La Traviata at the Royal Albert Hall

I’ve always loved this opera.  I love the emotion, the drama and, of course, the music and voice.  When Issy and I ‘talked opera’ we discovered we both loved La Traviata and both wanted to see it in Milan.  Toward the end of 2014 we spotted La Traviata was playing at La Scala between Christmas and New Year.  Sadly Issy wasn’t well enough at that time for us to risk arranging tickets and flights and we said we’d go see it together one day.

A couple of pieces from Act 2 of La Traviata were played at Issy’s funeral.

There was no way I was going to miss tonight’s performance at the Royal Opera House.  Only one seat required.

LaTraviata

It was utterly magical and majestic.  Incredible in so many ways.  The staging was brilliant.  Classic but brilliant.  The lighting extraordinary.  The orchestra magnificent and the opera singers so truly talented.  Fabulous, engaging, beautifully performed and truly emotive.  There might have been a little leakage from my eyes!  Issy would have loved it too.

la_traviata__c__catherine_ashmore_499x350A huge thank you to the ROH staff who managed to get me from ticket collection and into my seat in minutes… with seconds to spare before the concert started.  Thank you.

Ooh and look, what a beautiful building.

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Breakfast at Tiffany’s LIVE

IMG_9140Breakfast at Tiffany’s is, without doubt, an iconic film.  For me, a film that I can see over and over and still love every second.  So when I spotted that it would be playing at the Albert Hall in London with a live orchestra, I was already in heaven.

Breakfast at Tiffany medleyand a little video so you can see/hear the quality of the performance live.

A truly magical evening.  The orchestra and choir were faultless.  The film, never disappointed.  The audience peppered with ‘Holly Golightly’ in little black dresses, pearls and tiaras.  The ones carrying ‘cat’ was quite genius.

Post Breakfast at TiffanysHow happy do we all look after the performance?

Watch the Albert Hall’s clips Breakfast at Tiffany’s on YouTube.

DigitalSpy’s review BatT

Jon Richardson’s ‘To-Do List’

Jon Richardson's To Do ListAn excellent evening spent watching the filming for a new series ‘To Do List’ hosted by Jon Richardson.  Weirdly I realised when I was telling people that I was going to this filming, that not everyone has yet discovered Jon Richardson!  Weird, you’re missing out!

Each week, Jon Richardson will tick off tasks from his ‘To Do List’ with the help of his guests.

Guests were Matt Forde, Roisin Conaty and Romesh Ranganathan

JonRichardson

A ‘laugh out loud’ sort of an evening, particularly with the chemistry between ex-flatmates, Matt Forde and Jon Richardson.  (If you didn’t see the series they did for Channel 4, Jon Richardson Grows up – check it out on JonRichardsonGrowsUp).  Loved the banter about Twitter, Surbiton and vegetarian foods!  Perhaps you’ve got to be there… so keep an eye out for the show on the TV.  I think it’s worth a peek!

Be in the Audience – TV/Radio

A short while ago I decided it was high time I looked again at things to do in London for free or in the affordable range. It is possible!  We’re all very used to going to do what we always do, or hanging out in places that we’re used to.  It’s often only when we’ve got friends visiting us that we try somewhere new or become a tourist in our town City.  Why is this?

When I returned from Australia in 2003 I looked at London through new eyes, itme on my hands before I got a job and short of cash!  I realised that although I’d lived in London for over 12 years before I moved to Australia I’d not really ‘visited’ London for a very long time.  So before I got a job and to keep myself occupied during the days, I spent a great deal of time finding something to do every day (after applying for jobs in the morning) that would mean I spent no more than £5 a day (including travel).

OK so 13 years later I’d have to maximise £5 slightly but there’s still a heap you can do in London for next to nothing or free.  So over the coming months I’m intending to rediscover a few of them, discover some new ones and share them with you.  What have you done?  Where do you go? What’s affordable to you?

London doesn’t have to be a wildly expensive place… unless you make it that way!

So my first stop was looking at ‘being in an audience’.  I found the online links and applied to a number of shows.  I suspected that I’d maybe get one show I applied for but didn’t expect to get every single one.  So here are a few:

The Last Leg – #IsItOK
Love watching this show so it was a treat to see it being filmed.  Laughed a lot.  Loved the warmup game of ‘human tinder’ too!

TV Audience3Katherine Ryan – Pilot for a new show The Katherine Ryan’s Famous Celebrity Show.
Not hugely funny.  I think Katherine is a better stand up comic than a host so will be interesting to see if this show goes to air.TV Audience2David Mitchell – Radio 4 show ‘The Unbelievable Truth’
Really enjoyed seeing this radio show recorded.  Very funny.  TV Audience1Graham Norton Show – The Eastender Special.
Great fun to watch and be a part of.  Graham Norton definitely has a great rapport with all his guests and is able to keep the ‘show going’ between takes and with slightly more difficult guests.  Very interesting to see it filmed and then watch it back on TV to see how it’s cut.

TV AudienceYou do however have to remember that these tickets are free.  You are required (of course) to stay for the whole filming.  For the majority of the recordings you need to turn up several hours beforehand, stand in line and get a wrist band.  Usually you can then disappear for a coffee/something to eat etc and rejoin the queue shortly before being asked to file in and take your seat.  This process can take a while so be prepared to stand around for a while.

I also registered for seats at Britain’s Got Talent auditions.  I’d hoped to take my friend’s teenager during their school holidays.  Fortunately (as it turned out) they were busy on that date so a friend and I went along.  We arrived very early and anticipated a long queue.  However it turned out that people had queued over night and despite our turning up early all tickets had been allocated and we were turned away.  I can’t imagine how that would have been had I travelled up to London with teenager and then had to disappoint them with nothing.  BUT they do warn you they oversubscribe the ticket allocation so that the audience is full for filming!

Another downside is where they maybe filming two episodes on the same day but switching guests and audience between filmings.  We registered to see a new Greg Davies show being filmed in Clapham.  We were due to see the second filming of the day.  After standing in a queue for nearly 2 hours we heard that the first filming was just about to finish.  By our calculations this would mean that we’d not be seated until after 9.30pm, the filming was a couple of hours, there would inevitably be additional warm up, phaffing, retakes etc and doubted if we’d be out in time to get the last train home.  So despite being fourth from the front of the queue, chose to leave and get a late supper and head home.

So it doesn’t always go to plan.  You must however commit to attending the audience for the whole evening/allocated time, clap/laugh/boo/hiss when told and generally be fabulous TV/radio fodder for the listener/viewer.

It’s fun.  It’s great fun to see what really goes on to produce the show you’re watching/listening to.  I’d thoroughly recommend it… but allow plenty of time and remember they’re free tickets but in return for being free you’ve got to stand in line and then you’ve got a job to do!

Here’s a couple of links that you may find useful:
BBC London – http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/tickets/
ITV have a list of companies they use for their tickets – http://www.itv.com/beontv/join-the-audience
Channel 4- http://www.channel4.com/programmes/take-part/articles/all/get-tickets

And if you’re brave enough… be on TV!
http://www.channel4.com/programmes/take-part
http://www.itv.com/beontv
http://www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours/beonashow/

Rachmaninoff: Inside Out at The Royal Festival Hall

Beautiful concert this evening.  The London Philharmonic Orchestra were, as ever, enthralling, engaging and amazing.  There is something so incredible that transports you to another world whilst the Orchestra plays.  We were treated to Mozart Symphony No. 36 (Linz) which is always criticized as being written in haste but I certainly didn’t get that impression when I listened to it tonight.

Followed by the young player, Dmitry Mayboroda, performing Rachmaninoff’s First Piano Concerto.  My Oh My can that boy move up and down the ivories at speed!  Incredible performance.  We were treated to a couple of additional pieces as he was called back more than once, for encores!

The concert finished with an old favourite, Dvořák Symphony No. 8.  I remember listening to this many times as Mum had a recording of it.  Envoked some wonderful memories.

The Royal Festival Hall is also becoming one of my favourite classical venues.  From the outside a fairly non-descript concrete lump.  Inside it’s a jewel of Scandinavian design, wood and simplicity.  The seats comfortable and from every seat a view of the stage.  Certainly somewhere I would happily (and do) buy the cheap seats and still feel like I’m ‘in’ the best seats.

All in all, another truly great concert.

More glass (without the bubbles please)…

Following my two day 1:1 studio course I did in 2013 with the wonderful artist David Mitchell in Cambridge I have been super keen to continue working with glass.  As Cambridge isn’t exactly next door, I needed to find a college, studio or individual that would help me learn more, guide me (a little bit) and help me fire and coldwork pieces in their kiln and studio.  Of course I was happy to pay but I couldn’t find anyone or anywhere!  Many many hours of searching, stalking artists, posting on art forums and generally making a nuisance of myself and two year’s later, I found somewhere that I can go to make more glass ‘stuff’.  I didn’t exactly sit and wait for it though.  I invested in some glass, glass cutting boards, goggles and cutters and practiced cutting pieces of glass in my shed.

It has been a frustrating two years and I thought I’d end up with a shed full of cut pieces of glass and yet nothing finished…

.. until now!

Richmond Adult Community College have added a new art wing to their College in Richmond.  They were apparently previously in a Nissan hut in Twickenham but clearly at that time without much awareness about publicising their classes as I didn’t find them in my many many page searches of Google!

So I’ve signed up to three courses and already started two of them.

Cast a Glass Vessel (short course) – Learn how to make a model in wax to be cast in glass
•    To create a refractory mould for glass casting
•    Using wax to creating textures and patterns
•    You will gain basic techniques in finishing your cast glass

This is a piece that I’ve made so far.

Wax mould

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IMG_8094IMG_8093I quite love the way it is “just a vessel”.  It doesn’t have a purpose nor does it stand up or be level (deliberately!).  I adore the mottling of purples with a slight hint of blue within.  It’s far from perfect but I did it!  I think it’s done but I may just put a hole in the bottom and fit it with a small light…  I’m thinking about it.

Next up is a larger vessel that I’ve already created in wax and have a couple of weeks to finish the carving, then cast it in plaster and then into glass.  I’ve several ideas floating around in my head for a design and I’m excited to see what I finally decide to do.

Studio Glass (16 week course) – A practical introduction to kiln formed studio glass, covering the ancient techniques of fusing, slumping, open-mould and lost wax casting. You will be set short projects and encouraged to adopt an experimental approach. You will be taught through demonstration, group and individual instruction and you will learn from hands on experience. You will discover the potential of the medium through looking at both contemporary and historical works

The story so far:

IMG_8154Top left – practice cuts in glass to get circles, straight lines and shapes.
Top right – after first firing to fuse the glass together
Bottom – We created ‘cut-out’ shapes and prepared them for a ‘drop’ in the next firing.  This picture was taken as we ‘collectively’ chose it was time to stop the firing process and cool down the kiln pieces.  Hopefully we stopped it in time so that none of the pieces continued for the glass to melt and drop further.  Also it’s quite an art (thank heavens for Sally, our technician) to bring the glass down in temperature in such a way that it doesn’t crack.  Next week we’ll see the pieces out of the kiln and having returned to their final colour.  Fingers crossed.  I think I’d like to finish my piece by finishing off the edges and then mounting it onto a melted glass piece stand.  We’ll see!

Glass Casting (short course) – A practical and intense introduction to casting glass using the lost wax and open casting process. You will be taught how to model wax, make refractory moulds and prepare your glass for casting in the kiln. You will be set a short project and encouraged to adopt an experimental approach. You will be taught through demonstration, group and individual instruction and you will learn from hands on experience. You will discover the potential of the medium through looking at both contemporary and historical works.

Not started yet!

I’m so enjoying working with glass.  Once again I realise that I can be totally absorbed by this medium.  It’s unpredictability as to how it will fuse, slump or drop gives me a sense of excitement and thrill as to what it will become when the pieces I’ve chosen and placed take on a new form.  Honestly I can’t believe how quickly each class session flies by.

 

Ruby Wax – Sane New World – A manual to how to survive the 21st century

Wow Wow Wow.  Just got in from seeing Ruby Wax’s new show ‘Sane New World’.  It’s well documented that Ruby has been diagnosed with clinical depression and, like so many things in her life, tackled it head on, talked loudly about it, studied it and now has the tools to see the signs of it’s return and in turn manage it.

….keep reading….

However the most important aspect (as I see it) is that she talks about it.  She brings ‘depression’ into the public domain.  There’s no stigma to it.  It’s just life… and for 1 in 4 of us it’s often everyday life.  Like Stephen Fry, she is able to articulate something that many people shy away from and indeed deliver it in a way that you can even laugh!  (SHOCK HORROR).

The show though isn’t downhearted or depressing.  It’s not a ‘woe is me’ tale nor is the audience full to the brim with ‘tie-dye’ or the bar/restaurant devoid of sharp objects for fear of anything happening.  Actually it’s well rounded and for everyone.  I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t benefit from seeing the show, listening to it and being open to understanding it.  After all 1 in 4 people have depression in their lifetime and if we were all better able to spot the signs, address it, talk about it and take action, I’m quite sure the world would be a much better place… and a little saner!

It’s certainly spurred me on to revisit my NLP training, dig out my notes from my Certification and Masters.  I think that although I know I still practice some of the techniques myself, it would be an incredibly valuable tool to reinstate in my life, work, advocacy and general practice.

Go see the show…  On until 14 March at St James’ Theatre, London Tickets

Telegraph review of show
Ruby Wax – book

Verdi’s Requiem and Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles

Tonight I snuck off to the Royal Festival Hall for a concert.  I always feel a little naughty sneaking off to concerts on my own but delightfully happy to do so.  I particularly love the Royal Festival Hall as the acoustics are fabulous, the interior decor amazingly retro and tickets are affordable.

The incredible London Philharmonic Orchestra were performing the Requiem with a twist and I wasn’t going to miss it.

LPO RequiemSuch a clever performance and not as standard as most music lovers would know.  The conductor, Jurowski, bought together the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir and Pamplona Choral Society to produce a spellbinding concert.  The evening’s performance was with both Verdi’s Requiem and Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles.  A contrast in style, precision and drama.  Where Verdi had written his Requiem from grief, Stravinsky had written his with an expression of calm detachment.

A powerful performance suited the Royal Festival Hall perfectly.

Exceptional.  What a treat.

Reviews:

‘Jurowski drew from the musicians’ precise synchronisation for the Stravinsky, and realised Verdi’s quasi-operatic drama without ever indulging in mere theatricality.’
George Hall, The Guardian, 27 January 2015

‘… outstanding choral singing and orchestral playing [with] the splendid Orfeón Pamplonés [and] powerful singing of the London Philharmonic Choir. And rhythmic definition was razor-sharp, impetus highly charged, under Jurowski’s baton. […] Each tiny ritualistic section [of Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles] was minutely sculpted by Jurowski into pungent fragments of sound and eloquent silence.’
Hilary Finch The Times 26 January 2015

‘Rather than let the [Verdi Requiem’s] Sanctus bound off like a race-horse, Jurowski settled on a slightly more relaxed speed that gave it substance and meaning, and the same approach to the big Libera me fugue paid off handsomely in terms of weight and clarity. This was very much an opera-conductor’s interpretation. […]
Peter Reed, Classical Source, 25 January 2015

The Unremarkable Death of Marilyn Monroe

Tonight’s outing was to St James Theatre Studio in Victoria to see a monologue play about Marilyn Monroe’s final hours.  The play was written as if we were in Marilyn’s bedroom and she was talking to us.  Incredible part and I take my hat off to the actress, Lizzie Wort, who ‘became’ Marilyn for the entire 1.5hrs.  The set was cleverly put together from police and press photographs and then sourcing the (now) retro items and specific books and prints to make sure it was true to the story.  Even the labels on the many pill bottles were correct to the many prescription drugs that Marilyn had at the time and even the prescribing Dr’s details written on them.

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When I was in my early 20s I was a little obsessed by Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis Jnr, Jackie O etc etc and read every biography and autobiography that I could get hold of.  The intrigue, deceit and glamour of the age kept me reading and cross-referencing the stories.  Rarely did the next corroborate the last.  Clearly there was much more to what happened, when and by whom.  Or was it simply that there was so much going on at the time that memories, dates, times and persons present were often ‘forgotten’.  So attending this play was fascinating.  It turns out the playwright had also started in a similar way reading, cross-referencing and asking questions.

The play was his interpretation of what may have happened in the last few hours of Marilyn’s life.  It explained a lot but it also raised more questions.  Cleverly delivered and an amazing performance by Lizzy Wort.

For me, I loved it.  Perhaps only for those who have been captivated or truly intrigued by Marilyn Monroe.

Following the performance there was a Q&A with the playwright, Elton Townend Jones and Lizzie Wort.  Fascinating to stay for this part and hear why he wrote the play and where he got the information upon which he based the script.  We also discovered where the props were sourced, why the clock was set at that time and why there’s a the bad picture of a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

The play originally staged at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013 and has been on tour since then.

Some reviews:
★★★★★  ‘Superlative’ RemoteGoat
★★★★★  ‘Simply stunning’ Edinburgh Reporter
★★★★★  ’Spellbinding’ The Carrick
★★★★★ ‘Outstanding’ One4Review
★★★★  ‘Anything but unremarkable’ Three Weeks
★★★★ ‘Fantastic’ Broadway Baby

‘Visitors’ at Bush Theatre

I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of either the play ‘Visitors’ nor the Bush Theatre until today.  Both were incredible and I can heartily recommend the play and the theatre.

First a little about the Bush Theatre.  It’s a very short walk along Uxbridge Road from Shepherds Bush.  Honestly it’s a fairly uninspiring building from the outside and looks like so many other public buildings in London.  The inside however tells a completely different story.

bush_library_-_front

In 2008 a shiny new library was opened in the nearby Westfield Centre leaving the future of this building in doubt.  I suspect originally the Local Authority may have seen a value in this building and relocating the library freed up this big site for possible redevelopment.  What the Local Authority perhaps hadn’t considered before the relocation of the library was the wishes of the philanthopist, John Passmore Edwards who had ‘gifted’ the building to the Council.  Mr Edwards had, so the rumour goes, included a clause that said the building was to be used as a library for the public and if this use ceases then the ownership of the building is to be given to his old school.  Ha, now what?

So as not to lose the building, the Council cleverly looked at reuse with the inclusion of a library.  The newly redesigned inside now offers something for everyone and complies with Mr Edward’s restrictions.  There’s a lending library with an assortment of novels, fiction, history and other books in a side room from the bar, separated by the original partitioned wood and glass doors and walls.  There are also large bookshelves in the library area displaying, for sale, manuscripts of plays performed in the Theatre.  Mr Edwards’ wishes are still being fulfilled in the newly designed and re-purposed space.

In addition to the library/reading room, which is furnished simply with mismatched chairs, tables and sofas, is a cafe/bar.  A chic yet comfortable space.

We were pleasantly surprised to see a vast range of food and drink offerings at affordable prices.  The alcoholic selections of beers and wines appear to be at normal bar prices.   However the coffee/tea, soup, sandwiches and cakes are at non-London prices and wonderfully so.  If I was a local, it would definitely become somewhere I could pop in for coffee, cake and a read regularly.  Clearly even on a theatre day, there were locals enjoying the space and relative peace and quiet of the reading room.  I’m revisiting in a few weeks with my Godmother for lunch.  Very much looking forward to seeing what it’s like.

Behind the bar and down a few steps is the theatre.  It’s ‘in the round’ and the seating is unallocated and on long wooden cushioned benches.  Some people have commented about being uncomfortable for the whole performance.  Not me, I have my own ‘padding’.

A superb theatre venue and looking at their programme of upcoming and previous plays, they clearly like to promote new plays and upcoming writers.  Definitely worth a visit, you might just see a new theatrical gem.

Visitors

Now to the play we saw, VisitorsNot my choice and initially, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure about it.  My main concern was that the story was tackling a huge subject that sadly affects so many families around the world, dementia.  It’s a subject that sometimes is trivialised or that ‘sufferers’ are treated unfairly or misunderstood.   So very difficult to get it ‘right’.

The play is about a farming family where the mother is clearly becoming more and more forgetful.  Her husband, beyond retirement age, still runs the farm himself.  Tending the land and animals whilst looking out for his wife who clearly he adores.  Their son, married and with his own children, has left home and now works in the City.  Clearly his choice to pursue a career other than farming didn’t sit right with his father and you can feel the tension between father and son.

The final cast member is a young lady who had applied for a live-in companion role on the farm to keep an eye out for the mother.

The play is wholly about the dynamics between each of the parties.  It’s every day as the mother’s health deteriorates and relationships become strained.  The length that the father goes to to show her love and not to let her go into a home.  The practical son who wants them to sell the farm, Mum to go into care and Dad not to have to worry about everything.  Totally heartbreaking.  The part of the carer-companion is delightful.  Her smile and enthusiasm to show love and care to everyone.  Her choosing to sing with the mother songs and see that she knew every word to but couldn’t remember how to ask for a cup of tea.

The play is beautifully crafted.  It is incredibly sad and thought provoking but also peppered with comedic parts that left you laughing at the most poignant of moments. It tells the real story of dementia and Alzheimer’s.  It’s incredibly touching and I don’t mind telling you that my eyes may have leaked once.  What was totally incredible about the script and it’s delivery was that I came away ‘understanding’ the position of every person in the story.  I didn’t feel sorry for any of them but could totally empathise with the decisions that had to be made or the upset at not being understood.

Incredible production and I really hope it makes it in to other theatres or even televised.  It would help so many people in this situation or for whom it’s ahead of them.

Following the production the charity Dementia Friends run a short workshop in the library for anyone wishing to learn more.

Amazing.

Alzheimers Society
Dementia Friends

Reviews:
Independent – It’s a play made with love.
The Guardian – Infinitely touching.Telegraph – It is an absolute beauty, by turns funny, tender and desperately sad.