Monday, November 19, 2012

100 things: Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park

I loved this suggestion immediately (thanks, Amber!) when it was made, so I don't know why it's taken me so long to get round to it. Finding out about them just before I went made it even better. They're Grade I listed, the first dinosaur sculptures in the world, and pre-dated On the Origin of Species by six years. It's easy to find them quaint and somewhat amusing now (especially the one which has its head in a bush because no one knew what its face looked like) but they're really not only fun to go and look at but also an incredible piece of history. This and loads more info all on Wikipedia...

 The park also includes this model of geographical strata including a seam of coal. And here are some of the dinosaurs...

 I think my favourite bit were these, the dinosaurs they thought had shells somewhat like turtles - that's been proved incorrect. I liked the signage which gives information about what was thought at the time as well as illustrations of what is now thought to be the case - which of course, may also be already outdated.

As we walked around it was pointed out to me that this sudden desire to see these dinosaurs just at this moment might be no coincidence, and really just be withdrawal symptoms from being away from the Natural History Museum...  No. I'm sure not.

Before leaving we also did the maze - London's largest. I'm sure I've heard from somewhere that you should always turn left in a classical maze to find the centre. We tried it, and it worked. Sort of. Plenty of dead ends later. We decided this still counted, as we followed the dead ends and turned left again. Thinking about it, that might work for any maze, as you'd have to eventually follow all the kinks and turns around... I'm sure someone on the internet knows.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

100 things: Greenwich Foot Tunnel

There is something quite peculiar about walking underneath a river - much more so than driving or travelling on the tube. I'm not totally sure I knew much about the Thames foot tunnels - I think there are only two in use, at Greenwich and Woolwich - before I looked up a cycling route to Canary Wharf from my flat in SE London the other day, and saw that Google showed it going straight across the river from the Cutty Sark to the Isle of Dogs where I was fairly sure there wasn't a bridge. I've been under it a couple of times since (hence the night and day time photos). Lots of commuting cyclists use it, a large percentage admirably kitted out in reflective jackets, proper cycling clothes, multiple flashing lights, bullet proof helmets etc (only a slight exaggeration) absolutely putting me to shame. I won't go into details of what I count as bike equipment at the moment, I would only get shouted at. The tunnel and lifts are open 24 hours a day and especially at peak hours it feels pretty busy and perfectly safe, though I'm not sure I'd feel totally comfortable walking through on my own at quiet times.

Also definitely worth a visit if you live anywhere near there on either side of the bank is the Old Fire Station near Island Gardens DLR station. I, like a complete snob, assumed there wouldn't be much in the way of decent eateries in that area and was proved completely wrong when we discovered this wonderful Mediterranean bistro with decorations made of reclaimed picture frames and a wine bottles ceiling light. We had a selection of tapas, which came beautifully presented, reasonable portions for the small cost, and everything tasted delicious and was perfectly cooked. Our waitress was new but we were introduced to her by the manager, who checked we didn't mind being her test case, and kept an eye on us throughout the evening. All the staff were perfectly charming - highly recommended and not too expensive.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Edinburgh 2012: Days Three to Five

I've just realised this post has been sitting as a draft here for ... weeks? So I'm publishing it - even if very behind hand. I still haven't figured out the Daniel Bye thing either. I have an envelope in a box (I've just moved house) with £20 it and 'The Price of Everything' written on the front. I'll have a brain wave soon.

Ok: no one cares anymore, I know. It's all over. The Paralympics have started (I'm so behind, I haven't watched the Opening Ceremony yet either). However, it really feels wrong to have blogged about less than half my Fringe days so here is what I am to be a whistlestop tour (but knowing me won't be) through the rest of it.

Monday, Day Three

I started with Thin Ice at the Pleasance Courtyard, which was generally a well produced nicely performed piece about polar exploration. I enjoyed it; but when I've been telling people about what I saw in Edinburgh I've totally forgotten about it. I thought the animation wasn't always quite well done enough; like the early days of CGI when it was easy and inexpensive enough for people to start using it in the natural course of things but not quite good enough not to notice it was being used. Like the scene on the Titanic where you pull away from the ship and can see the Captain walking along and he's clearly an animated figure. Thin Ice wasn't trying to pretend its falling whales were real, that's not what I mean, but it wasn't well done enough to be seamless with the play and yet was used as you might use any other available means of creating set/props/costumes rather than being central to the production. I hope that makes sense, I'm not sure it does.

I then went to the Fruitmarket Gallery to see the Dieter Roth exhibitions which I'd seen reviewed in the Guardian, part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. Very contemporary and definitely more than the sum of its parts. My notes about it say "shame, waste, discarded materials of our lives, what we keep, what we value, a record not of us but what we produce, private boundaries".

I was feeling rather weak that day so progressed along to Oink for a hog roast sandwich which was pretty good but could have done with some crackling, not offered. I ate it in the Greyfriars Kirkyard, visited the National Museum of Scotland to admire the beautiful hidden roof gardens, then walked to the Pleasance Dome and promptly fell asleep until I was woken up by my phone ringing.

Refreshed (I am a firm believer in day time naps) I went into Translunar Paradise which I really liked and would highly recommend: a beautiful show about loss and bereavement, with three performers, mask work, and musical accompaniment. I did lose the story a couple of times midway, but in general the movement and expression was outstanding and not emotionally simplistic - bereavement is angry, frustrated, complicated as well as sad.

In the evening I met up with friends and we considered trying to see an evening comedy show but nothing stood out. I was surprised throughout at how many shows seemed to be scheduled in sort of the same afternoon/early evening slot: it felt more difficult than in some years to see everything I wanted to and I didn't, in the end.

Tuesday, Day Four

My last full day at the Fringe was mostly a Northern Stage at St Stephen's day. I started with Daniel Bye's The Price of Everything, the short version of which I just missed out on at The Campsite in Ipswich. For the price of my ticket - £10ish? - I came out with a glass of milk in my belly, £20 in my bag, not to spend on myself, and a task - that's an interesting question about whether I got value! It didn't disappoint, he's a clever man that Dan, not just asking about the value of objects but what difference the context makes too. What's the value of a random gift to a stranger - and why do we feel differently about that to things we do for or give to someone we know?

Having by then figured out that the best way to find the right bus in Edinburgh was not to struggle with local apps, maps or timetables but simply to Google map it, after a simple but good salami sandwich from the St Stephens cafe I managed to speed across town for Stellar Quines's The List. I couldn't see it at any other time but it was well worth it. Harrowing to watch - awakening all my nightmares about the devastating consequences of putting something off - but stunningly acted and with a lovely simplistic set which worked really well in the intimate setting of the old wooden anatomy lecture theatre at Summerhall.

Then back to Northern Stage where for a lot of the rest of the day I just hung out, with the help of beers - a great venue, and brilliant laid back cafe/bar. Oh the Humanity and Other Good Intentions was very high quality stuff with a fantastic floating stage and I absolutely loved RashDash's Ugly Sisters - blackly funny, inappropriate in a good way, and perhaps celebrity culture isn't anything new to make a play about but they did it well. A masterclass too in how to add low level audience participation into your play, involving them in a not entirely comfortable way without actually humiliating anyone. I'm not into confrontational audience involvement much, I feel it's very rarely justified, and I think lots of people misjudge it, but this was perfectly pitched. Fantastic music, with Not Now Bernard, and physicality, too - again physical theatre is too often just thrown in there.

Wednesday, Day Five

As I had to leave on Wednesday afternoon, this was my final day at the Fringe, and just left me time for a last minute lucky ticket to Bullet Catch before heading to the ITC Nuts and Bolts talk on setting up a theatre company, in case I could pick up any tips. Bullet Catch is a show about magic which is also partly a magic show. Magic rather annoys me on the whole, and I know I'm not alone with that. If I see fabulous things half the interest is knowing how it's done and I don't much like being tricked. So there was that disadvantage (and although one trick is given away in Bullet Catch it's a fairly obvious one anyway). I was in fact gulled into believing more of the main event than I probably should have which also made me feel quite unsure about being complicit in it: I almost left, which is probably overdramatic but then, that shows the effectiveness of the performance. I did really enjoy it, in the end, especially the more theatrical bits, and Rob Drummond is a very compelling actor.

And then Nuts and Bolts was useful, though scary the number of people out there trying to make it... as someone has asked me since, why do we all think we have the right? Or don't we but we just want to try anyway? The Edinburgh Fringe definitely, this year, said to me that it is very much worth at least having a go.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Edinburgh 2012: Sunday, Day Two

 So attempting to move on a bit through my Edinburgh experience (after all, I left on Wednesday): Sunday was relatively sedate. I got up later than I should but made it, just (see below) to Summerhall for Rime.

This might make me sound old (it makes me feel old) but I'm not sure how else to put it: Square Peg are young, good looking, enthusiastic, incredibly skilled and make it seem almost easy. Their acrobatic, dance and aerial skills are amazing and the piece was produced to a high standard, with fantastic sound both live and recorded. I guess my reservation was that it just was a little bit too slick and pretty. For example that mock Victorian look with tan and brown shades, knickerbockers, shirts and corsets is nice to look at but feels clich├ęd. It was very clear how talented they were but I didn't quite believe them. And particularly when - and this is just me being pedantic - they used granny knots to tie the sails when any sailor would use a reef. I'm interested actually - is this a circus rigging thing? It was consistent, at least.

Still. It was incredible to watch, they gave me an apple (see my previous post, I'm easily bribed), and to have a window open might not have been a deliberate part of what was going on but worked brilliantly - before I realised it gave me goose bumps as I felt the breeze on my neck as a storm gathered in the play. Maybe we should think about sensation effects more often as well as sound and lighting.

After Rime I popped back to the Hunt and Darton Cafe, in residence on St Mary's Street for the Festival, where I had an absolutely fantastic roast beef sandwich (complete with parsnips, stuffing and gravy - I was unsure, but it was good! - and managed to earn my copy of Forest Fringe's Paper Stages by giving time to an artist/waitress who was asking punters for helpful advice on her career. She seemed pretty sorted actually, but then I know that feeling of still wanting to be told what to do. My only complaint at Hunt and Darton was that the admittedly charming mismatched crockery was completely impractical - my tiny coffee mug had a curved in rim that made drinking from it tricky and my knife did not match up to the sandwich!

I didn't see any more shows on Sunday but very much enjoyed returning for a bit of a look around Summerhall. There are incredible spaces, with many original features from the venue's past life as the vetinary school, and exhibitions, including Figure Studies which are Muybridge-esque films, slowing down of the movement of people so that every movement and ripple of the skin can be observed in fine detail. I also attended the deliberately provocatively titled "Taking On The Boys" talk from Stellar Quines which was really interesting both on women's presence in the industry and their attitude to each other. The basic message was that only 30% of creative theatre roles in Scotland are filled by women, so it's clear that gender is still an issue, but also that people feel quite passionately, and often differently, about it. I'm looking forward to reading the full report from the research they have had carried out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Edinburgh 2012: Saturday, Day One

Due to my otherwise excellent accommodation not having wifi (it does have internet, just not wireless, and the owner of the accommodation (my uncle, but not the same uncle as the caravan uncle) quite often seems to want to plug into it (how dare he. In his own house)), and the preponderance of late nights (keeping up with this sentence?) I'm rather behind on blogging about Edinburgh. Not that anyone is waiting with breathless anticipation, but I did intend to write something. I've been keeping notes. So, even though it's Tuesday, here's what happened on Saturday.

I arrived at Waverley and exited the station only to see Daniel Bye stroll past. I hadn't only arrived in Edinburgh, I'd definitely arrived at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

I'd not booked much before arriving so had to sort that out fairly quickly, and started with This Hour Only and The Lonely One in quick succession at the Underbelly, Cowgate, before heading off to the nabakov Arts Club where due to my lack of sleep the night before I really didn't last the distance and probably missed out on all the best bits.

This Hour Only was well performed and mostly well written.  It's about a new prostitute giving her first session, which coincides with a young man's first visit, bought for him by his friends for his 21st birthday. The story as it unfolds feels fairly unlikely but then the script makes a point of how unusual as prostitute and customer they both are. It was sweet, and there was some clever rhyming which felt too clever when it was too obvious but really worked the rest of the time. I enjoyed it.

The Lonely One was less successful for me, but that might well have been because the tiredness really caught up with me then and, I have to admit it (and I was in the second row and am pretty sure at least one of the performers would have clocked it: sorry!) I fell asleep more than once. There were lots of experimental techniques; shadow puppetry, mobile lighting, etc; which all felt interesting as concepts but didn't always deliver. The tension, from my admittedly somewhat limited viewpoint, felt as though it was built up over too long a period. Good performances, though, and believable characters. I don't think I can really judge something where I wasn't fully with it, through no fault of the show.

The nabakov Arts Club was fun while I was there and I wished I was more awake and there with a friend or two, to get drunk with and stay out till all hours. It started late (I heard someone from the venue talking about how they had 86 performers. I sympathise), but that was ok because half an hour isn't much in the scheme of 6 hours. Briefly I wasn't at all sure what was going on where and would have welcomed a programme but once I'd got my head round the layout a bit and identified the right rooms that was ok. I heard great music from Interplay Leeds (who are performing This Land: The Story of Woody Guthrie) and got a brilliant fridge sticker which is definitely going on my fridge when I have a fridge. The One Hour Plays did a ten minute play, made in an hour with the collaboration of the audience, which had no tigers in it sadly (though one was promised) but did have a flamenco dancer and was amusing. Then I lasted through some good poetry and comedy in a room that had appalling acoustics and not very sensible layout for getting anyone to shut up and listen, and went home, missing John Osborne, Molly Naylor and Kate Tempest: very foolish I expect but I think I might have gone to sleep again and it really is rude. Once in a day is a misfortune but twice is carelessness… etc.

Day One summary of achievements & highlights

  • Walking down Royal Mile (hideous)
  • Only taking one flyer while walking down Royal Mile (I think I have a "don't flyer me" look on my face. Or avoidance of look)
  • Accepting a bribe for the one flyer I did take (a sweet. I felt like I needed it)
  • Falling asleep in a show
  • Having blisters and onset of shin splints by the time I did get home and having to walk like a ballet dancer for the last few hundred yards (toe first)