A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre

I’ve liked all the films by Martin McDonagh – “In Bruges“, “Seven Psychopaths” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – but didn’t know until this year that he’s also been a prolific playwright.

(This, it turns out, isn’t unusual – the knowledge of McDonagh’s works seems to be pretty polarising. I haven’t yet met anyone who could blather about both sides of his work – people know either the films or the plays, but rarely both, and are surprised to learn of the other side)

Back in January, it was announced that there would be a new McDonagh play premiering at the Bridge Theatre in London, and on spec I thought I’d book tickets and give it a go. (Still knowing nothing about his plays) The play was called “A Very Very Very Dark Matter” (always a good omen) and the description for it was…

In a townhouse in Copenhagen works Hans Christian Andersen, a teller of exquisite and fantastic children’s tales beloved by millions. But the true source of his stories dwells in his attic upstairs, her existence a dark secret kept from the outside world.

As it turned out, I managed to get tickets for the second performance – previews rather than “proper” performances, but still, second ever one.  Which is pretty good, by anyone’s standards.

On Saturday, that’s where I was.  And it’s a strange old production for sure.  I’m fully aware that I have other friends going to see it still, and I’m not tosspotty enough to spoiler it at all (which makes this a bit harder to write) but it’s a weird, dark, sweary and scabrous affair.

Jim Broadbent plays Hans Christian Andersen as a fairly unpleasant human being – utterly self-centred, but also a quite spectacular idiot – who is taking advantage of the source of his stories. He also goes to visit Charles Darwin Dickens (a regularly repeated joke through the play) who is played by Phil Daniels as an exceptionally sweary (and very funny) Cockney – and who may also be housing a similar source for his stories.

Along the way there’s violence, creepy attics and puppets (and arachnophobes should be aware that one of them is a big spider), time travel, writers, lots of swearies, and general weirdness.  In short, it’s a Martin McDonagh script.

All told, I did enjoy the play – although I did feel that it could’ve been better, and made more of the subject matter it had – but I don’t honestly know that I’d want to see it again…


Queen Margaret, Royal Exchange, Manchester

A couple of weeks ago, I read a piece on the BBC about a new play, “Queen Margaret” that was being staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.

Queen Margaret” is Margaret of Anjou, who has parts in four Shakespeare plays – Henry VI parts one, two and three, and Richard III – and across those plays, she has the most lines Shakespeare wrote for any part. For Queen Margaret, the playwright (Jeanie O’Hare) takes those lines and adds new ones to connect all the extant scenes.

Anyway, it all sounded interesting enough that I booked a ticket for last Saturday’s matinee performance, and made a day-trip of it.  It’s easy enough – the train from Milton Keynes gets to Manchester in 90-100 minutes, which brings it well within day-trip range. I certainly couldn’t do the drive in the same time. 

I’m really glad I did so, too – I thought the entire play was excellent, and done well enough that you couldn’t easily tell who had written which lines. (Although I’m no expert on those Shakespeare plays, so if one were super-familiar with them then I assume it’d be easier to separate the two writing styles)  The whole thing held together really well, and I enjoyed it thoroughly – while also learning a lot about all of the stuff around Henry VI and Richard III.

The run finishes this week (on Saturday 6th October) and I really hope that it’s generally perceived as having been excellent so that it gets a longer run, and ideally comes down to London and elsewhere. In my opinion, it thoroughly deserves it.


Brian Blessed, Cambridge Corn Exchange

On Monday night, I trolled over to Cambridge to see Brian Blessed on stage doing his “An Evening With” tour. Safe to say, it was a fun night.

I’ve been a fan of Blessed since his turn on Flash Gordon – which is now a very long time ago – which also gave him his most recognised phrase (and with which he opened the show) of “Gordon is Alive!

The entire show was kind of ramshackle and rambling, certainly nothing like the far slicker comedians and musicians that the audience was obviously more used to. I saw a few people with expressions of “What the fuck?!?” as it went on, because the were very few coherent stories, it appeared to be all more of a shotgun approach, as and when he remembered stuff.  (Without seeing the show again I have no way of knowing whether it’s intentionally shambolic, or that it’s just the way Blessed is)

For me though, I’d pretty much expected that, and it didn’t disappoint or disconcert me at all.

I thought the entire thing was a lot of fun (and also very loud, and sometimes sweary – also things I’m OK with) and would happily go and see it/him again.

I think the final note to leave on, though, is this notice on the doors.


Othello and Aristocrats

On Tuesday, as I mentioned before, I went down to London to see Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe. I’d not seen any previous productions of it, and it seemed like a good plan – particularly as it was only £5 for a standing ticket.

All told, it was OK. Standing at the Globe is OK, although the concrete floor is a lot less forgiving than the original’s mud, straw and whatever. I get that that’s less sustainable in modern London, but yeah, a bit tough when standing for near-as-dammit three hours, once you include arriving before it starts, interval, and leaving.

The play itself was good, and I had a decent view of the stage, albeit from the side. Going in with a pretty blank and basic idea of the play, it fulfilled most of that, and was easy enough to follow. I had always had the idea that Iago was a lot more panto-villain with hand-twisting moustachioed evil – although I suspect that’s just how it’s been built up over the years, as a lot of the irony of calling him “honest Iago” wouldn’t work if he were being blatantly manipulative and machiavellian – so it was interesting (and a bit jarring for me) to see the way it’s played by Mark Rylance as a much quieter role, more of a jealous little man, overlooked by those in power, assumed to be a nobody who couldn’t possibly come up with such intrigues. 

But I enjoyed it (although I feel the ending is another of Shakespeare’s more melodramatic dollops) and came out feeling I’d got what I came for.

Then, because I’m an idiot, I’d also booked to see Brian Friel’s “The Aristocrats” in the evening, at the Donmar Warehouse.  Which also conveniently meant I could go and have a quick dinner at one of my favourite places in that area, Chick’n’Sours (Fried chicken and sour cocktails – my kind of place)

So that’s what happened – a walk back from the Globe to Seven Dials, food, and then with plenty of time to kill I sat outside an empty building on Earlham Street, right by Donmar Warehouse, and just relaxed for an hour – which was lovely. It’s a really quiet street – surprising for being in the Covent Garden area – with enough people going past to be interesting, but not chaotic.

And then Aristocrats. Which, in my opinion, was sadly an absolute bag of bollocks. Apparently it’s Chekhov-esque, which apparently means “sod-all happens”. I’d seen generally positive reviews of it, but couldn’t find much to be impressed by in it, myself.  It was good to have seen it, and understand a bit more about the kind of plays I don’t like – which is always a useful reference point, so long as you haven’t spent an absolute shed-load of money to find out you hate it – but it’s definitely not one I’d bother with again.

Mind you, I was in a seat in the second row of the stalls, right by the stage, and it cost me £30.  So it could’ve been an awful lot worse than it was.

All told it was a good day, and not massively expensive. What more could one ask for, really?


Bat Out Of Hell, Dominion Theatre

Last weekend, I went to see Bat Out Of Hell, the juke-box musical based on the Bat Out Of Hell trilogy by Meatloaf.

It hadn’t been super-high on my priority list, but a friend of mine is running the lighting desk, and it was also in consideration as something to take my mum to later in the year, so I picked up a ticket to see what it was like.

I didn’t really know what to expect – and in many ways, I’m glad of that.  While I did enjoy it, it’s not one I’d go and see again (and also I’m not convinced that mum would like it) so it was definitely worth seeing as research first.  In fairness, a lot of people really like it and have seen it multiple times – and Meatloaf himself saw it a couple of days before I did, and seemed to be pleased with the entire thing.  It just didn’t really do it for me – it’s a subjective thing, and I’m never going to say to anyone “Don’t go”.  It just turned out to not be my thing.

The staging, set, lighting and so on are great, the music performances are pretty good – but the story itself is woeful, and seems to be there just as a kind of bare basic scaffold on which to hang the songs.  (I’m no expert on juke-box musicals, so this could be the case with all of them, I don’t know – and I’m not going to generalise based on a sample of one!)

But still, it was entertaining enough, and kept me amused.  I didn’t come out thinking I’d wasted my money, or disappointed in the production – but I still wouldn’t want to pay to see it again…

 


Ministry, O2 Forum, Kentish Town

I’ve been a fan of the (very loud) band Ministry for a very long time – I missed their last gig in London due to other stuff occurring, and had made sure I got tickets for the gig on Saturday night at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town, London.

As I had nothing else planned, I went down to London early – I know the local area, and there are a few places very close to the venue where parking is free on a weekend, which makes the entire proposition even easier.  In light of my whole “not doing as much” policy, it was still a quiet and easy day – I had lunch, then found a couple of pubs to sit outside and either read, catch up on internet stuff, or do some reading.  With the weather the way it’s been, it was all most civilised.

For the gig itself, I got there in time to see the support act – a singer I’d not heard of before, called Chelsea Wolfe, and her support band.  Personally I wasn’t overly taken with them, but they were better than expected. (I generally expect support bands to be bobbins, but still go to see them if possible. If they’re better than bobbins, it’s a bonus. If they’re bad, then it’s purely as expected, and I don’t feel disappointed by that)

And then onto the main thing.  I don’t know what happened, but the venue suddenly got exceptionally hot, and stayed that way for the whole concert.  It was bad enough that I know a lot of people left early, it really was pretty intolerable.  The gig itself was great, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing – but was definitely sweaty and stinky by the time I’d also driven home.

I’d go again, happily – but ideally in rather cooler temperatures, or a venue where the air-con/ventilation was capable of coping with 2,000-ish gig-goers…

 


Ignition

A long, long time ago, someone on Twitter repeatedly introduced me to the chemically geeky “Things I Won’t Work With” blog, which basically did what it said on the tin.  Chemical compounds and experiments that were… on the energetic side, shall we say?  The way it was written made me laugh, and I loved seeing the sporadic updates.

Then it disappeared, and I pretty much forgot about it.

Only it turns out to have been (still sporadically) updated, but on a different site – something I found out this week. I’d been on The Twitter to mention to that original someone about a newly reprinted copy of “Ignition!” (which , from memory, had been one of the inspirations for “Things I Won’t Work With”)  and then other Twitterers reminded me of the name of the blog.

Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants” is fascinating.  Originally written in the early 70s, it hadn’t been reprinted in decades – (but there’s obviously been some demand for it, as the publishers weren’t going to go to the effort if there weren’t) but it was on my ‘want to read’ list if I ever found a copy.  When I saw earlier this year that it was being re-printed, and available as an eBook as well, I pre-ordered immediately, and it arrived this week.

The book itself has an irreverent style to it, which is fine – and even understandable, considering that the author was part of a very select group involved in all this stuff.  I’m not a full-on chemistry geek, so some of it is a bit mind-boggling, but it’s been a great read.  I’m really glad I managed to get it in the end.