Archive for November, 2018

Concluding my review of the London theatre scene from my recent trip – this week I present a couple of two-part epic plays. Most plays run a couple of hours. However, it is not unheard of for a longer show to be performed in two parts – either on consecutive nights or as a day/night doubleheader – matinee and evening. Nicholas Nickleby and Angels in America are classic examples from years past. However, it seems two-part plays are having a moment, with a couple currently on the boards in London: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and The Inheritance. I took naps and made sure I had the stamina to take in both of these epics and I am glad I did.

FF: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

First, I finally had the chance to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I say finally as I thought I had tickets to see it on my last trip to London in April 2017 but it turned out I had purchased tickets for April 2018. Doh!

Anyway, the show is a new chapter in the Harry Potter world and is a must for any Potter fan – or anyone who loves the magic of live theatre.

We meet Harry and his Hogwarts mates as adults and are introduced to a new generation. But that’s all I can say as we are asked to “keep the secrets” of the show.

About Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:

“Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new play by Jack Thorne received its world premiere in London’s West End at the Palace Theatre in summer 2016. The critically acclaimed production is most awarded West End play in the history of the Olivier Awards, winning a record-breaking nine awards including Best New Play and Best Director in 2017. Written by BAFTA, Tony and Olivier award-winner Jack Thorne and directed by Olivier and Tony award winner John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage, bringing together some of the most exciting talent working in the theatre today.”

What I can say is that the more than five hours of show never drags and the story is fun and engaging with some wonderfully inventive stage craft. Of course if you are familiar with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter you will take more away, but Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stands on its own as a very good play and production. I for one am so happy to see this show is playing to sold out crowds and introducing new generations to the glories of live theatre.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continues its indefinite run at London’s Palace Theatre and on Broadway at New York’s Lyric Theatre. Additional productions in Hamburg, Melbourne and San Francisco have been announced.

FF: The Inheritance

Meanwhile, just a couple of blocks away at London’s Noel Coward Theatre is a very different two-part play, The Inheritance, an ensemble play examining the lives of gay men across generations. This may sound niche, but the work is so rich and compelling it crosses into the mainstream and I dare to say is an important work for younger generations to understand their not so distance elders.

About The Inheritance:

“Following a sold-out, critically-acclaimed run at the Young Vic, Matthew Lopez’s major two-part world premiere The Inheritance lands in London’s West End for just fifteen weeks. Directed by multi Olivier Award winner Stephen Daldry, this ‘monumental and transcendent’ (Time Out) production questions how much we owe to those who lived and loved before us. A generation after the peak of the AIDs crisis, what is it like to be a young gay man in New York? How many words are there now for pain and for love? Stephen Daldry’s ‘remarkably involving production’ (Independent) explores profound themes through the turbulent and often hilarious experiences of a group of young, ambitious New Yorkers.  What is the legacy left to them by previous generations? What do they owe the future and each other? Spanning generations and interlinking lives, The Inheritance is ‘an exquisitely truthful and funny modern classic’ (Telegraph) that brilliantly transposes EM Forster’s novel Howards End to 21st century New York.”

The Inheritance is one of those plays that starts out one way and draws you in to think you are in for one experience and then takes a turn and you are amazed by the power of the storytelling. Performed by a great ensemble of young actors and a few stellar veterans, including the great Vanessa Redgrave, The Inheritance will stay with you for a long time.

The Inheritance continues its limited run at London’s Noel Coward Theatre through January 19, 2019.

So one of the must see stops in Lille is the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille, which reportedly houses the second most important collection in France – after only the Louvre.

When we met up in Lille it was raining a little, so we decided it might be a good idea to visit the museum first and then walk around the city later when it promised to clear up. So we walked over to the museum – about 15 minutes from the city center – and we were surprised to find it was closed. Not only closed on this day (a Monday) but it was going to be closed for several days – as told to us by a very kind fellow tourist who for some reason apologized profusely.

This news was most unwelcome, but now I have a built in excuse go back to the beautiful city that is Lille.

About Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille:

“The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille houses one of the most important museum collections in France. Within this sumptuous late nineteenth century building, designed between 1889 and 1892 by Parisian architects Berard and Delmas, and completely renovated between 1991 and 1997, a prestigious collection of painting, sculpture, drawings and ceramics is presented.”

Visit Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille online and check out their hours of operation (gulp) here.

There are more books about London than just about any other city in the world, but I can guarantee that few are as much fun as Citygami London by the fine folks at Clockwork Soldier.

About Citygami London by Clockwork Soldier:

“London’s skyline springs to life in this ingeniously crafted book that lets you build your own paper city. Citygami London is a craft project, a diorama, a study in architecture, and, when it’s finished, a stand-alone piece of art. Inspired by one of the world’s great architectural cities, Clockwork Soldier have created a unique experience that lets readers replicate London’s most famous buildings, while also gaining fascinating insight into their histories and significance. Here, scale models of the Shard, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, and other structures are presented in die-cut, pre-folded, cardstock pages. Clear, easy-to-follow instructions show you how to assemble each building. Accompanying the models are a set of detachable cards of the buildings, allowing readers to play against each other by comparing facts and figures about the structures. Best of all, when every building has been constructed, the result is a display-ready cityscape of London. As fun as it is educational, this craft book promises hours of absorbing activity and a lasting keepsake for years to come.”

Citygami London by Clockwork Soldier is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers everywhere.

Right near St.Paul’s in the old City of London I found Hardy’s Original Sweet Shop (one of several locations in the city) which was the perfect place for a much needed sugar boost after a long day of walking around.

About Hardy’s Original Sweet Shop:

“The place is filled with jars of gob stoppers, rhubarb and custard boiled sweets, wine gums, cola bottles, midget gems – all the old favourites. Plus a selection of lollipops, chocolates, toffees, fudges, nougat – enough to keep most children (and grown adults with a sweet tooth, for that matter) happy. So, roll back the years and head in and ask for a quarter of whatever takes your fancy.”

Learn more about Hardy’s Original Sweet Shop  here.

 

While touring around London my eyes are constantly catching all sorts of cool things – including items in store windows. Such is the case with the Smeg Union Jack toaster (below) I spotted in the window of a Smeg showroom. On further inspection, the fine folks at Smeg make an awesome series of appliances, large and small for the home.

About Smeg:

“SMEG was founded by Vittorio Bertazzoni from Guastalla, a town near Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, and is today one of the country’s leading home appliance manufacturers. The Bertazzoni family’s entrepreneurial history begins wa”y back in the 19th century. Starting out as blacksmiths, the Bertazzonis soon branched out into building cookers.”

Make sure you check out Smeg’s awesome Fiat front end cooler – seriously, what ever man cave or she shack needs.

Learn more about Smeg and see all their awesome products here.

While in London recently, I took advantage of the city’s amazing theatre scene, seeing a few shows in the West End (the UK’s Broadway) as well as a few “Fringe” shows at a few of London’s amazing smaller theatre companies. This week and next I will present a few highlights. This week – a couple of musicals.

FF: Tina – The Tina Turner Musical

There are two types of what they call “jukebox musicals” these days, shows that use the catalog of a popular musical act as the score. First, a show that uses the music to tell the story of said act, ala Jersey Boys which tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons; and, two, an original story told with the music of an act, ala Mama Mia which uses ABBA’s music with a story unrelated to them.

Of course the new West End musical, Tina – the Tina Turner Musical is an example of the former, and it as wonderful as the subject herself.

About Tina – the Tina Turner Musical:

“From humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her transformation into the global Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner didn’t just break the rules, she rewrote them. This new stage musical reveals the untold story of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race. One of the world’s best-selling artists of all time, Tina Turner has won 12 Grammy Awards and her live shows have been seen by millions, with more concert tickets sold than any other solo performer in music history. Featuring her much loved songs, TINA – The Tina Turner Musical is written by Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd. Presented in association with Tina Turner.”

Miss Tina’s story is one of perseverance and redemption and it is told beautifully from her childhood, her struggles with Ike, to her taking her rightful perch at the top of the pop music heap as a solo artist. You end up cheering for Tina and the ultimate payoff is as emotionally charged as it is joyous.

Tina – the Tina Turner Musical continues its open run at London’s Aldwych Theatre through at least summer 2019. And there are rumors the show will make its way to Broadway soon.

FF: Company

Meanwhile, revivals of classic musicals are also a mainstay of the West End and Broadway. New this season in London is an all new production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company – one of my all-time favorite shows.

The original Company tells the story of an aging bachelor on his 35th birthday contemplating whether he should be settling down as told through vignettes by the various married couples and the various conquests in his life. In this wonderful new staging, the gender of the protagonist is swapped, and we have the story told from the perspective of a woman facing the same fork in life’s road and this new telling is a revelation.

About Company:

“Marianne Elliott directs COMPANY, Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s legendary musical comedy about life, love and marriage. At Bobbie’s (Rosalie Craig) 35th birthday party all her friends are wondering why isn’t she married? Why can’t she find the right man and Why can’t she settle down and have a family? Featuring Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning songs Company, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, The Ladies Who Lunch, Side by Side and the iconic Being Alive. Starring Rosalie Craig as Bobbie, Patti LuPone as Joanne, Mel Giedroyc as Sarah, Jonathan Bailey as Jamie, George Blagden as PJ, Ashley Campbell as Peter, Richard Fleeshman as Andy, Alex Gaumond as Paul, Richard Henders as David, Ben Lewis as Larry, Daisy Maywood as Susan, Jennifer Saayeng as Jenny, Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo and Gavin Spokes as Harry.”

Everything about this production is top notch, from the imaginable staging to the stellar cast which includes Rosalie Craig as the lead Bobbie, and the divine Miss Patti LuPone in a featured role that lets her sink her teeth into the classic The Ladies Who Lunch – and delivers beyond your wildest dreams.

Side note: Miss LuPone also delivers the pre-show recorded message reminding folks to turn off mobiles and the ban on photography – playing off her reputation for stopping shows to have scofflaws removed from the theatre. She ends it with “trust me” – and cheers from the audience.

Company continues its limited run at London’s John Gielgud Theatre through March 30, 2019. No word on whether this production will make it stateside, but one can always hope.

While in London I wanted to pick up a book that I could carry around to read during my down times. So I popped in the wonderful flagship store of Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road to browse around. I ended up looking at classic British mystery writers. After Agatha Christie there is none better at a classic British mystery than the late P.D. James. After browsing a bunch of her titles, I settled on a relatively new anthology of some of her previously unpublished short stories, Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales.

About Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James:

“It’s not always a question of ‘whodunit?’ Sometimes there’s more mystery in the why or how. And although we usually know the unhealthy fates of both victim and perpetrator, what of those clever few who plan and carry out the perfect crime? The ones who aren’t brought down even though they’re found out? And what about those who do the finding out who witness a murder or who identify the murderer but keep the information to themselves? These are some of the mysteries that we follow through those six stories as we are drawn into the thinking, the memories, the emotional machinations, the rationalizations, the dreams and desires behind murderous cause and effect.”

Sleep No More ended up being the perfect book find for my trip – short, engrossing stories I could read in intermittent intervals and be totally entertained by a master at the top of her craft.

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers everywhere.

Just a 90 minute train ride from London (and an hour from Paris), is the northern French city of Lille, a charming little city that offers everything you want from a French city, without the crowds of Paris.

As I mentioned, I suggested Lille as a meeting place for me and my sister and niece as my London vacation coincided with their Paris vacation. And I am glad I did – we fell in love with this gem of a city north of Paris near the Belgian border.

I arrived via Eurostar and my sister and niece arrived on a domestic train from Paris. I arrived first at Gare Lille Europe and met them at the other train station, Gare Lille Flandres, just a short walk away, right in the heart of this charming French city with medieval roots and due to its proximity, a Flemish flare.

About Lille:

“The legend says that Lille was founded in 640 by Lydéric and Phinaert giants. But we find the first trace of Lille in writing of 1066. Lille was in turn under Flemish, Burgundian, Spanish before becoming French in 1667 during the conquest of the city by Louis XIV. With a population of almost 220,000 inhabitants, thanks to the recent addition of the town of Lomme, Lille claims its place as the tenth largest city and fourth largest metropolis (1.9 million inhabitants including 700,000 over the Belgian border) in France. With 36 % of the population aged under 25, Lille is a vibrant, young and dynamic city. In 2004, Lille was European Capital of Culture and obtained the title of ‘City of Art and History’. The city has hence underlined its status as an excellent destination for culture and tourism. The Euralille centre, with its TGV (High Speed Train) station, Congress venue (Lille Grand Palais), offices, hotels and a casino, confirms the position of the Lille area on the European map of tourism and trade events.”

Throughout Lille, charming plazas with the requisite cafes give way to charming cobblestone lanes with local shops as well as upscale shops and restaurants with all the major labels – French and otherwise. Mix in world class museums and ancient churches and other historic sites – and Lille is the perfect getaway from your European getaway.

Visit the official Lille department of tourism site here.