Friday, 27 April 2018

Absolute Hell, the Lyttelton Theatre, the National, South Bank, central London

Images from the National Theatre web site
Lavish and lengthy, Absolute Hell at the Lyttelton Theatre is a revival of a repetitive and downbeat play by Rodney Ackland originally performed in the 1950s and then revised to be more explicit in the 1980s. Set in a Soho club at the end of the Second World War, in the run-up to the Labour  victory in the 1945 General Election, the cast of 30 portrays characters from many walks of life who have one thing in common - they all want to escape reality. The club patrons, which include writers, artists, soldiers, pensioners, preachers, racketeers and aristos, obscure the outside world by indulging in alcohol, sex, literature, religion, music and nicotine. They are mostly a miserable lot, apart from an old lady with dementia.

A mute prostitute
Although there are a handful of funny scenes and the choreography can be top notch, this three hour production lacks a compelling plot and the story moves forward at a snail's pace. The play rotates through a carousel of cameos, often repeating the same gags over and over again. The multiple appearances by a bible bashing lay preacher banging on about Jesus being born on Boxing Day are particularly tedious. Throughout the performance, a mute prostitute walks round and round the stage like an robot, underlining the circular nature of the play.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

La Plagne, Mâcot-la-Plagne, France

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Hotel Catalonia Castellnou, Castellnou, Barcelona

In a quiet residential neighbourhood north west of the city centre, Hotel Catalonia Castellnou is a lengthy walk from Barcelona's main attractions and not well-served by public transport. But a hire bike would work well. Inside, the walls are paper thin and the rooms tend to lack windows, but the hotel does a good breakfast, is tastefully decorated and has decent Wi-Fi. 6/10

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia

Amid a sea of silverware, Barcelona's five UEFA Champions League trophies take pride of place in the Museum at the Camp Nou.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Circular Walk from Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire

Sezincote House

From Moreton-in-Marsh, you'll find a pleasant seven mile circular walk taking in the villages of Longbrough and a fine pub in Bourton-on-the-Hill. From Moreton, you follow a footpath south west across the fields, gently climbing up to Longbrough. From this sleepy hamlet, you strike north taking in wide views of the countryside and passing close to the charismatic Sezincote House, which apparently mixes Cotswold Mogul and Moorish architecture. After the steep climb up to Bourton-on-the-Hill, stop in the Horse and Groom for a pint or lunch, before heading east down the road towards Moreton. After a few hundred yards, you take the lane north towards Batsford Park, and then follow a winding footpath east back to Moreton. The route includes stretches of the Monarch’s Way (named for the escape of King Charles II from the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and the Heart of England Way.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh by bike

The Evenlode Valley, between Wilcote and East End
About 50km as the B road winds, the ride from Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh takes in some fine rolling countryside dotted with grand houses and sleepy Cotswolds villages. Once you break out of the university city's gravitational orbit, if you plot your route carefully, you should be able to escape cars almost entirely. Tempting as it is, you should avoid riding through Cornbury Park Estate, as you may get challenged by a ranger on a golf buggy. 8/10

Network, the National Theatre, South Bank, Central London

Images from National Theatre web site
Making full use of the Lyttelton Theatre's roomy stage, this visually impressive production has an elaborate set featuring a full-blown TV studio, with working cameras actually projecting live footage onto a large screen at the back of the stage. There is a café-bar to one side where the cast mingle with some members of the audience. The TV studio swarms with a huge cast, including presenters, executives, sound and lighting technicians and make-up artists, all plying their trade on stage in full view of the audience. An adaptation of a successful film from the 1970s, Network tells the story of a news show that goes on a fraught rollercoaster ride, after its ratings dive and its anchorman loses the plot.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Giants of Smooth, The Hideaway, Streatham

Backed by top-notch session musicians, Noel McCalla and Dionne Bennett were supposed to take south Londoners on a tour of the celebrated jazz of Al Jarreau and George Benson. Although the former received plenty of air-time, Benson's music only made one appearance in the two-part set, which also featured an unusual version of John Lennon's Imagine and a couple of Randy Crawford numbers. McCalla's patter can be a bit wayward, but his charismatic vocals are impeccable, while Bennett's voice has plenty of power and depth. However, the highlights were the seemingly improvised instrumental interludes, particularly from the un-billed pianist and lead guitarist. At just £15 a ticket, this gig was a bargain, given the breadth of talent on stage. You should also budget for a splurge on the respectable food and alcohol at the Hideaway. The grilled breast of Jerk chicken, served with coleslaw, salad and chips (£15) is a good option to soak up the lager. Although you have to arrive very early to claim a seat near the stage, most of the tables have a good view of the musicians and the service is pretty fast and smooth. Live music at the Hideaway works very well. 8/10