Monday, 29 July 2013

Binge Watching: Orange is the New Black.

Orange is the New BlackPrisoner Cell Block H it ain't.

For the last few days I have been forced to stay home while I get over a bad dose of tonsilitis which under normal circumstances would lead to a major case of cabin fever. However, Netflix might just be my new BFF.
Orange is the New Black is a Netflix original dramedy from Jenji Kohan, the creator of Weeds, set in a U.S. women's prison. Based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, the series tells the story of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) who ten years before the events of the first episode, carried drug money on an international flight for her lesbian lover who worked as a big time heroin dealer. By the time Piper is indicted for her offence she has totally turned her life around. She is now happily engaged to Larry (Jason Biggs) and starting an artisanal soap business with her best friend. Until she suddenly finds herself in prison for the offence she committed all those years ago. Alongside the lesbian lover, Alex (That 70's Show's Laura Prepon), who named her in her deposition. Naturally, Piper is a total fish out of water.

Kate Mulgrew (a.k.a. Captain Janeway) as Red.
Although Piper is the central character, Orange is the New Black has an impressive ensemble cast including Captain Janeway herself, Kate Mulgrew, as a tough Russian inmate named Red who runs the prison kitchen, Natasha Lyonne from Woody Allen's musical Everyone Says I Love You and the late nineties gem Slums of Beverley Hills, and Constance Shulman who voiced Patti Mayonnaise on Nickelodeon's Doug back in the day. It doesn't come much cooler than that, right?

Patti Mayonnaise and Constance Shulman.
Each episode contains flashbacks to an inmate's life outside of prison and goes at least some way to explaining how they came to be locked up. Some are inevitably more sympathetic than others but all are surprisingly believable. As the show's tagline suggests, every sentence is a story.
The characters range from the comedic to the downright hateful and all are played to perfection by the actors in the roles. Uzo Aduba as an inmate known as "Crazy Eyes" is a personal favourite of mine, closely followed by Danielle Brooks as "Taystee" and Yael Stone as Lorna Morello. I won't go into detail about their characters for fear of giving away any plotlines, but I can say that their performances are stand out in an amazingly strong supporting cast.

Uzo Aduba as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren.
As an added bonus, the show's theme song is by Regina Spektor. 'You've Got Time' was written by Spektor especially for the series and as you would expect from her, it's downright awesome.
I've read a lot lately predicting that the Netflix method of releasing an entire series at once for online streaming is the future of "televison." It certainly is great to be able to binge watch a show you love and I've been especially grateful for the distraction it has been for me over the past three days. So if you have access to Netflix, get on board the Orange is the New Black bandwagon. If you've got time...

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Sweet Bird of Youth at The Old Vic.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've had a bit of a girl crush on Kim Cattrall. I wore out my old VHS copy of Mannequin, in fact. It wasn't until I was much older that I discovered some of her other films, the original (and best) Police Academy, Big Trouble in Little China, Porky's, etc. Then of course, there was Sex and the City. Kim's role as Samantha Jones has become so iconic that it's pretty much eclipsed every other part she's ever played. Although to me she will always be Emmy as much as Samantha. (Emantha? Y/N?)

Since SATC ended, I haven't seen much of Kim. That's not to say she hasn't done much, IMDb reliably informs me she's been beavering away on new projects. But I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that treading the boards at the Old Vic ranks a little higher on her acting CV than a TV movie anyway.

The Old Vic is a truly stunning theatre that is steeped in history. The true acting greats have performed here and Kevin Spacey is the current artistic director. Basically if you come to the Old Vic, you expect a classy production, and as classy acting shiz goes, Tennessee Williams plays are right up there. Look how far Miss. Honeywell has come!

Sweet Bird of Youth is the tale of Chance Wayne, a drifter/gigolo who returns to his hometown in the company of Alexandra Del Lago, an aging movie star who has been trying to resurrect her career. Chance is hoping to use his association with Alexandra to secure himself a career in the movies, the love of the girl he left behind and the approval of her family who forced him out of town in the first place. Alexandra is hoping to hide out in their hotel room until the furore surrounding her comeback picture (which she believes is a failure) has faded. This being a Tennessee Williams play however, you know that things aren't going to be that straightforward.

Kim Cattrall is the perfect choice to play Alexandra Del Lago. In many ways she is at a similar point in her career since SATC came to an end and she tries to redefine herself as an older, possibly more respected, performer. She brings just the right amount of self-involved melodramatics to Alexandra, and her comedic timing is second to none. There are moments of such heartfelt fragility in her portrayal that I actually had tears in my eyes more than once. Still, there are flashes of Samantha in Alexandra. When she wakes up to find Chance in a state of undress in her hotel room, she inspects him up close with her glasses on so she can see in detail what he looks like. "Well, I may have done better," she declares, "but God knows I've done worse."

Seth Numrich as Chance is an impressive talent. How I've never heard of him before, I don't know, but I certainly expect to hear more from him in the future. This being the Old Vic, the staging is magnificent and the entire supporting cast is superb, but it's naturally Kim who steals the show. I found her depiction of Alexandra alarmingly reminiscent of Judy Garland's final years. Indeed, the character is altogether evocative of Garland, from the huge success she enjoyed in her youth to her struggles with ill-health, drink, alcohol and men, and her attempt to carve out a new place for herself in Hollywood as an older actress. Kim's Alexandra even looks eerily similar to Judy in her later years. Sadly for Judy her youthful success, (her sweet bird of youth, if you will) ultimately led her down a path of destruction. This is something that is mirrored in both Alexandra and Chance, who has already lost both his innocence and his childhood sweetheart.

Spot the difference: Kim as Alexandra, and Judy Garland.
In spite of it's somewhat bleak narrative, Sweet Bird of Youth has a surprising amount of humour, and this particular production is an absolute joy; from the beautifully lit scenes and ingenious set changes, to the fantastic cast and, of course, Ms. Cattrall. If you can't get to the Old Vic to see it for yourself, then check out the 1962 film version starring Paul Newman as Chance and Geraldine Page as Alexandra.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Knightmare Live at The Myddleton Arms.

Treguard places the helmet of justice on the dungeoneer.
If you are a child of the 80s/ early 90s, then you probably remember the CITV gameshow, Knightmare. The show revolved around a team of children, aged from around eleven to about sixteen, who entered the dungeon in order to take part in a quest set by the dungeon master, Tregaurd. The chosen dungeoneer amongst the team would be forced to wear the helmet of justice which left them unable to see, meaning that the other three team members would need to act as the dungeoneer's eyes and guide them through the dungeon's various obstacles with basic commands. Side-step left, anyone?

A scene from the classic CITV show.
I think it's fair to say that my brother and I were mildly obsessed with Knightmare. I can vividly remember the excitement of coming home from school and sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the television, utterly spellbound by the fate of the latest dungeoneer. It was a show that I longed to be on, although I was never sure if I wanted to be wearing the helmet of  justice or acting as a team member who was able to see events as they unfolded. Myself, my brother and our friends have long waxed lyrical about our memories of Knightmare and often wished the format would be revived, so when I heard about a live version being produced for the Edinburgh Fringe, I knew what my quest was and I didn't need a helmet of justice to achieve it. I had to get to Edinburgh.

As luck would have it, it turned out that I didn't need to travel so far after all. After some more research, I discovered that the team behind the live show were putting on a preview show in London. I bought myself a ticket as soon as they became available and I couldn't have been happier had I found the Shield of Justice. So it was that I found myself in a pub garden in North London last night, watching a grown man in a horned helmet and carrying a knapsack face the villainous Lord Fear.

Clever prop and dungeoneer "in a room."
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect since much of the TV series relied on computer generated imagery, how can you have a dungeoneer drop into a pit for instance? Answer: You can't. But it turns out it's pretty amazing how many of the iconic Knightmare moments you can recreate simply by putting a few props together and asking the audience to use their imaginations. Of course, a lot of the credit must also go to the cast, who really knew just how to pitch things with a mixture of humour and faithfulness to the original format.

I laughed so much it hurt, yet I was still hugely impressed by the clever staging and inventive props. The wave of nostalgia made me smile all through the night and it was obvious that the cast felt just as strongly about this beloved childhood memory as those of us in the audience. The goblin had me in stitches and Lord Fear and Treguard were outstanding, particularly when you consider what a massive feat it is for any actor to take over the roles that belonged to Mark Knight and Hugo Myatt.

The helmet of justice!
For anyone off to this year's Edinburgh Festival, Knightmare Live is an absolute treat. In fact, I'm considering making the journey just to see the finished product. Book your tickets now!

Sunday, 14 July 2013

More things I've done this year...

Inevitably, when you don't write about things as they happen, you forget some minor details. Like, oh, I don't know, seeing Helen Mirren in the flesh(!) and so on. Since my previous post, several people have reminded me about things I didn't mention, so this post will hopefully cover that. To be honest, though, if you can think of anything else, don't bother reminding me. I seriously can't be arsed to write a third post in this style now.

First up...

Louis C.K. @ The O2.

If you haven't heard of Louis C.K. you are missing a real treat. Louis is a big hit stateside, where his show Louie has been airing for the last three years on the FX network. Last year Louis won two Emmys, one for his network show and the other for a stand-up special. I've been a fan of his since I stumbled across him by accident one day when I fell into a YouTube black hole. His brand of humour is very sardonic and cynical, which as anyone who knows me will testify, is right up my street. What I love most about him is the fact is that he may say some shocking things sometimes but never just for the shock value, something that many other comedians are guilty of these days (yes, I'm talking to you Frankie Boyle). Louis is simply saying the things that many of us secretly think, but would rarely have the bottle to voice. I'll let the man himself explain...

Louis had the O2 in stitches, including my boyfriend who had never even seen any of his material before that night and is relatively difficult to please when it comes to comedy. I have no idea how I managed to forget to write about such a fantastically funny gig. Next time Louis C.K. is in the U.K. make sure you go see him if you get the chance.

Mies Julie @ Riverside Studios, Hammersmith.

Back in my uni days ( I studied August Strindberg's masterpiece, Miss Julie. I'll be honest, over the years, I had forgotten much of the storyline apart from a particularly upsetting scene involving a bird, and the grisly, bloody climax. But when my uni bud Ilona told me about a new production that placed the action in post-apartheid South Africa, I was intrigued enough to get a ticket.
Essentially the story remained fairly unchanged from the Swedish original. Julie is the daughter of a wealthy white South African landowner who has recently suffered the humiliation of a broken engagement and is struggling to find her place in the world. John is the son of Julie's father's housekeeper, Christine. (In Strindberg's version John is called Jean and he is the fiance of her father's servant, Kristin). Over the course of the play, most of which takes place in Julie's father's kitchen, Julie and John embark on an ill-fated flirtation that predictably ends in tragedy. This definitely isn't an uplifting piece of theatre, but it is shockingly thought-provoking and this particular production was heartbreakingly realistic. In fact, I found myself unable to give a coherent verdict on what I had just seen for some time after the final curtain.
Hilda Cronje was absolutely mesmerising as Julie and I certainly predict that hers is a name to remember. I would have liked to have seen her and her co-stars, Bongile Mantsai (John) and Thoko Ntshinga (Christine), rewarded with a standing ovation at the play's close but I was informed by the leading lady herself in the bar afterwards that, ridiculously, "they don't do that kind of thing in Hammersmith."

War Horse @ The New London Theatre, Drury Lane.

For the first time in several years, both my brother and I were in the country for my dad's birthday so we decided to take him along to the stage version of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse. Having seen the film last year, I couldn't imagine how the staging worked in such a small theatre and wasn't sure it could live up to the Spielberg standard. I'm sure everyone has seen the brilliant puppetry of Joey at some point when the show has been promoted on TV, but it honestly blew me away to see how much they are able to achieve on stage. The set is mostly barren so it is hugely important that the audience are able to lose themselves in the performances and use their imagination for many things. This is a big gamble as it relies massively on stand-out acting from all involved, both the actors and the puppeteers, but the gamble pays off. The cast are terrific and the puppeteers are so incredibly skilled at bringing Joey, Topthorn and the various other animals to life that you are able to forget their presence entirely.
I didn't realise that there was so much music in the stage version but I was pleasantly surprised at how much this added to the story as it unfolded. It was beautifully emotive and at times, uplifting. Of course, the subject of the first world war is never a cheery one and as an animal lover, I find it particularly hard to think of all the bewildered, innocent animals that have given their lives in the line of battle, but what makes War Horse such a brilliant piece of storytelling is that the action is largely seen through the eyes of one such animal. It tells an important side of the story that is naturally overlooked a lot of the time in the face of such a devastating level of loss of human life.
On exiting the theatre I heard some grumbles from a couple of people that it "wasn't as good as the film," but personally, I don't think that the two are particularly comparable even though the story is the same. What can be achieved on film is entirely different to the stage and Hollywood special effects are a world away from Drury Lane. Judging the play in it's own right, it is a resounding success and I, for one, loved it.

The Audience @ The Gielgud Theatre.

I am hanging my head in shame at forgetting this one. It only bloomin' stars my screen idol, Helen Mirren! Reprising her role as the Queen! ZOMG! I even got to see it from the comfort of a royal box! (Although we will skip over the fact that I almost spilled red wine over the balcony onto Dame Helen herself, and had to be restrained by the boyf from attempting to sneak a forbidden photo of the lady in action).
Peter Morgan's imagined tale of the relationships between the Queen and the various prime ministers who have served her during her 60 year reign is the perfect showcase for Helen Mirren's talents. She effortlessly transforms from the young princess grieving her father, the King, suddenly finding herself thrust into the role of monarch, into the wise Queen of 60 years who has seen many a prime minister come and go.
Speaking of the Queen's transformation, the costume changes are almost like some sort of magic trick. They take place on stage, whilst Geoffrey Beevers as the Queen's equerry and the play's narrator is setting up the next scene for the audience, and they are so swift it almost beggars belief.
Whilst it's easy to focus on the magnificent Mirren, the entire cast is worthy of praise, particularly Haydn Gwynne as Margaret Thatcher who so embodies the Iron Lady that it is all too easy to forget that it isn't the woman herself. Nathaniel Parker as Gordon Brown and Edward Fox as Winston Churchill deserve special mentions and Friday Night Dinner's Paul Ritter is superbly comic as John Major, but it's Richard McCabe as the Queen's allegedly favourite prime minister Harold Wilson who steals the show. His chemistry with Mirren is wonderful and the relationship depicted between the working-class boy turned Labour leader and the monarch is beautifully observed. The scene in which the Queen first notices Wilson's creeping alzheimers related memory lapses is extraordinarily touching and pitched just the right side of sentimental.
I was a little miffed that Tony Blair receives only a passing mention and is not actually portrayed but to be frank, the play loses nothing by avoiding getting bogged down in the politics of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The play is by turns heartfelt, heart-wrenching and hilarious. The young Princess Elizabeth makes appearances throughout as the Queen's very own Jiminy Cricket and the scene in which she recalls her beloved nanny telling her that once she is Queen she will never again be called Elizabeth by anyone outside of her immediate family is particularly gut-punching. The biggest laughs of the evening come from Paul Ritter's John Major and from a scene in which the Queen's mobile phone rings to the tune of Gangnam Style (for which she blames on Prince Harry).
I suspect there was a minor rewrite at some point to include a mention of the Thatcher funeral, an event that I'm fairly sure took place after the play began it's run, but Thatcher comes in for the hardest line of forced civility between herself and the Queen. An idea which seems at least somewhat based on truth, coming from the idea that the Queen was never fond of her only female prime minister and may even have spoken informally of her disapproval. Of course, as with the play as a whole, we are to assume that the dialogue in these meetings has been entirely imagined by Peter Morgan, but I can't help but hope that he isn't too far off the mark.
Helen Mirren is as brilliant as you would expect and I was thoroughly chuffed to have been able to see both her and the play live. If you haven't been able to get tickets or you live too far away to make it to the Gielgud, then maybe see if you can find a screening at your local cinema as part of the National Theatre Live season.

An Audience with Helen Mirren @ The Gielgud Theatre.

Amazingly enough, a mere couple of weeks after seeing Dame Helen in The Audience, I was fortunate enough to hear her speak about her life and career on the very same set at the Gielgud. In aid of the National Youth Theatre, where Mirren began her own career, she was interviewed on stage by the NYT's vice president and artistic director, Paul Roseby.
As a huge fan of hers, I was slightly nervous about whether she would live up to my expectations as herself, but I needn't have worried. She is wise, witty and tremendously like-able. In all honesty, I didn't learn much about her that I didn't already know (like I said, I'm a massive fan) but it was just a thrill to see her in such a relaxed, informal situation and hear her talk so candidly. It is such a pleasure to see that someone can be so successful on both sides of the pond and yet retain their ordinariness. On that note, I think my favourite ever Mirren Moment™ was the night she won the Oscar and casually went for a McDonalds straight after, proudly plonking her statuette on the table next to her whilst she munched on her burger.
If you are interested the NYT has more detailed reviews of the event on their website:

...and I think that really does bring us up to date now. I'm off for a cuddle with my cat and a nice cold drink before tonight's episode of The Returned. Toodles!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wow! My poor old neglected blog.

Well, as I predicted in my very first post on this blog, I wrote on it briefly and then forgot all about it. *le sigh* I was recently reminded of my blog by a friend and I have now decided that this neglect just will not do. So here I am making a second attempt at blogging.

A night to remember at Shrek The Musical.
I'm a little unsure of what to write about from here on in so I will just talk about some of the highlights of my year so far. There have been a lot!

Back in February, I went to see Shrek The Musical in the last couple of weeks before it ended it's run at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It was a brilliant show and Carly Stenson was superb as Princess Fiona. Richard Blackwood was an excellent donkey, although I'm not sure whether to admire or pity him for sticking with the show for it's entire West End run.

I wasn't entirely sold on the idea of Shrek as a musical before seeing the show, but I was blown away by how funny the song lyrics were (personal fave: Princess Fiona's 'I Know it's Today') and the costumes and overall staging were absolutely enchanting. The dragon was a thing to behold and I especially loved that the closing number (the same as the movie: The Monkees' 'I'm A Believer') was performed whilst dancing atop a giant wedding cake.

Rick's Cafe in all it's glory.

In March, I attended my second Future Cinema event, Casablanca, at the Troxy. After last year's spectacular Grease event, this one had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, it did. The Troxy was totally transformed into Rick's Cafe and the Blue Parrot restaurant. There were cocktails and gorgeous food, casino games and a live band playing period music and of course, the classic film itself was screened later on on the big screen above Rick's. The Troxy looked truly beautiful and the whole evening was a super fun step-back in time. I particularly enjoyed the excuse to get dressed in my best vintage frock and admire the plethora of ties and fezes worn by the men. Plus, having a secret identity for the evening was also fun.

Future Cinema identity card.

Future Cinema are absolute stars at this sort of event and their performers really do add to the whole experience. The kerfuffle that was created when a "fight" broke out in Rick's was a great bit of drama that led to a staged shooting, and while we queued to get in, we were patrolled by guards and had to have our "passports" stamped on entry.
I will certainly be happy to have another Future Cinema adventure sometime soon.

In April I paid my first visit to the Saatchi Gallery. Putting to one side recent newspaper revelations about the owner, a certain Mr. Charles Saatchi, it is an extremely interesting collection on display. When I went, the major exhibition was on contemporary Russian art which is not an area that I am particularly familiar with, so it was a real eye-opener for me. Some of the pieces were completely off the wall but the message behind them was surprisingly touching when you looked past first impressions. I couldn't resist buying a framed print of a section of the huge piece by Gosha Osretsov titled Sex in the City.

My print from Sex in the City by Gosha Osretsov.
Little Gulliver cradled by my dad.
Also in April, I found myself in the unique situation of being foster mother to a baby squirrel who we discovered cowering outside my neighbour's house. The poor little mite had apparently been orphaned and his claws were so short that he was unable to climb a tree to hide from predators. I took him indoors and kept him in an old pet carrier belonging to my cat while we figured out a plan of action. As a child, I had always dreamed of having a pet squirrel so I thoroughly enjoyed having him around. I fed him nuts, raisins and grapes which he seemed to enjoy and he was extremely playful and friendly. He liked to sleep wrapped up in my arms and he had lots of fun with a kitchen roll that I gave him to play with. He stayed with me for a little over two days in the end and he was such a lovely little fellow that I was sad to part with him when the time came. I took him to the wonderful Folly Wildlife Rescue in Tonbridge where he was given the name Gulliver in honour of his travels and was  rehabilitated alongside four other orphaned baby squirrels and later released into their surrounding land with his newly acquired family. I cannot stress enough how vital the work that Folly does really is, none of the other charities I contacted were very interested in helping squirrels because the grey variety is classed as vermin, and in many cases he may well have been euthanised. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending and I am thrilled to think that my childhood dream was (briefly) realised.

In May, I went on a bit of an exhibition binge and saw three in the space of a couple of weeks. The first was Lottie Davies 'Memories and Nightmares' at the L.A. Noble Gallery. For those unfamiliar with Lottie Davies' work, she is a terrific photographer who creates lavish dream-like scenes based on tales told to her of people's childhood memories or particularly vivid nightmares. Her work is extraordinarily emotive, with the story behind each vignette posted beside the photograph. You almost feel like you have entered a fairytale realm. A picture of a happy memory may have such an inviting feeling that you yearn to be able to jump into it in the manner of Mary Poppins and her charges with Bert's chalk drawings, yet the chills you experience when looking at a scene from a nightmare are enough to make you want to back away lest you are sucked in as that unfortunate child was in Roald Dahl's twisted tale, The Witches.

A memory and a nightmare by Lottie Davies.
Ilona and Hannah at the Hayward Light Show.

Light Show at the Hayward Gallery was my next stop. I had high hopes for this one and I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed. I did enjoy the trippy craziness of some of the rooms and we managed many a laugh, but other exhibits were frankly, a bit pretentious or, indeed, a bit 'meh.' It was a little irritating that you had to queue to go inside the rooms with no real idea of what was inside so sometimes you would wait a good ten minutes for nothing much, although the rewards in others made up for this to an extent. However, it was worth a visit for the spectacular water and light installation in one of the rooms alone. Verdict: Hit and miss, but a lot of fun.

Pop art beer bottle from Tate Modern.
My favourite exhibition of the three was the Lichtenstein retrospective at Tate Modern. There was a huge range of his work on display that covered all areas of his artistic career. I adored seeing so many of his most famous pieces but it was also wonderful to see a lot of his lesser known pieces, particularly those from his later years. Any fan of Lichtenstein's couldn't have failed to be thrilled by it all, but even a newcomer to his work would have come away feeling they knew the man behind the canvases. Tate Modern also score bonus points for the special Lichtenstein beers by Brew Dog on offer in the gift shop. Not sure I can ever bring myself to drink mine though.

In June, I went to see one of my fave funny ladies, Gina Yashere, at the Udderbelly. I've been a huge fan of Gina's ever since she used to do a weekly sketch on Lenny Henry's show back in the nineties and after seeing her in Soho a couple of years back, I was expecting major laughs. Thankfully, I got them. Ms. Yashere has spent the last few years in the U.S. and a lot of her material is inevitably focused around her alien status there, but my personal highlight of the set was her toilet ninja routine and her tales of the "dick deck" on a gay cruise she was asked to perform on. Despite a particularly annoying front row fan/heckler who seemed to think he was part of the show, Gina kept the gags coming and was unfazed by his interruptions.

As much as I love the Udderbelly venue, it was quite cold in the big purple cow despite it being mid June and Gina was forced to perform in her hoodie and keep a tissue on her at all times. This did sort of add to the laughs though as Gina complained about her return to the UK coinciding with the coldest June for years. In an ironic twist, outside the venue we had been sitting in deck chairs sipping aperol spritz as though it was the height of summer.

A pretty pink cow at the Udderbelly.
Later in June, I had the pleasure of seeing the fantastic Paloma Faith at the O2. I'm always a little bit nervous about seeing a band/singer I have a huge love for just in case they may not be as good live as they are on my iPod, but Paloma was just spectacular. She was so charming and endearing in between songs, chatting away to the audience and reveling in the magnificence of a full O2, a venue so close to her childhood home of Hackney. I cannot tell a lie, I did shed a tear when she dedicated the evening to her parents who were there to see her that night, and I shed another during 'Never Tear Us Apart,' which gives me goosebumps at the best of times. It was a beautiful evening.

That same weekend I was back at the O2 for Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure. I have loved Eddie for many a year and I even met him last year in Covent Garden when I randomly bumped into him. He was wonderfully friendly and took a photo with me on my very own phone. I told him what an inspiration he was for all his marathon running and he was gracious and warm and just generally lovely. But anyway, back to the show. The night I attended, the show was being filmed for DVD release so we were lucky enough to get a bumper length set. We were seated way up in the Gods and being afraid of heights, the fact that I made it to my seat is a testament to my love for Eddie. He was brilliantly funny and oh-so spot on with his political satire. He also spoke in between takes for the video about his experience working with George Clooney and Matt Damon on the Ocean films and his intention to run for London Mayor in seven years. I have already pre-ordered my copy of the DVD and cannot wait to relive the whole night.

My love for Eddie Izzard knows no heights.

June was a busy month for me. I also went to see the new Sam Mendes directed production of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at the very same theatre as Shrek had been at earlier that year. We were lucky enough to get preview tickets at a knockdown price and our seats, unlike at Eddie Izzard, were in the first few rows from the stage. I honestly cannot put into words how amazed I was by the sheer spectacle of this show. Everything about it was just fantastic. Douglas Hodge is a terrific Willy Wonka, much more in the style of Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp, and Nigel Planer makes an excellent Grandpa Joe, but it's the children who are the real stars of the show and stars they certainly are. Every one of them was pitch perfect in their roles as the lucky golden ticket winners with issues. I was a little perturbed at first to learn that the music would not be the same as in the 1971 classic, and although not all of the new songs quite hit the mark, most are uproariously funny and all are performed to perfection.
Sam Mendes is not just an Oscar-winning film director, it turns out he is also a theatrical genius. You truly won't believe your eyes at how some of the stories biggest moments are staged (think Augustus in the pipe, Violet as a blueberry, etc.) and the Oompa Loompa costumes are an unexpectedly clever invention. The great glass elevator is brilliantly done and the sequence in which the children and their parents are introduced via a giant television set is inspired, but the scene in which Mike Teevee is shrunk is the stand out moment for me. It's hard to explain in written form how tremendously clever it is so I won't even try. Just go see the show if you get the chance. You won't regret it.

Later that month, I saw Parks & Recreation star Aziz Ansari do his stand-up routine at the Hammersmith Apollo. For those who are unaware of Aziz, I implore you to check him out on Youtube. He had us in stitches with his observations on how hard it is to know how to be a grown-up and having no real idea of what you are going to do with the rest of your life. His thoughts on sexting were particularly hilarious and seemed to strike a real chord with much of the audience.

My next outing was at the London Wonderground in Southbank where I saw Boris & Sergey's Vaudevilian Adventure, which is truly a show beyond any logical description. The show revolves around two faceless puppets, the aforementioned Boris and Sergey, and begins as a tongue-in-cheek attempt by the two at a real vaudeville style show. It is very silly but very funny. Boris' rendition of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights will stay with me whenever I hear the song from now on, I fear. The show then abruptly takes a darker turn when a gambling element is introduced and Sergey gambles his soul away. The dark twist at the end of the performance left us more than a little stunned and also strangely emotional. A truly unique piece of fringe theatre that I think is probably an acquired taste, although I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally, I rounded June off with a trip to the BFI for a screening of the film noir gem 'Gilda,' as part of their Rita Hayworth season. Rita Hayworth was an absolute screen goddess and Gilda is, quite possibly, her finest moment on film. I pretty much want to be Rita Hayworth in Gilda! Hayworth always said that the role overshadowed her career and she is famously quoted as blaming the role for her failure to attract the right sort of man.

"Every man I have ever known has fallen in love with Gilda and awakened with me," she complained. "No one can be Gilda 24 hours a day." It isn't hard to understand why Gilda had such an effect, but I don't think that Hayworth gave herself enough credit for how much of Gilda's appeal was down to her portrayal and beauty.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, after ending the month of June with a classy film, I began July with a good old cockney knees-up courtesy of Chas & Dave at the Brentwood Festival. It may not be very cool to like Chas & Dave but in the words of the men themselves, I don't care! The whole festival was an excellent event but Chas & Dave were a full-on riot. They played all the usual suspects and several encores. In fact, if the crowd had had their way, they might've still been playing now! Say what you like about them as songwriters but you cannot deny how talented a pair of musicians they are, and how on earth they manage to sing so fast and sing different lines at the same time as one another, I honestly have no idea.

Chas & Dave in action.

So there you have it. That's my year so far. I am going to try my very best not to leave it so long before my next update. I've enjoyed reliving the best bits of the last six months. I promise not to make the next post such a long one, though. I don't relish the idea of reading through this for typos.