Author Archives: donbrown

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The India Club

Dishoom does the ‘Indian Cafe’ experience very well indeed, and if you’re prepared to queue, serves some great tasting food and impressive cocktails. But if you want the echt rather than the ersatz, then head on over to the Somerset House side of the Strand and try and find the India Club Restaurant.

It must be 30 years since I was last here, but climbing the two floors – past the India Club bar and the Strand Continental Hotel reception on the first floor – and stepped into the room again, it was if I’d never been away. The brown Formica tables and the wooden chairs are almost certainly the exact ones I sat in in the 1980s (and probably the originals from the restaurant’s opening in the 1940s). The waiters were too young to be the same, but their white jackets and their welcome was exactly how I remember it. Continue reading

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Behind the glass at the Churchill War Rooms

cabinet-war-rooms-3Already a huge hit with visiting Americans, the queues for the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum are only going to get longer with the releases of the Darkest Hour movie.

The film is set in the early days of Churchill’s wartime premiership when debate in the Cabinet was whether to sue for peace with Hitler. It is no understatement to say that the entire course of 20th century history would have been utterly different had such an outcome occurred.

The movie wasn’t filmed in the War Rooms, but meticulously recreated them, even down to the peeling paint on the wooden supports of the map room.

“This is the room from which I shall conduct the war”, Churchill famously said of the basement-level Cabinet Room itself, but only around a quarter of wartime cabinet meetings were actually held in the space, at times when the threat from bombing – and the later ‘V’ weapons – was most acute. But the complex was staffed by hundreds throughout the course of the war, an essential bureaucracy of information-gathering and coordination. Had the Germans landed, this would have been one of the first places to get the news, and the initial response to any invasion would have been organised here. Continue reading

Chiappa “organ builders” at Eyre Street Hill in EC1.

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Apparently they’ve been here since 1877, when this would have been the heart of London’s ‘Little Italy’, the area around Saffron Hill and the Clerkenwell Road. The Italian church of St Peter’s is just round the corner. Each July it still holds the procession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a bit of Italian Catholic cultural tradition on the streets of London.

Spring Offensive

This review dates from April 2017 and is the Clapham Omnibus production. It first appeared on the Essential Surrey website.

spring-offensive-sheep_v2-high-res-copyApril runs a guesthouse on the site of an old WW1 field hospital, catering to the ‘war tourists’ visiting the battlefields and graveyards of the western Front.

Despite it being the start of the season, she has only two guests – Pam, who has spent all her adult life living with and caring for her mother, and Tom, a former military man who runs battlefield tours and sells souvenir tat (“we went to Ypres and all I got was this lousy mug”). In this new play by Victoria Willing, we watch the three bicker and quarrel as they await the arrival of other guests and the return of April’s son. As the evening progresses, the atmosphere turns poisonous and we learn more about the motivations, the secrets and the histories of the protagonists. Continue reading

Don Giovanni

This review dates from November 2016 and refers to the Glyndebourne Company’s production at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking. It first appeared on the Essential Surrey website.

don-giovanniTickets for the summer season at Glyndebourne sell out remarkably swiftly, so the opportunity to see the Glyndebourne company on tour is not one to be missed. Last night’s performance of Don Giovanni at Woking’s New Victoria theatre did not disappoint, with a strong orchestra conducted by Pablo Gonzalez, wonderful singing – particularly in the ensemble pieces – and a striking and ingenious staging.

Mozart’s anti-hero is a man with no moral scruple, his catalogue of sexual conquests numbering thousands, and the women he can’t seduce he takes by force. The opera opens with his attempted rape of the noblewoman Donna Anna, whose screams alert her father the Commendatore, whom Giovanni murders – in this production most brutally, battering him to death.

Giovanni and his servant Leporello (a fine performance from Brandon Cedel) flee into the night, leaving Anna (sublimely sung by Ana Maria Labin) and her fiancé Ottavio swearing vengeance on the murderer. The Commendatore will be Giovanni’s nemesis. Continue reading

A Room With a View

This review dates from October 2016. The production was seen at the Richmond Theatre.

a-room-with-a-viewA Room With a View is a visually interesting, but wordy and emotionally unengaging adaptation of the E M Forster novel.

Lucy Honeychurch – a young middle-class Edwardian woman – is visiting Florence with her older, spinster cousin Charlotte Bartlett as chaperone. There are suffragettes on the streets of London, but ‘ladies’ are still expected to follow the Victorian rules surrounding ‘class’, social status and polite behaviour.

In their pensione Lucy and Charlotte meet George Emerson and his father – socialists and humanists, with radical ideas about religion, sexual equality and life. The snobbish Charlotte rebuffs the approaches of the lower middle class Emersons, but Lucy falls for George and, on a day trip to the Tuscan countryside, kisses him. Charlotte is mortified and whisks Lucy away from Florence.

Continue reading

Extravanganza Macabre

This review first appeared on the Essential Surrey website and is from August 2016.

2892798Extravaganza Macabre” by Little Bulb Theatre at Battersea Arts Centre, is tremendous fun from start to finish, a knowing comedy from a talented cast that mixes music and melodrama and some great jokes and sight gags.

Devised to initiate BAC’s new open-air Courtyard Theatre, the production makes great use of the limited space, the energetic performers appearing and disappearing from all possible entrances around, above and below the performance area.

The setting is that we in the audience are present for a Victorian theatre company’s performance of the melodrama ‘Extravaganza Macabre’, the tale of lovers Ernest and Elizabeth, separated on their wedding day in tragic circumstances, and how, aided by a clairvoyant maid, a chipper cockney orphan boy (called ‘Chipper’) and his dog (called ‘dogdog’, “because he’s a dog”), they overcome the murderous Lord London to be reunited. Continue reading

Michael Fagan and Buckingham Palace

buckingham palace with lifeguardsThere might be red-coated soldiers from the elite Guards regiments standing sentry around it (not to mention large numbers of coppers with Big Guns), but Buckingham Palace isn’t quite as secure as you might think.

Queen Victoria suffered from the attentions of ‘The Boy Jones‘, who broke in on numerous occasions (stealing some of Victoria’s underwear at one point – insert “not amused” gag here). In 1981 three German backpackers, mistaking the palace gardens for Hyde Park, scrambled over the back wall of the gardens and camped out for the night.

But the most significant intrusion of recent times was that of Michael Fagan a 31 year old unemployed painter and decorator, who, in 1982, not only got into the main part of the Palace at least twice, but also managed to find the Queen’s bedroom and woke her up to ask for cigarettes. Continue reading

A sponsored cycle ride – this time it’s personal

prostate cancer uk cycling jerseyOn 30th July – that’s only 3 weeks! away – I’m going to try to cycle 46 miles around London to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. You can give money here.

Three years ago that wouldn’t have been much of an issue. I did a couple of 100km rides and used to cycle 30-40 miles on an average week; training up to do 46 in an afternoon would have been relatively easy. Continue reading

Instagram #1

I’ve been lax at blog posts this year (there are ones coming on the Tudor Pull, Marlborough St Magistrates Court and Michael Fagan, honest), but as I’m out and about on the Blue Badge Guide stuff I occasionally manage to take some pictures and load them up to instagram.

You can follow what I shoot if you look for ‘donbrowndotlondon’, but here’s a selection of recent images from across the capital.

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