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A few weeks ago it was the wonderful Anna’s birthday. We had a lovely little day in central initially to celebrate her turning 26, but the main event was (what else?) a theatre date a few nights later. And the show of choice? Nothing else but that runaway cult success, Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’d never seen the film, let alone the stage version, but it had always been on my To Watch List, and as one of Anna’s favourites, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!

For those uninitiated among you like me, the story goes that naive young couple Brad and Janet, newly-engaged and travelling home from a friend’s wedding, find themselves caught in a storm with a broken down car. They seek shelter at a nearby castle, where the mysterious Frank N Furter holds court. What follows from there is nothing short of outrageous and fabulous…

Created in 1973, the show is the brainchild of Richard O’Brien. Yep, he of Crystal Maze fame! Or maybe I’m showing my age by only knowing him from that…and from re-runs of it on Challenge TV, not even the original… He wrote the initial musical, co-wrote the 1975 film, and starred in it as Riff-Raff, one of the main characters. I didn’t even realise it until Anna told me on the night, but he was also billed to appear in our performance as the narrator! And appear he did, wearing knee-high leather boots, a dinner jacket and tights. He was awesome, made even more impressive by the fact that he’s 73!

It was a theatre experience like no other…

Now, I’ve been to a lot of West End shows. I know the rules of theatre etiquette. No filming, no taking photos, no outrageous costumes, dancing only takes place at the end of the show if there’s a musical finale number, and absolutely no heckling or catcalling. Well, filming and photography aside, every other rule went right out of the window with Rocky Horror. I’d been warned that many of the audience would be dressing up (and they certainly did), but I have never seen a show with so much audience participation! Right from the very first song the crowd were singing along and swaying in their seats. Every time Richard O’Brien stepped onto the stage he received a massive cheer. The audience interrupted literally every other word the actors uttered. I was gobsmacked – I think I spent the first half of the show with my jaw on the floor!

The show is full of cult classic songs – my favourite without a doubt being The Time Warp – and there was a very jolly atmosphere. The heckling did get a bit weary, with one particularly annoying contributor, but David Bedella, who played Frank N Furter, shot him down brilliantly (though I couldn’t possibly repeat how he did it!) We laughed, we cheered, we sang and we danced. The plot is bonkers, and the characters and the audience are equally as nuts as each other, but it was a night in a million. It was a wonderful night out, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you go and see it. Just don’t forget your sequins and feather boa…

Rocky Horror has finished its London run now, but it will be touring the UK from the end of 2015 into 2016. You can book tickets for it here.

109You know what this means…yep, it’s time for another theatre date with Anna! Last Friday evening we headed for the Phoenix Theatre to check out the West End’s latest musical offering! But not before we’d made a detour through the main concourse of Waterloo Station. You see, a week before Ben and I had been here on our way to Date Night, and we happened to pass this mysterious-looking crate…193The ‘InGen’ logo is the big clue here…
Anyway, there had since been a break out, and now the crate looks like this!

106Yep, this is the Raptor Pack, and it was all a big promotion for Jurassic World – meet #JurassicWaterloo! Also, just FYI, Jurassic World is awesome, and I highly recommend you see it. If nothing else for how adorable the Raptors are and how unbelievable (but epic) Bryce Dallas Howard’s sprinting in heels is!

We wandered through central to Soho, where we grabbed a quick and delicious dinner at Tuk Tuk, one of my favourite London noodle bars. Sadly the food was wolfed down so quickly that I had no time to stop and photograph it – we had a show to catch!

As you probably know, Bend It Like Beckham started life as a film, hitting our screens in 2001 and catapulting its stars (Parminder Nagra, Keira Knightley and Joanathan Rhys Meyers) to fame (and igniting a nation’s love for Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Or was that just me…?) I have loved the film ever since I first saw it, and it remains one of my favourites to this day. It’s funny, romantic and feel-good, and it actually serves as an encouragement for woman to play football! I swear it’s part of the reason why I took up football at university. See below for the evidence…

KCL WFCThat’s me, second from right on the top row, circa 2009. KCL for life!

Jess Bhamra is an 18 year old girl who idolises David Beckham and loves football more than anything else. She’s just finished her A-Levels and has her final summer of freedom ahead before uni. But her sister Pinky is getting married and her traditional Sikh parents are determined that she will now grow up and become a nice, demure young woman and a top-rate solicitor. But when Jess meets Jules, a footballer for the Hounslow Harriers women’s team, she glimpses a very different future for herself. And with the encouragement of Jules – and handsome coach Joe – Jess dares to dream that she could make it as a professional footballer. That is, until her family find out…

1-005I was intrigued to see how the producers would be able to pull off a very physical performance within the confines of the stage. I mean, there are a lot of footballs and ball skills involved in the story – it’s slightly pivotal! – and without booting a ball into the audience I wondered how they would work around this. It turns out, they managed it very well! Characters went to kick the ball only to be stopped, or the ball was on a wire, or it was a football-shaped ball of light bouncing round the stage. It was all very clever. I never cease to be amazed at the ingenious techniques used in the theatre to combat the constraints of a stage.

The attention to detail was all very clever too. Even the stage curtain had a part to play, covered in a massive paisley design with all sorts of little intricacies detailed onto it – cups of tea, bowls of curry, footballs, and all sorts of items of Anglo-Indian crossover, woven into the paisley so you wouldn’t even notice from a distance. It was beautiful.

I liked all the characters – they made you laugh, they frustrated you, they all had their unique hang ups and quirks. The main three are obviously Jess, Jules and Joe. Their characters are true to form, but I think I’m too used to the film characters, as I preferred them. But I cannot fault any of the cast for their hard work and dedication, and as an audience we all laughed a lot. I really liked the character of Jules’s mum and Tony, Jess’s best friend, and her sister Pinky. Her parents too, struggling to stick to the traditions they grew up with and the modern, western world they have brought up their daughters in. The cast seemed to have quite a few family and friends in the audience judging by the whooping and cheering at the end during the curtain call, which made for a really lovely atmosphere!

As for the songs, unfortunately they didn’t really make much of an impression on me other than UB2, a song sung in Southall Market on a Saturday morning. The rest I’m afraid failed to stick with me afterwards. But I would put that down to it being a new show – it’s only been open for a month. I also really liked the song sang by Jess and her mother and Jules and her mother – that was almost enough to provoke a few tears!

As with all productions that come from somewhere else – book to film, or in this case film to musical – there are always going to be comparisons. I think that, overall, my love for the film placed me at a disadvantage for enjoying the musical. It just couldn’t quite measure up to my favourite. But if you are coming to it fresh, having never seen the film or not having loved the film, I think you’ll really enjoy this. It’s clever, the cast are awesome, and you will leave with that feel-good factor inside. But it somehow just missed the spot a little for me.

111This horse mystified me until I re-watched the film the next morning, and discovered that it is one of the means by which a Sikh groom can make his way to temple on his wedding day. I think the other is elephants, but I think they’re slightly harder to come by in Southall these days!

Bend It Like Beckham is a lot of fun, and it is so important to see a more diversified range of West End performances taking centre stage these days. I think my love for the film just held sway a bit too much, but it is a colourful and bright and funny and uplifting performance, and the perfect summer night’s entertainment.

055Last week it was International Women’s Day, a day designed to celebrate the awesomeness of women the world over. Anna and I were a bit late to the party, but we celebrated our fellow women in style with our latest theatre date to Made in Dagenham.

Made in Dagenham is a very British musical, based on the true story of the female machinists at the Ford factory in the 1960s. Slaving away in a boiling hot factory making seat covers every day, the women are outraged when they discover that they have been graded as unskilled workers, below all the men in the factory, and that they are therefore paid a lower wage as they are deemed less valuable. In protest they walk out on strike, causing the whole factory to grind to a halt. Under increasing pressure from their husbands (many of whom work at the factory) and their bosses to go back to work, the women grit their teeth against the hardships they face and upscale their campaign for equal pay with the men in the factory to equal pay for women nationwide, in whatever profession.

As a new musical, it was a real coup for the cast to have a big name, which they do in the form of Gemma Arterton. The darling of the stage after her turn as the Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wannamaker theatre last year (still wish I’d seen that), she’s certainly a crowd drawer as Rita O’Grady. She in particular struggles to balance the demands of campaigning alongside her husband Eddie and two children. But, refreshingly, she is just part of a strong ensemble cast. That is one of the great things about Made in Dagenham: the strength of the cast as a whole. Everyone has a part to play, and everyone gets their turn on centre stage. The female machinists are consistently reminded that they are only as strong as they are united. Gobby Beryl, vivacious Sandra and dreamer Cass are all delightful in their own way, and defeated idealist Connie, played by Isla Blair, is the driving force pushing Rita to fight for all their dreams. I would love to sit in on a day in the factory with them: the air would be completely blue, but I’m fairly sure my face would ache from laughing. I also felt for Lisa Hopkins, wife of the manager of Ford’s Dagenham branch. A frustrated trophy wife with a Double First from Oxford, she also finds her voice in this story in her own way, and is inspired by the machinists to reassert the independence she lost with marriage.

By contrast, a lot of the men are comical caricatures, and two of the main male figures in the story, Henry Ford and Prime Minister Harold Wilson, are shown as absolute idiots. Ford is a brash, arrogant bad guy from America, rocking up in his sunglasses (fortunately without his shotgun), and trying to crush the women’s spirit. Wilson is hilarious, but completely shown up by the much stronger Barbara Castle, his secretary for employment. It is an awful Catch-22 that, despite her position of power, she cannot do anything for the women without the backing of the TUC, a union made up entirely of men. Of all the men, the best on offer is Eddie, who may not have a way with words, but he is loving and had a heart of gold. But when he tries to point out to Rita that he supports her campaigning, that he never beat her up or forced her to stay at home, that he allowed her to work, she replies – quite rightly – that that’s how it supposed to be. Men like Eddie should be the norm, not the exception.

This is a very funny musical, with a liberal amount of gobbiness and swearing. It made us laugh countless times, and a couple of times I even felt the prickling of tears. The songs are punchy and motivational, and set a bit of a fire under you to get out there and change the world. The cast received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the performance, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon for us.

I confess to a (very) guilty TV pleasure, The Only Way Is Essex. Not a million miles from Dagenham, it is ultra-trashy and ridiculous, but brilliant for switching off from real life. One of the latest episodes was set on International Women’s Day, and one of the cast (Gemma Collins, ‘famous’ for surviving only three days in the Australian jungle on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!) threw a party to big up the girls. At her party, it was pointed out that there were a lot of men around, probably to try and up the chances of walking off with a man at the end of the night. This in itself entirely defeats the celebration of women as independent entities in suggesting that their lives, or at least their nights, would not be complete without a man involved. In fact Gemma had also chosen to have topless men waiting on women, supposedly as some kind of feminist point. That, for me, misses the mark. Objectifying men isn’t the way to close the equality gap. Made in Dagenham has a much better take on equality: by the end of the musical you see men and women standing together for equal treatment and equal pay. And this is important because it’s only when we can all be appreciated and respected for who we are, male or female, that we can say that we truly live in an equal world.

Rather like its characters, Made in Dagenham is a diamond in the rough. See it or regret it!057Made in Dagenham runs at the Adelphi Theatre until 11th April. Buy tickets here.

P.S. If you’re still not convinced, watch the trailer here!

IMG_5607Nearly ten years ago, I was studying for my GCSEs. That is a scary enough fact in itself. I can’t believe it’s been nearly a DECADE since I sat those exams – I still feel like I’m about 19 at times, so to be (whisper it) mid-20s is a terrifying thought! As part of our English syllabus we studied a whole variety of topics, ranging from Of Mice and Men (god awful and depressing), to pre-20th century love poetry (toe-curlingly embarassing – I will never hear the phrase ‘vegetable love’ without simultaneously sniggering and cringing), to The Woman in Black and The Others (we rewatched those films so much that they were no longer scary). But one of my favourites, and one that stuck with me ever since, was the Arthur Miller play A View From the Bridge. Set in 1950s New York, the characters hail from an Italian-American community living in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and struggling to maintain their foothold in American society. Longshoreman Eddie Carbone makes an honest living on the docks and prides himself by being fair and hardworking. When he and his wife Beatrice agree to take in Beatrice’s illegal immigrant cousins, Marco and Rodolpho, fresh off the boat from Italy, Eddie’s world quickly becomes compromised when Rodolpho shows an interest in his young niece, 17 year old Catherine. Eddie’s own feelings for Catherine are complicated – an intense love bordering on the creepy and wrong – and his jealousy proves the undoing of all he has worked so hard to cultivate.

IMG_5606I really enjoyed this play when we read it at school, and as we never saw a stage or TV version of it, when I discovered that this was playing in the West End for a limited run after a successful season at the Young Vic, (and that Mark Strong of Sherlock Holmes and Kingsman fame was starring as Eddie), I snapped up tickets like a venus fly trap snaps up flies.

Because Jon isn’t very good with heights, we elected for the on-stage seating, as we couldn’t guarantee how high up we might be sitting in the theatre otherwise. But it was actually a brilliant decision. When we arrived, we were directed up a tiny little staircase at the side of the stage to the wings, where benches had been set up on each side for the audience members lucky enough to be sitting there. We were told to switch our phones completely off, so there would be no distracting lights or vibrations going off during the performance, and were guided to our set bench. These were sideways on to the rest of the audience, but we were incredibly close to the action and if you were in the front row you could have, at some points, reached out and touched the actors. I will admit that the benches weren’t the most comfortable seats ever. After a while I got quite restless, and was shifting about trying to get comfy. Ben and Jon had similar complaints. However, the view of the performance and the play itself were brilliant enough to compensate.

IMG_5602The setting is very minimalist and modern. The action revolves around a house, the front of the house and a lawyer’s office. The stage doesn’t reflect any of this; there is no furniture, no backdrop, no props. The characters don’t change costumes, and the only specials effects are the use of a shower at the start (anyone wishing to see Mark Strong topless, you will get your chance), and another, rather spectacular, effect at the end of the play (I can’t say any more for fear of spoiler alert!)

The cast are exceptional. There are only a few characters in the story: Eddie, Beatrice, Catherine, Marco, Rodolpho, Alfieri (a lawyer and narrator), and Louie, one of the other longshoremen. Each plays their part wonderfully, each with their own cross to bear and each one on a path to a fate they cannot prevent. The whole play seems to focus on the sense of the inevitable, of something sinister lurking out of sight around the corner which cannot be discovered until it is too late. I didn’t recognise any of the other actors in the play besides Mark Strong and Nicola Walker (Beatrice), but all were outstanding. Catherine was naive and childlike, unwilling to break away from the close relationship she has with Eddie until the very end, even when a part of her knows that it’s wrong. Beatrice was kindhearted but weary, desperate to salvage her marriage but trapped between her love for her niece and her love for her husband and unsure of how to act for the best. Alfieri was sad and reflective, but ultimately more detached in the narration than in his actual portrayal, which was also desperate. It seems that half the cast know where this will end, and the play is their frantic efforts to hold back the tide. And finally Eddie. Tormented, blinded by feelings he doesn’t understand, and fiercely overprotective. Mark Strong, as with the rest of the cast, does a stellar job.

IMG_5604Ben and Jon had never read the play before, and they left the theatre slightly stunned. I remember hearing the audience gasp at several of the more dramatic points in the play, which I had forgotten until they happened. It made me smile to hear them going through that same rollercoaster that I experienced, aged 15. And I thoroughly recommend that you embark on this journey too. You won’t be disappointed, but you will be affected. It is profoundly powerful, and will stay with you. I suspect that, having stuck with me for 9 years, this play will stick with me for the rest of my days.

I leave you with a question that presents itself throughout the play, and which lingers in your mind afterwards: Is it possible to love someone too much?

IMG_5605A View From the Bridge runs until 11th April at the Wyndhams Theatre. You can read more about it and book tickets here.

IMG_7958I’ve never been on a blind date, but I can certainly imagine the nerves and the sheer level of preparation that goes into planning such a night. You are baring your soul for a stranger you’ve never met on the off chance that you will hit it off and not make an idiot of yourself. If there are to be any embarassing stories coming out of the night, you want to be the one telling them! So you choose your outfit with utmost precision, trying not to look too shy and retiring, but also not so out there that you look certifiable! Hair and makeup agonised over, you brace yourself and head out into the night with a heady miz of apprehension and excitement.

IMG_7977This was precisely the feeling I had when I stepped through the doors of Planet Hollywood on Haymarket last week, for the #LDNTheatreBloggers January meet up. This was my first ever blogging event, and as a newcomer to the blogging world I was looking forward to stepping out of the virtual world to meet the people behind the blogs for the first time! I was doubly excited because the others invited were all fellow theatre fans! I have always loved going to the theatre, and ever since I moved to London I have taken this passion and run with it! So when an email from the lovely Rebecca dropped into my inbox, inviting me to meet a group of LDNTheatreBloggers, I jumped at the chance. I even took time off work! (#TrueDedication).

IMG_7846The theme was ‘Summer in Winter’, and Esther from Planet Hollywood had kindly reserved us the mezzanine level of their restaurant, complete with a swimming pool carpet! I felt pretty at home in my Sugarhill Boutique feather-patterned dress and my Tatty Devine cocktail umbrella necklace (although I did chicken out of bare legs and opt for tights in deference to the arctic temperatures London has been battling lately!)
I found my way inside and was greeted at the top of the stairs by Rebecca, the editor of Official Theatre and Organiser-In-Chief.

IMG_7800Rebecca is an absolute machine. She was a whirlwind of energy, zooming around the room distributing leis and useful conversation starters. She has mastered the art of that trick discussed at length in Bridget Jones: that of introducing yourself at a social function. She was bubbly, friendly, and wearing the most amazing floral two piece with pom poms along the hem. Strong effort! She handed me a lei (I noticed that she colour-coordinated everyone’s leis to match their outfits), and directed me to the free bar. Winning.

IMG_7866I soon found a group of friendly girls and we got stuck in to the serious business of drinking free wine and sampling some of Planet Hollywood’s party food. In particular, I spoke to the following lovely ladies: Eda, Verity, Emma, Laura and Emma.

IMG_7938Rebecca then hailed us all from our dark corners of the mezzanine floor to listen to the lovely people from SeatPlan telling us about their website (see the motley crew above). The novel idea with SeatPlan is that they host theatre reviews from members of the public, who write them from the seats they sat in at their performance. This is so you can get the lowdown on which seats are the most comfortable and have the best view. I only signed up on the train, and will have to track down my old tickets to work out which seat numbers I sat in, but then I will be off!

IMG_7936After the chat from SeatPlan, we sampled some more of the food and wine and chatted away some more. It was so enjoyable to talk about theatre in depth with a group of like-minded people. I haven’t really experienced that before – my workmates aren’t really the theatre-going type, and often my friends have problems coming with me due to conflicting schedules or restrictive bank balances. So it was awesome to chat at length about the heros and villains of the theatrical world. I kind of wish I’d seen Viva Forever now, just for a laugh…

After four wines and copious amounts of cocktail sausages and mini burgers, I decided to make a break for home, and braved the freezing night once more. Thank you so much to Rebecca, Planet Hollywood and SeatPlan for all their hard work! I had a wonderful time, and I hope that there will be a sequel to my blind date soon!

IMG_7959(All photos courtesy of Official Theatre, as I didn’t bring my camera with me on the night!)