Monthly Archives: July 2013

Twenty20 cricket match – Lords

I once explained lbw using 2 pint glasses and a salt shaker, so an evening spent at the home of cricket was always going to appeal to me. I’ve been a few times – seen a Sunday fixture, the Oxford-Cambridge game and a couple of amazing England Test match days – so I know that Lords is unarguably one of the finest places in the world. But this was my first 20:20 experience, and I was a bit sceptical. You don’t get the same sense of unfolding strategy and heightening tension as in the 5 day game, and it’s just a bit more rowdy. There’s music, cheerleaders and grown men dressed as pink panthers, whilst the elegant whites have been replaced with coloured kits. Inadvisably, I’ve probably spent too much time listening to Geoffrey Boycott, and see it as “pyjama cricket”, something a bit sordid, which anyone with jowls, whiskers and lifetime membership of the MCC would abhor.

In reality, this is a pretty nice evening out even for non-cricket lovers. It was completely full and a nice atmosphere as people sit with their friends, chat and eat their picnics in the sun. It starts about 6.30pm and runs for 2.5-3 hours depending on how well the teams play. In this case the home team, Middlesex, were destroyed by Surrey, and couldn’t even make it to 100 runs, so it was all over by 9pm. I even saw a couple of the Middlesex cheerleaders sloping off before the final wicket fell, clearly abandoning the sinking ship. It’s still not my favourite form of the game but a good way to introduce yourself to cricket, and a lovely place to spend a summer evening. I can get on board with the crowd-pleasing music but bring back the whites!

Fashion Rules & Kensington Palace

Anything related to Princess Diana’s is bound to draw the crowds and the small Fashion Rules exhibition at Kensington Palace, including only 5 of her evening-gowns, is no exception. The other dresses on display belonged to the Queen and Princess Margaret, charting the development and purpose of royal formal outfits from the 1950s – 1990s. Although there’s not much to see (the advertising claims 5 rooms, but there are only around 20 dresses), this is usefully arranged in chronological order so you can see changing styles across the decades, with lots of useful signboards explaining the occasion, fabric, designer and intent of each dress. For example, some of the most interesting were worn for state visits and designed to fit the national colours and/or style of dress in the host countries. This is a nice addition to Kensington Palace and included in the cost of entry (although you can’t pay for the exhibition independently), but will only take about 20 minutes despite the queues to see the display cases.

As you have to pay anyway, you may as well visit the rest of the Palace – although I’ve only ever been disappointed. I went before, during and after the refit, yet each time it feels like there’s something missing. The new Queen Victoria rooms are very good with lots of interesting pieces and information, but the respective King and Queen’s State Apartments have little to say. At least on the King’s side you get the sense of how courtiers moved through the rooms to get closer to the monarch, and they are admittedly beautifully decorated. But, the Queen’s have continued the bizarre exhibition used during the refit which tried (and failed) to tell the story of several royal women through a strange treasure hunt designed by a theatrical company (presumably not historians). I overheard another visitor say ‘it doesn’t look like they’ve finished this bit).

The problem is that they want you to buy an audio guide (after paying £15 entrance fee this is pretty cheeky) so there are no proper information boards – a lot of places are doing this now. In addition, they’re trying to cover too many stories; you get everything from William and Mary to the end of Georgian England, so you don’t really learn much about any of them. They might do better to focus primarily on one era, as they do with the Victoria rooms, and try to aim more of it at adults.

Fashion Rules runs at Kensington Palace until the summer of 2015 and is included in the Palace entry fee. Entry to the Palace is free with a National Art Pass.

Alternative Guide to the Universe – Hayward Gallery

So, imagine the letters of the alphabet given physical form as mechanical objects; attach each one to a customised skateboard (bear with me!) and suspend from the ceiling in a mass v-shaped flying attack formation. There you have one of the weirdest (and to be honest totally impressive) pieces in the latest Hayward Gallery exhibition celebrating a collection of artists who have interpreted reality a little (or a lot) differently. For the artists shown here there are no limits, either in terms of convention or possibility, and there is so much variety in both subject matter and types of art being displayed, ranging from mathematical paintings, to layered photographs to 3D architectural models and actual moving robots.

My favourites were Bodys Isek Kingelez whose Blue Peter-style reinterpretation of city buildings modelled in wood, card and other materials are incredibly imaginative and striking – definitely putting Tracey Island in the shade. Marcel Storr’s prints of ‘futuristic megacities’ includes unthinkably tall buildings seeming to combine gothic, art deco and Chinese influences, whilst A.G. Rizzoli re-imagined his friends and family as elaborate architectural designs. Also, noteworthy are the plaster-cast dummies, dressed in clothes and wigs, and then photographed using varied lighting techniques to make them look almost human, reinforcing how this exhibition plays with notions of reality and possibility.

There is some fairly pretentious and weird stuff too – one artist drawing the ‘essence’ of people with what looks like a child’s Spirograph kit, and there’s some very odd alien-related pieces which you can rush through. But even these don’t detract from an exhibition that is well worth seeing – just for the alphabetised skateboards. Although, if you go on a hot day, take a jumper it is definitely the coldest place in London!

The exhibition runs at the Hayward Gallery until 26 August and has discounted entry with National Art Pass.

Pride & Prejudice – Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

We’ve all seen it, although it’s almost 20 years old, the BBC Pride and Prejudice from 1995 has become the definitive interpretation. So, the new version at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre comes with a lot of preconceptions – the best way to deal with that baggage would be to try something fresh and exciting, going back to the original text and seeing how else it could be construed. Unfortunately this production is largely a live and amateur version of the TV show, to the point that Darcy and Bingley even sound like Colin Firth and Crispin Bonham Carter. Whilst the performances are very competent there was nothing particularly ground-breaking or insightful – I even found myself ticking mental plot boxes as we went along (Netherfield ball – tick; Rosing’s Park – tick; Pemberly – tick).Not all of this can be blamed on the sounds of Bon Jovi in Hyde Park continually yanking us back to the 21st Century.

There was not much engagement between the leads with many of the subtleties and comedy elements of the book lost. It’s not a short evening by any means (three hours with one interval) but it still felt rushed and incomplete. Perhaps that’s again the BBC version colouring my view, which at more than 2 hours longer had time to explore in detail.

It’s not all bad – Mr Collins, Mr Bennett, Mary and Lydia are all played differently and are pretty funny. The rotating set with iron work frame (used for doorways and portraits) was very cleverly incorporated, and it couldn’t have been a lovelier setting, but something is lacking here – it’s not a bad play or even badly performed, just unremarkable.

Sweet Bird of Youth – The Old Vic

You can always rely on Tennessee Williams for atmosphere and the Old Vic’s production of Sweet Bird of Youth is full of tension and claustrophobic small-town menace. Kim Cattrall plays Alexandra Del Lago, a faded movie star who has fled the premier of her return film and wakes up delirious in a small Southern American hotel. Beside her is Chance Wayne (Seth Numrich), himself an aspiring actor turned gigolo, past his youth and yet to find his big break, who has returned to his hometown to rescue his childhood sweetheart, Heavenly Findlay. We also meet the Findlay family, Boss who runs the town, and his son who heads the local racist lynch-mob with his friends. Chance had last visited the town a few years before to brag about his film success (which has since come to nothing) on which occasion his relationship with Heavenly took a murkier turn and now the Findlays are out for his blood.

For Cattrall’s Del Lago imagine a post-comeback Norma Desmond (without the dead writer in the swimming pool), sustained by drink, drugs and chance encounters, but still alive to Wayne’s attempts to manipulate her. Despite the star billing, it is Numrich however who gives the most interesting and multi-layered performance as a man still clinging to dreams of stardom which are long over, and to the fantasy of a relationship he had irrevocably destroyed years before. There are some very good scenes in the hotel bar where Wayne begins to realise his mistake in coming back, building up to the almost inevitable tragedy of the final act where given the chance to escape his fate with Del Lago, he chooses to be swallowed by it.

The set is excellent and cleverly designed, almost seamlessly moving from hotel room to Boss Findlay’s veranda to the hotel’s grand bar. But it is the tension this play creates which makes it so gripping – it may not be Williams’s most celebrated play but it is darker and in some ways more oppressive than his other works. So enjoy the drama and the performances, but be prepared to hold your breath till the end!

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