Monthly Archives: October 2016

Single Spies | Richmond Theatre

Review of the Alan Bennett plays that form Single Spies, at the Richmond Theatre, March 2016. First published in Essential Surrey

single-spies-alan-bennett

In the 1930s, the British security services were penetrated by a group of double agents who passed on many secrets to Stalin’s Soviet Union over the next two decades. The group became known as the Cambridge Circle (they had all been friends from university) and included Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and the art historian Sir Anthony Blunt. Burgess and Maclean fled to the USSR in 1951, Philby followed in 1963. Blunt was granted immunity from prosecution and anonymity on the basis he cooperated with the authorities.

Alan Bennett’s Single Spies, at the Richmond Theatre until Saturday, actually consists of two plays. The first is an adaptation of the script for the 1983 TV movie An Englishman Abroad, about a meeting in Moscow between the actress Coral Browne and Guy Burgess. The second is A Question of Attribution, an imagined encounter between the Queen and Blunt, who was Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures until he was exposed as a traitor and stripped of his knighthood in 1979. Continue reading

Merry Wives | Northern Broadsides

Review of the Northern Broadsides’ production of Merry Wives at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. March 2016

Northern Broadside’s Merry Wives, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston this week, is Shakespeare redone as a classic English farce, with entrances and exits timed to perfection, and all the characters that have become staples of the genre – the lecherous old man, the jealous husband, the dopey servant, thwarted lovers and the bawdy old woman.

In a fast-paced production the cast pull off the performance with great energy, communicating their enthusiasm to the audience throughout. Continue reading

Beryl

Review of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Maxine Peake’s Beryl at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. March 2016

main-image-listing-recoveredBeryl Burton is the cycling superstar that you’ve probably never heard of. British All Round champion for 25 consecutive years from 1959 to 1983, she held every national title (at one point simultaneously), won seven world titles, and her 1967 record for the 12 hour time trial is unbeaten to this day.

Maxine Peake’s Beryl is an entertaining celebration of this extraordinary woman’s life, told with a cast of just four, in a series of short scenes linked by narration.  There’s humour as well as drama, as we go from Beryl’s childhood in Leeds and her marriage to Charlie, to the years when she was the all-conquering champion of the road and track.  Samantha Power captures Beryl’s single-minded dedication to becoming the very best, and her refusal to give up, whatever the odds. Continue reading

Bye bye bonfire night

Over 400 years of tradition is coming to an end in London:- the public celebration of Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.

Of course there are still some fireworks shows to go to, but these are now (with one or two exceptions) tightly-controlled, ticket-only, paid events. And they are displays of fireworks, disassociated from the ‘gunpowder, treason and plot’ of the rhyme; Guy-less, ahistorical.

Ten years ago one could – and I did – watch the free fireworks on Clapham Common and see in the distance the rockets from Lambeth’s other free shows in Brockwell Park and Tooting Bec. After cutting back these shows from three to one, this year Lambeth have axed the fireworks completely. In Wandsworth the free fireworks across the borough were condensed into the expensive Battersea Park event years ago, and it’s a similar story in Wimbledon and across the rest of the capital. Continue reading

The Lloyd’s Building

outside-columnIn 1978, the year after architect Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre opened in Paris, construction started on his first major London project, The Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street.

Built to house the London Insurance Market, this was the first “high tech” building in the UK and there is still nothing quite like it.

The building is “inside out”, with the service functions placed on the exterior. The pipework and air conditioning ducts wrapped around the outside, the glass lifts scooting up the outside walls, the corner staircases like corkscrew metal are all still a delight to behold. But the concept is not decorative per se: it allows for easy replacement and maintenance of the facilities, and it means the inside can be open and flexible, with uninterrupted activity on each level. Rogers has designed other buildings in London since Lloyd’s, but none provoke the same sense of looking at something otherworldly. Continue reading

The Monument

dsc_0100Climb the 311 stairs today to the top of the Monument and the view lays out the 21st century City. To the north the Walkie Talkie seems close enough to touch, and behind that are the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, Heron Tower and the other towers of skyscraper alley.

To the south the view is dominated by the Shard, but the Elephant and Castle developments are now starting to block that horizon; the east has the packed legoland towers of Canary Wharf.

The west gives some relief with a great view of St Paul’s and down the river to Westminster, but look down into the City and one can see the current building boom with cranes and construction sites all around. Continue reading