Monthly Archives: November 2014

La Soiree – Spiegeltent, Southbank

My Mum has been on at me to see La Soiree for about 4 years.  So when I heard it was coming back to the Southbank for a limited run, I was determined to get a group together to go and see it.  So you can imagine my excitement when the chance came up to go with new friends, the #LDNTheatreBloggers.  Even on a miserable drizzly November evening, the Spiegeltent is warm and inviting, with old fashioned circus-style music seeming to pour out of the red draped ceiling.  The ‘big top’ isn’t all that big, so even the booths right at the back aren’t too far from the central stage.

Given all the hype of acrobats, burlesque and saucy mischief, it didn’t start quite how I expected.  Our opener was the Puddles Pity Party, a rather morose pierrot-style clown.  He appeared a few times through the evening, adding a bit of shade to all the light.  But we were soon onto the act my Mum had told me about: The English Gents.  Defying what should be possible for the human body under the laws of physics, I can only assume that they’ve done away with their skeletons and replaced their tendons with bubblegum – acts of strength, balance and flexibility are made to look terrifyingly easy.  But under their pinstripe suits, they have muscles on their muscles.  We were also treated to Hamish’s incredible pole act.  Be prepared to scoop your jaw off the floor.  Several times.

The English Gents

The English Gents

Ramping up the wow-factor is the infectiously adorable Jess Love.  She skilfully whirls around in a blur of hoops and works magic with a skipping rope, bringing a little bit of feel-good vaudeville every time she appears on the stage.  One of my favourite acts of the evening had to be Scotty the Blue Bunny – he looks like a spangly turquoise Slush Puppie in acrylic stripper heels and he gleefully cavorts around the stage, telling stories and bursting balloons.

La Soiree brands itself as a cabaret of misfits, but this does mean that the show is a bit jumbled.  While all the acts are all of a very high standard, some appealed to me more than others.  With all of the acts on a rota (which seems to be a closely guarded secret), it’s anyone’s guess who you’ll get to see.  A quick skim through the programme gave me a good overview of all the things I’d missed!  But saying that, there were plenty of acts in the same vein.  Everything from life-threatening juggling to geeky contortionism to hilariously smutty filth, with little let-up in between.  Until I saw Ursula Martinez, I didn’t realise quite how well I “speaka Spaaaanish” – or quite how many dirty words I knew (in Spanish).  For those of a prudish disposition, perhaps this isn’t the show for you…

All in all, this is a night of deliciously grown-up naughtiness – a great antidote to the gloomy autumn weather.

La Soiree is on until Sunday 11th January 2015 at Spiegeltent, London Wonderground, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX.  Contains strong language and nudity – not suitable for children.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.la-soiree.com/ 

Why the fascination with WW1?

“The dead. The body count. We don’t like to admit the war was even partly our fault ’cause so many of our people died. And all the mourning’s veiled the truth. It’s not “lest we forget,” it’s “lest we remember.” That’s what all this is about — the memorials, the Cenotaph, the two minutes’ silence. Because there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.”

This quote from The History Boys by Alan Bennett has been playing on my mind for the last couple of days.  What is it about the First World War that we are all so obsessed with?  Why that war in particular and not any other?  There’s nothing quite like a centenary to focus the mind and cause an outpouring on the artistic front, to indulge the nationwide WW1 fever.  (This probably all sounds terribly cynical – it isn’t).

I too have been swept along in this inexplicable need for commemoration.  I went to see the poppies at the Tower of London and was stunned at the sheer scale of it. Even looking at it, 888,246 is still a difficult number to get your head around.  Back in January we were putting together a season of plays for my theatre, with the intention of including one WW1-related play every year for 4 years.  We had one we liked, but then suddenly Journey’s End by R. C. Sherriff came available for amateur rights (thank you people of Samuel French London!) a powerful, moving drama full of well-drawn characters.  It opened our season in September – at the end, some people were reportedly coming out of the auditorium in tears.  It broke my heart as I took show photos, then it broke me again as I painstakingly picked through pictures trying to choose a few for front of house and the website.  But it seems we’re not the only theatre with this idea: I’ve seen posters for everything from The Accrington Pals to My Boy Jack to Birdsong.  War Horse has been running in London almost constantly since 2007.  If audience numbers are anything to go by, we’re not bored of war yet – far from it.

Our recent production of R. C. Sherriff’s ‘Journey’s End’

So are theatres fuelling this desire for stories of war and tragic loss, or simply responding to a demand for it?  Are theatre, TV and film responsible for this warped image we have that WW1 was 4 years of relentless day-and-night bombardment, whilst the truth is that there were a lot of gaps in between, that frequent rotations meant that soldiers spent very little time at the front line?  It’s easy to think that the death toll accounts for a much higher percentage of the total fighting force than it actually does.  It beggars belief that it’s as low as 10% (and that 7.8 million men lived to tell the tale).  What is it about the Western Front that has inspired so many plays as opposed to other theatres of war during WW1?  My great-grandfather served in Palestine for his part.  With a few stats, it appears that at any one time, 46% of soldiers were serving away from France and Flanders in places like Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Italy and Gallipoli.  Where are those plays?

But I suspect the theatre’s love affair with the Western Front endures for several reasons.  For the fact that it was so geographically close, that it was meant to be over so quickly, that it quickly fell into stalemate, that mass conscription meant that almost everyone can count a relative within a few generations who served.  That the roots of so many modern conflicts that dominate the news today have their roots in the clumsy decisions made at the end of the war.  But amongst other things, it’s a very basic human desire to understand.  To know why so many died, to ask whether it could’ve been different.  Or possibly, to be horrified.  To reinforce our view that so many men who went to fight for King and country died for no gain whatsoever.  Because it’s easier to shake our heads at futility than to say that the outcome of the war (which inevitably led to WW2) was worth that unprecedented scale of bloodshed.

In Doctor Scroggy’s War, recently on at Shakespeare’s Globe, it focuses briefly on the Battle of Loos and the use of poison gas; the strategy of which was pinned on the availability and position of French troops rather than the weather.  In spite of the forecast indicating that wind direction would cause the gas would blow back onto their own troops, the operation went ahead.  Generals were adamant that it was too late to call off the attack, even though they knew that they were condemning untold numbers of men to certain death.  In the places where soldiers were able to make a breakthrough, reinforcements were too far away to be of any use, or sent on their way too late so that when they arrived at the front line, they were exhausted and in no fit state to bolster momentum.  Any ground gained was soon lost – within a matter of weeks, positions reverted to as they had been before and almost 60,000 men had been killed or wounded.  It is said of Loos that the tragedy is not in the failure, but in how close they came to succeeding, if only the back up had been ready and waiting.

888,246 is not a number we should ever be comfortable with.  Art in its various guises, whether it’s a moatful of ceramic poppies, a play or a TV dramatisation, routinely keeps that wound open and serves to remind us of a war fought with so little consideration for human life.

Lest we forget indeed.

#LDNTheatreBloggers at Soho Grind

“Crema crema crema chameleon….”

This was the terrible brilliant coffee-based pun we named our concoction in the Espresso Martini Challenge at Soho Grind – it sounded better than it tasted.  Out of our team of six, 2 of us couldn’t drink alcohol and another didn’t like coffee – but as an ex-barista, I liked to think I’d learnt enough about coffee to be able to match some flavours.  Matching is one thing, but ratios is another.  Our heavy-handed slugs of almond syrup and agave nectar made for a rather saccharine-yet-bitter concoction – but the name did win us a big bag of roasted coffee beans (which is great – but I now need the equipment to turn this into cups of coffee – anyone got a Gaggia?).

This was my first introduction to a night out with the #LDNTheatreBloggers hosted by the wonderful people at Official Theatre and Seat Plan – there are worse ways to spend a Monday night than making and drinking cocktails with other people who love the theatre as much as I do.

Espresso Martinis – photo lovingly stolen from Official Theatre

Soho Grind did also whip up some delicious mocktails for us tee-totallers – I have no idea what it was called, but asking for ‘the ginger thing – again’ at the bar got the desired effect.  The long list of ingredients (or the ones I can remember) included rhubarb and ginger jam, some sort of syrup with cayenne pepper, apple and pear juice, basil, soda water – and probably other things too.  A nice change given that I’m bored to death of drinking coke and orange juice.  The entertainment was also topped off with music from singer songwriter Bity Booker – a voice vaguely reminiscent of Cerys Matthews, balancing soft, haunting melodies with a really powerful set of lungs.

As a complete newbie to the group, I was made to feel very welcome by Rebecca (OT head honcho) and was quickly introduced to lots of people.  It was a great chance to compare shows with others and get a few recommendations.  Far from being the cliched “networking event” it could’ve been, this was a bunch of like-minded people all together in one place, all excitedly chatting about theatre without the fear that you’re boring anyone who isn’t quite so obsessed with it.  Given that I review for my blog and Bargain Theatre, I’ve now got a little group of people who’ll probably be there on press night (for other blogs and publications), so a few friendly faces to join at the interval, or even to join me when I have a second ticket.

We also got to find out a bit more about Seat Plan – a new website which I can see becoming invaluable in years to come.  They’re calling on all theatre-goers – regular and occasional – to review the seats they sit in whenever they go to the theatre.  The legroom, the view – anything you can say about that particular seat.  Because some seats are listed as restricted view (when they’re not really) and others aren’t listed as RV (when they really should be).  Legroom is very variable from row to row and theatre to theatre.  Often the grid of squares doesn’t really indicate the curvature of the sides, how far back you’ll actually be, or just how vertigo-inducingly steep the rake is.  There isn’t the option to pop into the auditorium to have a look at the seats before parting with money – and for some shows, even the cheapest seats cost a pretty penny.  The more detail people can pool into this website, the better informed everyone can be when booking tickets for any given West End theatre.  Because everyone wants to get the best seat they can afford, whatever their budget.

There’s only one thing I want to know – when can we do this again?