the Old Vic’s live-streamed production of Lungs on Zoom gives some hope in lockdown – blog-post

June 2020 – Old Vic recorded production of A Monster Calls has me in tears – blog-post

February 2020 – short piece on binge watching TV Blog post – box set 

February 2020 – an unusual experience in the audience for Dear Evan Hansen – Blog post  

February 2020 – visiting Bridge Theatre production of Caryl Churchill’s ‘A Number’ and then legging it across town to see my son performing in his A Capella group – blog post 

February 2020 – Emotional indoor gardening – a short review of Mike Bartlett’s ‘Albion’ revived at the Almeida. blog post

January 2020 – EndGame at the Old Vic – not really a review…important parts of Daniel Radcliffe  

January 2020 – Blog about attending our local comedy club. (23 Aug 2020 – Looking back with Corona-sight, no doubt there was already considerable sharing of infection at this point. Not sure how this particular venue will open anytime soon.) blog – What’s cool? 

January 2020 – More obsessing over Andrew Scott. I try to get a grip on this but honestly it’s hard. But in a way, it has also opened up so much more. Blog on watching the cinema version of Present Laughter  

January 2020 – a visit to the Royal Court (which my Fitbit told me I slept through!) – here’s a brief account of A Kind of People by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti.

June 2019 – see separate review of Present Laughter at the Old Vic

November 2018 – Went to see the new Martin McDonagh play at the Bridge Theatre this week. Weird!  Certainly had me laughing- proper laughter not just chuckles.  But as the title suggests – it was also a Very very very dark matter. Black one-legged female Pygmy in a cage writing stories for Hans Christian Andersen – what’s not to like?  Hmm. Sometimes you just have to disable your PC-dar. I find I can do that quite easily unless it’s obvious that someone is promoting something inappropriate. See the funny side.

Follow one crying eye on