Stella Artois ‘Black Diamond’ Coming To Shoreditch In July

I had a rather strange experience last night. I was asked to go a fairly non-descript 19th century building near Barbican to take part in a preview event for something that’s happening next month…

To start at the beginning, when I arrived I was directed downstairs to a basement door where I was met by a rather prim looking young lady (think Madmen but with a bit of a gallic flare) and asked to sit and wait for a few minutes. Looking around I noticed something odd – all of the usual signs that you would expect to see in an office building were in French – the exit signs read ‘Sortie’, for example. Strange, I thought… I was then guided to the lifts, which I took to an upper floor and then proceeded down a corridor between a group of rather serious looking men who were having a very animated conversation. Stepping through a door at the end of the corridor I was confronted with a police officer who asked me to enter my details on a press pass, and then guided into a room with a large group of people in it who were quietly chatting and milling around. After a few minutes the police officer reappeared and we were all ushered into a conference room, where we sat down as the men who I’d seen earlier took their seats behind a long desk with some rather ancient looking microphones and a reel to reel tape deck sitting on it.

The gentlemen introduced themselves as various members of the local gendarmerie, and proceed to tell us about the case of the ‘Black Diamond’, which involved the theft of a precious gem. Using some slides and a recording of a song on the tape deck we learned about the various protagonists in the case – Jacques Ferre, the young jeweller from whom the diamond was stolen just before he was able to present to his fiancee Cecile Fontaine, the probable thief and his accomplice, Lucas and Etienne Chabrol, and an enigmatic cabaret singer with an unknown agenda, Lola Coeur. What happened next came as a shock – the lights flickered and went out and the room was then plunged into darkness as disembodied voices and screams echoed around the room.

Intrigued? It turns out that this is the beginning of a live theatre experience that takes place througout July where you can get involved in solving the mystery of the ‘Black Diamond‘, through a series of online puzzles and real-time events centred around Shoreditch. Felix Barrett, the theatre director has been working with Stella Artois to put this all together as part of the launch of their new ‘Stella Artois Black’ brand, which is matured for longer – I tried it later in the evening and it is rather good, as it lacks the heaviness of the regular Stella brand. You can sign up for tickets for the Shoreditch happenings here – if last night is anything to go …

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‘Jack The Ripper’s London’ – A Review

For a couple of weeks the Crow Theatre is bringing an interesting new take on one of London’s abiding mysteries to, not Whitechapel, but London Bridge, ‘Jack The Ripper’s London’.

It’s difficult to talk about these participatory performances without giving away the surprises so I’ll gloss over the details, but expect the experience to start with a guided walk. Led by a prim matronly figure it won’t be long before you’re shedding your 21st century pretensions and imagining life as a costermonger or guttersnipe in Victorian London. The main event takes place in a convincing recreation of a streetscape, thronged with all the colourful characters that we associate with this period in London’s history. All credit is due to Crow Theatre for pulling this off with a cast of just thirteen – given all the jostling, the noise and running to and fro you’ll swear that there are more.

There are some charming little conceits involved in ‘Jack The Ripper’s London’ that help to stitch the experience together, and there’s lots of colour and more than a few spine-tingling moments and shocking scenes. I’m sure that if you go along you’ll get a great deal of enjoyment out of it – I certainly did. It’s a shame that they couldn’t find a suitable venue over in Whitechapel itself…

Tickets to ‘Jack The Ripper’s London’ really are a steal at £12 per person. Performances take place at 12pm, 3pm and 8pm on Wednesday thru Sunday until 5 August.…

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What’s In A Dane?

With the Olympics coming up, the main roads leading up to Stratford have been sprouting new high-rise housing developments for a few years now. However, for whatever reason some plots have failed to attract the attention of developers.

So it is with the factory complex belong to the Dane Group of Companies which sits at the far end of Stratford High St from the town proper. As far as I can tell it doesn’t appear to be functioning as a business any longer given its state of repair and nothing’s going on at the site in terms of demolition or construction – which in this particular case might be a good thing because of a particularly odd cultural treasure that it contains. Witness the mural that sits out in front of the main building – from the design I’d say this is a 1960s piece but I’m happy to be contradicted. It’s a Great Dane – get it?…

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The Flying Karamzov Brothers @ Vaudeville Theatre – A Review

Last night I was over at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand to check out the Flying Karamazov Brothers – a group of juggling American comedians and musicians (wearing kilts!) who are playing at the theatre until September.

It was an interesting evening, involving jazz, gentle comedy and some absolutely remarkable feats of juggling. Of the set pieces, I found the most entertaining ones to be  ‘The Challenge’ (where audience members are invited to contribute items for the performers to juggle, or pick from a selection on the stage – last night we selected a rain jacket, a toy VW Beetle and a chocolate cake for Dmitri, who also produces the show, to juggle!) and ‘The Terror’ which involves items that are introduced throughout the show to be juggled as the piece de resistance at the end of the evening. It was a rather eclectic assortment of items, including a very sharp looking meat cleaver, a flaming torch and a block of dry ice! A young lady from the audience also got more than she bargained for, but you’ll have to go and see the show to find out why…

The Flying Karamazov Brothers are also rather slick jazz musicians and can even beat out a convincing rhythm on piles of cardboard boxes! All in all, this show stands out as a rather an unusual theatre-going experience and possibly won’t appeal to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re a bit tired of glitzy West End musicals then an evening at the Vaudeville Theatre might be the perfect antidote. Tickets for the Flying Karamazov Brothers shows are available direct from the theatre here including some Sunday matinees, which are very unusual in the West End…

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Sir Anthony Caro’s ‘steelworks’ @ Canary Wharf

Jubilee Gardens in Canary Wharf is currently playing host to some of the work of sculptor Sir Anthony Caro. Taken together, these pieces represent a retrospective of his career, although focusing exclusively on his work in steel – amongst the sculptures you’ll find ‘Fossil Flats’ from 1974, ‘Eastern’ from 1985 (the garishly yellow piece up on the mound), ‘Equator’ from 1994 and ‘Three Up’ from 2010.

If you want to go along to investigate Caro’s work for yourself, they will be on display in the park, which you’ll find directly behind the main entrance to Canary Wharf tube station, until 25 May.

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A Preview Tour of Portsmouth’s Mary Rose Museum, Opening On 31 May

I’m rather ashamed to say that I’d never been to Portsmouth before, so the opening of the new Mary Rose Museum was a great excuse to head to the south coast on a day trip out of London. I found lots to see and do and plenty to appeal to all kinds of visitors, not just for lovers of naval history.

The train journey from London took about an hour and a half to Portsmouth Harbour station, where you arrive right in the heart of all the things that you would want to see – in fact you’re still in the station when you catch sight of the huge HMS Warrior. Britain’s first iron hulled ship, she is a warship that was launched in 1860 and was the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet – the fastest ship of her day.

Exiting the station, you can choose to turn right to the Gun Wharf or left to the Historic Dockyards. I started with the right side of the station as my eye was taken by the striking white Spinnaker Tower rising 170 metres above the harbour. Entry costs £8.55, which gives you access to 3 different levels with the top one taking you to 110 metres and a lovely looking cafe on the middle level. The views are really wonderful out to sea, over old Portsmouth and across the Historic Dockyards including a glimpse of HMS Victory and the Mary Rose Museum. On the first level there is plenty of panorama information if you are new to the area and audio guides for each vista. One added bit of fun is the glass floor on the top level for the very brave to stand on!

 
 

 
 

 
 

Passing the cafes on the water front and the handsome yachts in the marina, I walked through old Portsmouth to the Round Tower. This landmark fortification has watched over Portsmouth Harbour since the early 1400s and is close to the site of the sinking of the Mary Rose herself. I was keen to see the Square Tower, the cathedral and the D-Day Museum but was running short of time so had to head off to the Historic Dockyards.

The Mary Rose Museum opens tomorrow, 31st May and is an amazing museum which is well worth a day trip out from London on its own. It sits in the heart of the Historic Dockyards which is packed full of other museums and displays of naval goods – on the way to see the Mary Rose you even pass HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship during his victorious battle at Trafalgar, which sadly cost his life. It’s a wonderful ship and I’ll have to visit again to have enough time to do justice to a tour of this beautiful ship.

 
 

 
 

 
 

I was getting excited as I approached the Mary Rose Museum, as I remembered the news of this Tudor warship from Henry V111’s fleet being raised from the sea floor back in 1982. Since then she has been undergoing intensive …

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Spitalfields Life – Book Review

Spitalfields Life, published earlier this year, is an intimate literary record of everyday life in the historic area of Spitalfields, just to the east of the City of London.

Built up over two years, and the product of over ten thousand posts gathered from spitalfieldslife.com, this anonymously penned tome (authorship is ascribed to ‘The Gentle Author’ ) paints colourful pen pictures of Spitalfields workers, residents and visitors, both past and present.

In its densely packed 428 pages readers are taken on a journey that peers down every backstreet, climbs over the wall of every yard and knocks on every front door. Amongst the characters behind those doors are Molly, an old East End ‘swagman’ (the Delboy-like market stallholders who take pride in selling anything and everything that comes their way) and Fred, another denizen of the local markets who has been selling chestnuts from his roasting pan for over forty years.

In a section entirely devoted to the Spitalfields Antiques Market, Spitalfields Life takes you by the hand and introduces you to a whole succession of stallholders, including Giovanni (who sells antique Italian leather gloves) to Rishi and Thomas who have a taste for the macabre (if it’s stuffed and mounted they’ll sell it!). Columbia Road Flower Market also gets its time in the spotlight, with a behind-the-scenes look at  what goes on there on Sunday mornings, often before sunrise, when the sellers set out their displays of freshly cut flowers.

Spitalfields Life contains pages and pages of insights and anecdotes – it will furnish with far more knowledge than you could gain even in a year of wandering around the area. Given its size and heft it’s not a volume that will find a comfortable spot in a rucksack or shoulder bag however – this one is for dipping in and out of while you’re winding down at home.

I highly recommend picking this up – it’s the most lovingly crafted book of its type that I’ve seen in a very long time and which will, no doubt, keep me busy for many long winter evenings. Spitalfields Life is available from all the usual places – you can pick it up on Amazon right now for £13.50.…

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Beautiful Thing @ The Arts Theatre – A Review

This new production of the seminal coming-of-age story is directed by Nikolai Foster, and stars Suranne Jones as brassy South London mom Sandra, with Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard as Jamie and Ste. Sandra’s love interest is played by TV regular Oliver Farnworth (Hollyoaks, The Royal, Doctors) while Zaraah Abrahams plays Leah, the slightly unhinged girl from across the landing who has an obsession with American songstress Mama Cass.

Photo: Alastair Muir

The acting in this production really is spot on – Farnworth is particularly effective as the louche Tony and Surranne Jones plays a lovely mom, while Davies and Hatchard are perfectly convincing in their roles as the young gay lovers. The play itself has aged surprisingly well  too – the comedy lines are still strong, and while some of the South London spots name-checked in the script may be a distant memory an honest love story is timeless, and Beautiful Thing is about as honest as it gets. The love scene featuring ‘peppermint foot lotion’ was controversial twenty years ago, but thankfully society has shifted around the play in the intervening years – rather than drawing gasps from the audience, these days it elicits gentle ‘aahs’ – many of the patrons no doubt drawing on their own fond memories of early romantic encounters.

These days much of the West End’s serious output does seem to go out of its way to eviscerate audience members, and its a great relief to go and see a play that is as uplifting and joyful as Beautiful Thing. The killer soundtrack helps too of course – in what other setting could the Sound Of Music and the Mamas & Papas work so effectively together?…

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TheLondoneer: Blogging, High on Caffeine

I’ve just returned home from another great London Bloggers Meetup, organised as usual by Andy Bargery and this month sponsored by Starbucks. They’ve recently launched an instant coffee brand, called ‘VIA Ready Brew’ (rolls off the tongue that one!). I’m not entirely convinced, but I’ll try a sachet at work tomorrow – my personal Starbucks poison is a skinny chai latte and a ‘rise and shine’ muffin, which I’ll be buying with the Starbucks card loaded with £5, which they were handing out tonight too 🙂

We also heard from one of friends from the online Londonist magazine, on how the 30-odd members of their group manage to produce such quality news and views day in, day out, and also from Chris Tradgett from Buy.at, who was kind enough to impart lots of useful tips for the assembled bloggers on monetising your blog without compromising on editorial quality. Personally I think that’s a real tight-rope walk – I’ve seen many blogs that are so heavily ‘monetized’ that they make you feel slightly queazy, and more to the point ensure that you never ever go back to them, which is why the advertising on my site is very low-key (and consequently why it doesn’t make me any money!)

My only complaint about the evening is how damn hot the second floor room in the Old Crown pub was – as you can see from the image of these two rather sweaty bloggers, it was almost time to hand out the towels (btw the chap on the right is Malcolm, of the aptly named London Review of Breakfasts)

Just on a side note, on my way over to the pub this evening I walked through Bedford Square with a friend where we found a rather enticing new sculpture made entirely out of plywood – rather attractive, although I wonder how well it will hold up during our very damp summer this year……

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Rhinegold @ The Yard Theatre – A Review

Rhinegold is the latest production to come to The Yard Theatre from new company Liveartshow – as the name suggests it is a very loose interpretation of the first section of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, ‘Das Rheingold’.

Played on a parse stage with only a few large wooden crates for a set, this 50-odd minute retelling is rather an odd beast. It broadly follows the plot of Wagner’s classic but due to the short running time is severely curtailed and, in a bizzare twist, severed tongues have replaced the magic rings of the original tale – supermarket bags full of offal and a blood-streaked stage feature throughout rather than glinting bands of gold. Musically and visually there is some interest – video production and electronica are used to great effect to augment the storytelling, particularly in the ominous first scene, and there’s even a genuine snippet from the opera by way of powerful soprano Heather Burns who plays Erda, although what they were thinking when they plotted the ‘karaoke number’ by Alberich (played by Nick Figgis) I can’t imagine – frankly a decent pub singer would have done a more convincing job…

To be brutally honest other than the brief aria the only real shining light in the show is classically trained dancer Virginia Scudeletti as Woglinda, who sweeps and swoons about the stage balletically from time to time – she was a delight to watch. I was quite disappointed with the play overall – a shame because it did start with such promise.

If you want to brave ‘Rhinegold’ it runs until this Saturday, 30 June. Tickets are only £9 so it’s no great loss if you don’t find yourself particularly inspired on your visit, although ardent fans of Wagner might want to give this one a rather wide berth! I hope shows with the quality of the lovely ‘If What I Hear Is True’ (which opened the 2012 season at the theatre) feature on The Yard’s bill again soon – now that was a night to remember, rather than one to forget……

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