Pub theatre

The Guardian recently ran an article about the resurgence of pub theatre, demonstrating that once again our author is well-ahead of the curve (in some areas, in others he can’t even find the curve and is uncertain whether one even exists).  I have been an habitué of pub theatres for more than 4 years now.  [Is it just me, or do any other (male or equivalent) readers feel cheated when typing (or writing) a French adjective formed from a past participle that they cannot correctly add the second ‘e’ for feminine agreement?]

What is not to love?  The title clearly illustrates the two key attributes for any potential visitor: there is a theatre “in” (or usually above) a pub!  Not only that, but it is usually a small, intimate theatre producing new writing and the pub is generally a good one with a fine range of well-kept cask ales.

The Guardian article included a production still (look at me, using industry jargon!) from the play that, in many ways, started it all.  It was a shot from Luke Owen‘s Unscorched which was the first time I visited the Finborough Theatre (a place where I am now often recognised by the team), was almost my first visit to a pub theatre and was the play which started my obsession with new writing in the theatre.  Since that day, my visits to the West End have declined to zero and my theatre-going has become increasingly dominated by new plays.  My attendance of the classics has become limited to those staged by the Nuffield Theatre – but a short walk or bus-ride from my door – or at the cinema via NT Live (similarly physically proximate).  This switch has also had the benefit of making my theatre-going budget stretch a lot further.

My visits to pub theatre – which are mostly in London (though I am tempted to try and set one up myself nearer to home) – have been somewhat restricted by the pain of getting to them from Southampton (and more significantly getting home again) by public transport.  They tend to be located away from the centre of London on underground lines not served from Waterloo.  However, on the Sunday before last I made a major transport breakthrough.  I discovered that, via the magic of the Overground, I can be delivered from Clapham Junction via a very frequent service to West Brompton in less than 10 minutes.  From there it is but a short walk to the Finborough.  This knocks 45-60 minutes off my previous route via Waterloo and the Jubilee and District Lines and saves me nearly a fiver on my train ticket!  This same little arc of the Overground also takes in Theatre 503 (another pub theatre) and the Bush Theatre (not in a pub, but still a small theatre producing new writing).  I also have the feeling that the Overground is largely unknown to tourists, which eliminates a whole range of frustrations which plague its subterranean sibling.  All hail the London Overground!  Your rolling stock was not named Capitalstar in vain!

Using this new knowledge, I found myself in the Finborough Arms enjoying a very fine pint of Luppol (not a new high-performance lubricant for your engine, but an unfiltered ale by Clouded Minds brewery) a mere 90 minutes after leaving Southampton Central.  I then enjoyed the drama of Late Company by the ridiculously young and talented Jordan Tannahill (he was 23 when he wrote it, and still hasn’t reached 30) another stunning Canadian play brought across the Atlantic by the Finborough team.  If the opportunity arises, go see Late Company – it is an uncomfortable experience at times, but is wonderful, thoughtful writing.  I then wended my way home via Theatre 503 and the excellent Sharp Teeth, starring inter alia The Greeners and Ben Norris.

Sharp Teeth is a cross-genre night taking in music and spoken word along the way which is usually resident in Bristol, but this was its first outing in London.  Bristol is, in theory, closer and easier to get to than London – but the operators of our rail companies find it inconceivable that the resident of a provisional UK city should wish to visit a nearby provincial city for an evening of fun.  Whether it be Salisbury, Bath, Chichester, Brighton or Bristol the last train back to Southampton is cunningly timed to ensure that any visit to the theatre (or similar cultural activity) will cause you to miss it.  Is ATOC in the pocket of big B&B?  Or is it just that the denizens of Southampton have a particularly lairy reputation?

Returning to Late Company, this is the fourth stunning play by a Canadian playwright I have seen in the last couple of years: two at the Finborough (the other being Proud by Michael Healey) and two at the Nuffield Theatre.  This latter pair were performed by the Nuffield Youth Theatre, Girls like that and Consensual, both written by Evan Placey.  These were both stunningly good productions but Consensual, in particular, never made you think about the word “youth” in “youth theatre”.  For my money (and as paying audience, it was my money), it could stand with any professional production I’ve seen in recent years.  The ambition of the NYT over recent years has been extraordinary.  I’d never been to youth theatre before I moved to Southampton and only went the first time as I had a free ticket and figured “how bad can it be?”.  I now book early for all their productions to make sure I get a seat: the performances are always worth seeing and they can tackle repertoire which the main theatre would struggle to programme economically.

I fear this post has wandered from its original theme of pub theatre, as many members of the NYT could not be legally served in a pub, but I like to feel there is a (tenuous) thread leading the reader through my rant: if not, can we agree to call it Joycean?  It is also becoming increasingly clear that if I am forced to flee this country as an economic migrant, Canada is looking an increasingly attractive option.  So I like to think we’ve all learned something today.

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Mayday

Do not worry, I am not in immediate need of rescue – or at least no more so than usual.  I shall be discursing on the traditional holiday rather than the cry for help (or the deadly butterfly-toting Bond villain).  Wordpress does not like me using the word ‘discursing’, but it is a perfectly valid word, if archaic: so I shall raise a small number of fingers to ‘the man’ and continue.

People make a wide range of choices for their May Day celebrations.  The psychotic supreme leader or gerontocracy that traditionally run totalitarian states seem to prefer having a large proportion of their military forces paraded in front of them: usually sporting both silly hats and walks.  I know one chap who by 5am was not only up, but about and in town performing (I assume with other like-minded folk) in a bout of Morris dancing.  The lone Morris dancer is a very sad and lonely sight: even if there is no-one there to observe him.  Do his bells make a sound?

At 5am on May 1, I was still safely nestled neath my duvet: I may be a fool, but I’m an old fool and time in bed sleeping is rarely wasted or later regretted (which is more than can be said for many of a chap’s waking hours).  I did eventually stir and after a light luncheon took the train up to London to visit the Barbican Centre.  This is my fourth visit in the last 12 months or so, and for the first time managed to walk from Moorgate tube station to the Barbican and back (later) without going the wrong way or becoming hopelessly lost.  For my next trip, I think I can safely leave behind the reel of cotton and the 800g sliced loaf and rely on my own navigational ability to brave the heart of the labyrinth and then later emerge unscathed.  For any of you who were worrying. no man-bull hybrids were harmed in the making of this post.

I was visiting the Barbican Centre to listen to Philip Glass’ Music in Twelve Parts: a four hour extravaganza of musical minimalism suspended over 5.5 hours once the (3) intervals were included.  I have heard a small amount of Mr Glass’ percussion music in the past and some of his film soundtrack work, in particular to the film Koyaanisqatsi, but this was going to be something of a leap into the musical dark.  Still, I somewhat knew the chap organising and directing (from the keyboard) the gig (having twice shared a pint or two with him: which I think in many cultures would make us brothers) and follow the viola da gamba player on Twitter (surely, everyone must follow at least one viola da gamba player on Twitter, or how do they sleep at night?) so I figured it would be worth a punt.  Also, in purely economic terms, it was one of the cheapest concerts I’ve ever been to in terms of a pence per minute rate.

You will be pleased to know that my punt paid off handsomely: I had a glorious afternoon and evening.  It quickly became weirdly engrossing in a way that I imagine meditation or mindfulness is supposed to.  I felt oddly cocooned in music and it was slightly shocking once each segment came to an end and I was forced to face the real world again for the upcoming interval.  For perhaps obvious reasons, the piece is rarely played (despite being shorter and less stressful than most of Wagner’s output) and this was the first time it hadn’t been played by the Philip Glass Ensemble: so it was also  a fairly[sic] unique  – or at least once in a generation – experience.  I did find myself wondering how the musicians maintain their concentration and remember which ‘repeat’ they are in: I become confused/lost within even a couple of repeated phrases in a piece of music so would have been entirely at sea in the hypnotic soundscape of Philip Glass.

The intervals were also quite stressful as it was in these brief interludes that the audience had to attempt to refuel with the victuals needed to make it through the next three parts (of the twelve).  The Barbican did not make this easy of us: the Members’ Lounge was closed all day and the centre has few eateries.  I booked at table at one of these for the long interval (1 hour) only to be told when I arrived to eat that they had stopped serving food two hours before.  Not a welcome message I can tell you!  I had to make do with a merely adequate wrap and brownie combination from a snack bar in the basement.  The Barbican really isn’t very accommodating to the tapeworm-infested or merely hungry visitor: it has very limited options and going “off-site” to find and eat food in an interval of only an hour is quite a challenge.   It would really require a native guide and access to motorised transport.  In this respect it contrasts rather unfavourably with the Southbank Centre which has a huge range of dining options within a short walk and a vastly lower chance of becoming lost on the way.

Still, it did expunge some of the blot from its copybook in the short intervals.  The Jude’s brown butter pecan ice cream I had in interval one – continuing with the sense of adventure that characterised the day – was very tasty and the elderflower and ginger martini I had in interval three was divine (if rather too expensive for everyday – or even every year).

Overall, I had a brilliant time and must take my hat off (sadly left behind on the train on my way home, please don’t blame the martini) to James McVinnie for organising such a wonderful gig.  I eagerly await his next offering…

The King and I

Writers are often asked where their ideas come from.  Oddly, I have yet to be asked this particular question: I am forced to assume that my public persona is too forbidding and people are afraid to approach me to raise such an inquiry.

Extrapolating from my huge sample size of one (viz me), still more evidence than will be supporting most of the claims we’ll hear between now and early June, I would imagine that writers find this question almost impossible to answer.  I have no idea where my inspiration comes from or fails to come from (as the case may be).  In general, it comes from doing stuff and being out in the world, rather than staring into space in my tiny garret – but beyond that the affairs of the muse are subtle and thrillingly mysterious.

Last night I enjoyed a very entertaining evening of storytelling at the Art House.  This was far from my first experience of storytelling.  Many years ago, an unfortunate Argentine, who had the misfortune to look to me as his line manager, claimed I was unable to say anything without turning into a narrative: he probably had a point.  Back in the mists of time (ok the mid-nineties), I was an habitué of the Cumberland Arms in Byker to enjoy the regular storytelling evenings run by A Bit Craic.  On a couple of occasions, I even summoned up sufficient pluck to tell a story myself.

As well as the traditional elements of such an evening, the two storytellers last night (Jason Buck and Mike Rogers) filled in the space before the performance and during the intermission by playing a game of chess: well, after a fashion.  As I arrived, there were hints of Det sjunde inseglet, though it quickly became apparent that there would be more laughs on offer than are traditionally associated with the work of Ingmar Bergman (I can’t speak to his private life, which may have been a complete laugh riot).  

I think they started with a plan to play chess to the rules of Monopoly, but this quickly morphed under the influence of the audience.  Elements of Mornington Crescent, Connect Four and Play Your Cards Right soon arrived and then my surprisingly extensive knowledge of the back catalogue of the band Queen came to the fore: gained not through direct experience, but spending a lot of time in the podcast company of John Robins (and Elis James, Prods D and V).

It was at some point during this interplay between the audience, the storytellers, a chess board, the streets and stations of London et al that we we found ourselves led to Kennington Oval. From nowhere, my subconscious decided that I should sing this (out loud to the assembled minitude – like a multitude, only smaller) to the tune of Getting to Know You:

🎶 Kennington Oval

🎶 Kennington Ov-all about you etc.

[I’m afraid you’ll have to imagine me singing this with the look of a frock-begirt Deborah Kerr but the angelic voice of Marni Nixon.  Quite a stretch I fear, but at least I have discovered how to insert notes into a post: so that’s a major step forward for GofaDM!]

This is a terribly insidious earworm which I have now infected you with as well.  A trouble shared is a trouble doubled!  I fear none of you will be able to use the southern reaches of the Northern Line or the home of Surrey county cricket (the club with the fringe on top) without bringing to mind a little of Richard Rodgers work in the King and I.  Luckily for us, and unhappily for the estate of the late RR, there is no PRS to pay as long as the tune stays inside safely your head.

Oval

All together now: “Kennington Oval…”