Tom Hiddleston in Betrayal

Yesterday I did another day trip to London to see a Betrayal in the West End (Yup, it’s insane that I can live here, and can afford to make two (advance booked, obvs) first class trips to London to the theatre a month and STILL save money on what I was paying in Brighton for rent.) I admit I booked the ticket as much out of FOMO as anything else: several of my theatre friends had seen it and seeing Tom Hiddleston seemed like the year’s ‘hot ticket’. But in truth, once I booked the ticket, the excitement started to wane: I’m ambivalent about both director Jamie Lloyd and about Pinter, and I’ve already see the play Betrayal (in the same theatre!) and I don’t love it as a play.

So I felt a bit of a fake, sitting in the theatre beside all the superfans in a ‘I guess I bought the ticket so I might as well’ way. (I’m not kidding: the woman next to me was an American who had flown over just to see the play, and had also been at the previous evening’s performance: the two German girls in front of me had done the same). Besides, the ticket had been expensive, so I might as well get the most out of it – nearly 100 quid, although admittedly for a very good seat in the stalls.

In the end, though, I was completely won over by the production. The sparse, stripped back staging really worked, and although the cast all felt too slightly young for the roles of jaded old marrieds who’ve been friends for decades, you could forgive that for strong performances (the tired old trope of comedy foreigner can get in the bin, but at least that was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene). Charlie Cox and Zawe Ashton were both great, but it was Tom Hiddleston who stole the show: he delivered a beautifully nuanced performance that wrung both the humour and the heartbreak out of the piece, and the audience hung on every tiny gesture. (In fact, my main criticism would be that his charisma over-balanced the production: since the three main actors were on stage pretty much non-stop throughout, even when they had no part in a scene, all too often the eye was drawn to Hiddleston, standing stoically in the background, rather than what was happening between the other characters.

On top of it all it was a glorious London day – sunny and bright and full of character. (I popped into the Waterstones on Jermyn Street on the way, being passed by a man strolling through the sunshine yelling into his phone ‘I’m working from home today!’. Are you, my dude? Are you really?). I then strolled up to Liberty and spent far too much money in the stationery department before meeting my friends for drinks at the German Gymnasium.

London is always that dodgy ex who tries to charm you and make you forget all its bad points, and every time I go back it very nearly succeeds, but like your dodgy ex there’s always the warning sign: so my ‘I love London and why did I ever move?’ lasted only until I got to Oxford Circus and the Victoria Line was suspended and so I found myself crammed on a packed tube literally pressed bum-to-bum with a fellow commuter who had strangely and intensely warm buttocks. I mean, seeing Tom Hiddleston on stage was worth that – but only just…

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Warhol in Edinburgh

As per my previous post, I was in Edinburgh this week. Mainly this was to see a show – Cora Bissett’s excellent What Girls Are Made of – but it also provided a great chance to catch up with friends.

My friend A and her husband moved back to Scotland a few years ago, and I hadn’t seen their new place since, so A & I met for drinks and dinner before the show (an OK-but not-stellar chips and halloumi burger at Red Squirrel, mostly because it was handy for the theatre, though it was a perfectly fine stopping point: friendly staff, very decent selection of veggie options). I stayed the night at their gorgeous house, which gave me major home envy: my room (just one of their guest rooms!) had an en suite, and the whole place was just so lovely and elegantly fitted out, I am now planning to secretly move in and see how long till they notice (it’s a big house – could be a while)…

A and I stayed up chatting till the early hours, so I admit I was more than a little hungover when I went back into town the next day to meet my friend D, through from Glasgow. Still, we didn’t let that deter us from taking in some culture, and decided to head to the Scottish National Galleries of Modern Art.

It’s been years since I have been – I’ve never even set foot in Modern Two – but we started there, keen to see I want to be a machine, an exhibition of Andy Warhol and Eduardo Paolozzi pieces that included many of the famous Warhol prints and movie posters. I’m less familiar with Paolozzi, but his work was a fascinating counterpoint, and the exhibit is well laid out across five rooms, with plenty of explanation as to what’s what and why it matters. It’s also free, which is always a bonus.

NOW at Modern One was more of a mixed bag. A selection of works by Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, and Wael Shawky, it covered most of the ground floor, and some bits took me more than others, though as again it was free, I was happy to have a mooch.

D and I then had lunch and a wander, before he had to head back to Glasgow, so before my evening train I met A again for a few drinks in a pub off the Royal Mile (we powered bravely through our hangovers). The pub had a sign on the bar that said ‘those that drink langest live langest’ and at this rate A and I will be around till our 80s…

Bicycles and Fish and What Girls Are Made of

I was pleased to see a couple of shows by women on stage this week, although two very different shows. Katie Arnstein’s Bicycles and Fish was a tale of a feminist coming of age, and I liked rather than loved it. Arnstein is an engaging performer, and bits of the show were delightfully sharp, but it also felt a bit too much like a feminism for beginners taster, so I didn’t exactly feel like the target audience.That said, I would be keen to see her most recent show, Sexy Lamp (inspired by comics writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s (now best known for Captain Marvel) sexy lamp test – The second show was much more my thing – in fact, it’s mix of spikiness, Scottishness, heart and humour felt tailored to my tastes exactly. I had heard good things about Cora Bissett’s What Girls Are Made Of at the Fringe, so when I found out it was coming back to the Traverse I thought it might be worth the trip – with the added advantage I got to hang out with my friend A, who relocated back to Scotland a few years back. It’s a fantastic show – raw, funny, and with some sly digs at posh boys in bands. What’s not to love?

A day trip to London to see Emilia the Play

My timeline has been full of praise for Emilia for a while now – its initial run at the Globe had all my theatre friends aglow, so when it transferred to the West End, I decided to take advantage of both reasonable ticket prices (£32 for a row C stalls seat!) and the fact that London is do-able in a day, and book myself a trip.

I’m glad I did. While I am not sure I would rave about it quite as strongly as some of its fans – the first half felt a little flabby to me, and the pacing felt a little off in the second (and this is after it’s been cut from its initial running time), it’s certainly a play worth anyone’s attention.

Although a treatise on women’s anger, it also manages to be funny, clever and playful – the furious ending had the audience on their feet, but there were plenty of laughs to be had. A more diverse (all-female) cast than I can recall seeing ever before in the West End were a delight (the show has an all-female creative team, too – even rarer), and it was refreshing to be in an audience that was predominantly women.

London, too, was delicious. Like a lover putting on its best face to impress its ex – it doesn’t want me back, but it wants me to miss it – the city was shining and bustling with energy, and I admit I had a pang. (At least until I met my friend for pre-train drinks in the German Gymnasium, and was reacquainted with the worst side of London, stuck next to a couple of braying posh girls with paint-scraping accents who complained at an ear-splitting decibel level and with zero irony about Americans being loud and stupid, before going on at length about what ‘good comic relief’ their Polish cleaner provided. There are some things about London I definitely don’t miss).

Emilia runs till mid-June – if you possible can, it’s worth seeing.

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Wise Children at York Theatre Royal

It’s been a week of jaunts this week – after Edinburgh on Monday, came a trip to York that I booked without realising they would fall in the space of a few days, to see the first production by Emma Rice’s new theatre company, Wise Children.

I’ve long been a fan of Emma Rice. I love Kneehigh, and although I didn’t catch much of her stint at the Globe, what I did see I really liked. I admit I was disappointed when I heard that the company would be using the Old Vic for its London base – this is a theatre that I have long avoided, having fallen out of love with it for various reasons, all of which I admit are personal (and perhaps a bit irrational).

But to my mind, it tends to be overly expensive, most of its productions are too long, and their lack of decent toilets means you stand a very good chance of missing the first 10 minutes of the second half either because you are stuck in a queue, or your view is obscured by people returning to their seats for the same reason (and this is even before you even consider the queasy, hard-to-shake taint that Kevin Spacey’s uncovered antics have tarred the place with). There are a ton of great venues in London and no such thing as an unmissable production – there’s usually half a dozen ‘unmissable’ shows on at any one time, and unless you are a full-time critic, you can’t possibly catch them all – and I decided a while back I wasn’t giving my money to any venue where I felt so ill-served. So I sadly resigned myself to just not seeing any more Emma Rice shows for a while.

Moving to Newcastle, though, has actually opened up my theatre-going in exciting new ways. Edinburgh is 90 minutes away, York just over an hour – and the economics of regional theatre mean the cost of excellent dress circle tickets (in a theatre small enough where that means I was closer to the stage than I would have been in most London venues) AND return train tickets came to roughly the same as the Old Vic is charging for most stall seats for its current productions.

Unfortunately, the weather gods had used up their benevolence on me with a lovely day on Monday, so I didn’t see York at its best, but even rain and grey it’s a beautiful city. The theatre was a short walk from the station, and it’s a lovely space: a bar / bistro space downstairs that caters to any comers so was a bit rammed for my tastes, though upstairs was a little calmer, and the staff were efficient and friendly. My seat – front row dress circle – was great, and I was seated next to a pleasant couple with whom I had a nice chat in the interval.

And toilets! My god, toilets! I will never stop banging on about the need for good toilets in theatres: it’s an accessibility issue for anyone elderly, pregnant, on their period or with bladder/digestive issues, and too many theatres are bloody terrible. These were plentiful – pretty sure there were more women’s toilets in the dress circle alone than in the Donmar, Old Vic and Almeida added together – and kept clean. I’d go back to the place on that reason alone.

As a fan of the book that both play and company were named after, my expectations were high but the play (mostly) matched them. It balanced the trademark Emma Rice playfulness and theatricality – fourth wall breaking, gender/race-blind casting, bawdy humour, music and physical theatre – with the spirit of Carter’s novel, and when Rice came out at the curtain call (the show was being filmed by the BBC, which is possibly why she was there for an afternoon matinee), many of the audience were on their feet.

My travel wasn’t quite as smooth as I hoped city hopping would be – my train was a bit delayed by a cancelled service – but the trip was my no means onerous, and definitely one I would make again if something that struck my fancy.

A day trip to Edinburgh

After three weeks without a day off, I finally had some downtime, and headed up to Edinburgh to meet my friend K, who I haven’t seen in years. Edinburgh is only an hour and a half away from Newcastle – and the East Coast train takes you along some of the country’s most beautiful coastline, so it’s a pleasurable as well as a fast trip. The plan was that we would have lunch, do some culture, then have some cocktails before I headed back. And… we managed most of that. You can probably guess which bit got dropped…

I haven’t been to Edinburgh in years – last time was to do some research for A Vampire in Edinburgh, during my unfortunate homeless stint, when two of my Glasgow friends let me stay there when they were on holiday, so I took advantage to do a day trip to the city. I had forgotten quite how gorgeous it is – all those dramatic cliffs!

We started off with a wee wander round the Old Town. Edinburgh Press Club looked promising but we were too late for breakfast, and none of the sarnies appealed, so we settled for coffee then wandered some more. We had planned to do Mary King’s Close but were put off by the cost (nearly £16!) so had a wander around a nearby church instead. Lunch was a couple of wraps at old-school vegetarian cafe Hendersons, which had been much recommended to me, and after that we felt we could justify a cocktail.

I missed my chance to go to the new Ivy in Brighton – it opened just before I left – so was keen to try the Ivy on the Square. K and I are both fans of espresso martinis so started with them. Well-made by the charming and friendly barman, they were very rich and accompanied by a choice of syrups to choose your own (I plumped for Creme Brulee, K – more wisely – Amaretto). After that I plumped for something lighter – a champagne based drink – and then we decided that some shopping was in order.

A quick wander round Jenners and Harvey Nichols followed – while I love the architecture of Jenners, I found HN a bit bland, though I did buy some fancy pasta and a notebook there, partly cos I wanted to buy something. (K bought a Count Gracula garlic crusher, which looked enormous fun). We rounded off the day with cocktails at The Refinery, then headed back to the Ivy for chips and a last drink before I caught the train home – a fantastic day out, and home before 10? I could get used to this…