Friday, December 30, 2011

100 things: Reformers' Tree monument

Just happened across this yesterday when randomly walking across Hyde Park (because the Circle Line was down and District Line closed between High Street Kensington and Edgware Road leaving no sensible way of getting from Chiswick to Lancaster Gate on the tube, grumble grumble). It's to commemorate a tree which was burned down in the Reform Riots of 1866, the stump of which then became a noticeboard for political demonstrations (all from the Press Factsheet on the Royal Parks website). Apparently a new tree was planted in 1977 but I couldn't tell if that had since gone or if this monument was not actually on the site of the tree.

My historical knowledge being appalling I didn't know about the Reform Riots but here's some info from the National Archive website:

Following the 1832 Reform Act, periodic demands for the extension of the right to vote continued. Further attempts at parliamentary reform took place in the 1860s. By 1865, both Liberal and Conservative leaders, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli, were convinced of the case to extend voting rights. In 1866 reform demonstrations turned to riots in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square. The Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884 extend parliamentary voting rights: firstly in 1867 to the urban adult male householders and male lodgers paying £10 for unfurnished rooms, and secondly in 1884 to men living in the countryside (under the same conditions).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Having a lovely time at the theatre, darling

So, here we are the day before Christmas, and I haven't done anything on my list since the Rivoli Ballroom, but it's not because I've been sat inside my house refusing to enjoy anything that London has to offer. Apart from the run up to Christmas taking up time in itself (especially when it comes with various obligations which are too insanely traditional to be believed, including choir robes, candles, trebles singing 'Once in Royal David's City' and having a handy bottle of brandy in my pocket for carol singing round the streets) this month has largely been about theatre. And I am ENJOYING what London (and the locality) has to offer theatrically wise. I think I'm subconsciously forgetting that all this costs actual real money, unlike my halcyon days working at the country's best attended regional theatre where seeing something different every week came for free, and I'm just booking in for things left right and centre. In fact, I haven't even yet seen half of the theatre I've planned, but I have been thinking about, talking about, dreaming about and practically eating theatre for breakfast.

Taking my cousin's older son, who is nearly three, to two different but equally excellent children's shows has been a real pleasure - he is very sweet when watching a show. He narrows his eyes slightly and watches intently but with a considering look, and asks pertinent questions if he doesn't quite understand what's going on. We could all hang on to a bit of that mindset. I'm hoping I can carve a role for myself in the family generally as the cool aunt / first cousin once removed (if we're going to be accurate) who takes the next generation to amazing theatrical events. Even my cousin's six month old enjoyed himself.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens to theatre as they grow up. For the last few years there has been a huge push from those arts organisations who might be seen as elitist - mostly big building based companies creating theatre in traditional forms such as 'straight' theatre, opera, ballet - to change their image, and hopefully their actual working methods too, while equally some of the smaller independents as well as education, youth and community theatre have all gained status within the theatrical world. However there is also a divide between those latter kinds of theatre and "popular" theatre: the musicals, mostly. The theatre I find most interesting is exploring and testing those divides: what makes theatre high quality, accessible, enjoyable, challenging, entertaining? Is it possible or even desirable for it to do all those things at once? It's not a new question I know.

I think the most exciting thing for me right now is that I'm finally in a position where I might be able to start exploring some of this for myself, rather than through the policies of the companies who employ me, and for real rather than through academic papers. I've learnt a hell of a lot and continue to through the people I work for, and I realised the other day through both a session at Devoted and Disgruntled and the Improbable Mentoring Fete that the journey as an independent producer, which I've been finding so bemusing as a prospect, might not be so different. Find the people and the theatre that interests you, see what you might have in common, try and work with them if you can, and see where that takes you. It's enormously exciting, though not a little scary too. It might well not work, but I've been on wild goose chases before and survived. So, this Christmas, for me, it's "here's to the occasional wild goose." May we all enjoy the chase.

Monday, December 5, 2011

100 things: Rivoli Ballroom

Behind an unprepossessing bingo hall style frontage, deep in South West London, is the Rivoli Ballroom, a red-tinted world of gilt, velvet and dancing. It's over the top, down to earth, camp, cliquey and accessible all in the same breath.

We went to Jacky's Jukebox, £9 entry, a night which happens on the first Saturday of the month and which has a mix of all sorts of music, mainly heavily romantic. There was an exhibition dance taking place as we arrived and then it featured everything from an Argentinian Tango to waltzes, the polka, line dancing and even seventies disco. We'd gone for a girls' night out dancing. It was really completely the wrong place for that: there were a lot of quite formal couple dances and almost everyone knew all the moves, so we spent most of the evening watching from the sidelines. However, people seemed to be having a fabulous time and on the odd occasions (the easier line dances, Saturday Night Fever, and one of our number who was a little bit more skilled and so could dare to ask someone to polka) we did get up and have a go, everyone was perfectly friendly and put up with our ineptitude.

The ballroom features in Elton John's original 1983 video for I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues but to really experience it you need to go. It's a gem.