An explosive evening in London…nearly

by Roxanne Daniels

I had been working in London for three weeks and was finally able to pay my gracious hosts back and keep a bit of pocket money. After a failed and cancelled Berlin trip (which caused me to nearly implode, but let’s move swiftly on from that) I decided to go into the city and buy a last-minute ticket at a reputable ticket office in Leicester Square. As I joined the queue at 4pm, I hurriedly chose Half a Sixpence. The process was a breeze and I had a decently priced seat at the Noel Coward Theatre for the musical. I had three and a half hours to kill, so I wandered around and stumbled into the shop of my dreams – Stanfords. I was absorbed by stories of adventures and world maps in so many different forms that this took nearly an hour of my time.

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Experience Theatre in London’s West End

On 22 December 2016 I went with family to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. What I would describe as “3D” extras made the play interesting to watch. These included lighting that danced across the walls, audiovisuals that reflected the main character’s state of mind, a moving model train to simulate a journey and (spoiler alert) a real live puppy that elicited uninhibited “aahs” from the audience. A lovely experience.

But the actual act of going to London’s West End at that unimaginably

The wonders of underground station advertising. Photo: Brenda Daniels

The wonders of underground station advertising. Photo: Brenda Daniels

busy time of year was also part of our atmospheric evening out. The theatre at which the play is being staged (until June 2017) is the Gielgud in Shaftesbury avenue. To get there from home we took a tube (or three) and stepped up onto the heaving pavement of Charing Cross Road. Being London’s bookshop street Charing Cross’s first offering for us was Foyles bookshop. We squeezed into the store and wormed up and down six storeys, just managing to get a coffee before staggering out again. I can’t understand why some writers support the notion that writing in coffee shops is romantic and inspirational. I found it completely distracting.

A gingerbread city we stopped to look at in Knightsbridge. Photo: Brenda Daniels

A gingerbread city we stopped to look at in Knightsbridge. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Next up on our journey was dinner – McDonald’s (limited budget you see) which is apparently on the site of the original bookstore of 84 Charing Cross Road. After our feast we crossed the road and passed the Palace Theatre at which Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being performed. Theatregoers enjoying a feast of their own had come out onto into the open for a breather; the play is in two parts and, together with two intermissions, runs for a whopping five hours and 55 minutes. I read in The Telegraph that marathon theatre sessions like these might catch on as a new trend. Phew.

We turned off Charing Cross Road and jostled our way to the Gielgud

Christmas lights at Knightsbridge in London, December 2016. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Christmas lights at Knightsbridge in London, December 2016. Photo: Brenda Daniels

passing Christmas lights and “Mulled Wine” signs. Our booking was for the cheapest seats in the house (budget, remember) which had warnings like “obstructed” view and on the computer seating plan looked like we would need opera glasses just to see the stage. No fear of that. The Gielgud is quite small and spacious and the “obstruction” was merely a roof overhang which really didn’t spoil our view at all.

Back out into the cold air after the show we fought our way back to the tube station, past runners in Father Christmas gear, buskers in the underground and pedestrians everywhere sporting Christmas jumpers. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was for us an entertaining theatre event indeed.

The Redfern Story

Durban International Film Festival 2016: Short, sharp reviews by Brenda Daniels

The Redfern Story is a fresh, positive, happy look at how the arts world was a germination ground for Aboriginal political consciousness in 1970s Australia. So used to angst-riddled race rhetoric I welcomed this simple documentary that showed the originality, boldness, creativity and sense of humour that characterised the beginnings of Aboriginal theatre in a suburb of Sydney called Redfern. A gem.

Visit www.durbanfilmfest.co.za for further screening times

Winter in New York: Five Travel Tips

Anu Garg, who writes the online A.Word.A.Day,  explains that the word “travel” is ultimately the same word as “travail”. “Imagine the era,” says Garg, “when travel time was measured in months; there were no in-boat movies during the trip, and no Holiday Inns waiting at the destination. That’s if you reach the destination at all.” Travel could be torture, appropriate since the word travel/travail derives from the Latin “trepaliare” which means: “to torture”! (To subscribe to Word.A.Day go to http://wordsmith.org/awad/subscribe.html.)

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An unusually lone umbrella on the wet streets of New York. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Fortunately I travelled to New York recently by aeroplane – not by boat – and did enjoy in-flight movies (Our Brand is Crisis on the way there and The Martian on the way back). I did reach my destination and hotel and while there got to enjoy two excellent Broadway plays: Noises Off and School of Rock the Musical. Perhaps the only “travails” I endured were the cold, rainy and windy conditions, or rather the umbrellas used to ward off those conditions. There were so many brollies bouncing along the wet and windy streets that week, many of which stubbornly refused to stay the right way up in the gusty setting. I worked out that I had to use my borrowed brolly for self-protection. Not against the weather; against the other jostling umbrellas! And the only way it effectively kept the rain off my face was to jam it right down onto my head. Not much sightseeing on this trip; the most I saw was a pair of heels sloshing along on the pavement ahead of me.

Which is why theatre shows were such a good escape. Tip number one: go to the theatre in New York when the weather is bad.

We happened to see Noises Off on a Tuesday evening, the night on which pre-show talks are held at many theatres. We learnt about the playwright Michael Frayn and how his difficult upbringing lent itself to his writing this British farce. We heard about the serious aspects to farce, and how challenging the actors found this particular play. Tip number two: go to the theatre in New York on a Tuesday so you can attend the pre-show talk.

The serious elements notwithstanding Noises Off was very funny. And very clever. Briefly, Noises Offthe story revolves around a group of actors practising for a play. In the first act the director interrupts proceedings during rehearsal. In the second we see the actors behind stage enduring increasingly hostile relationships with one another. The third act features the actors front of stage again but in sadly deteriorated conditions that have resulted in complete chaos. It was brilliant. Tip number three: see Noises Off on Broadway!

The next day we set off early for Broadway and joined a small queue outside the Winter Garden theatre. Along with other shivering people we cleverly bought tickets directly from the box office on the day; we did not pre-book tickets online. This saved a huge amount of money. For instance, orchestra seating tickets for this show can cost as much as $197 each, whereas tickets for the same seats purchased directly from the box office cost $145 each. Tip number four: purchase Broadway theatre tickets directly from the box office.

School of RockSchool of Rock the Musical was a gloriously fun, energetic production featuring enormously talented, vibrant young children and music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Pre-teen youngsters played bass guitars and drums and sang with the maturity of adults. We had a ball. Tip number five: see School of Rock the Musical on Broadway!

As already mentioned my outgoing in-flight movie of choice was the serious, anxiety riddled, political story Our Brand is Crisis starring Sandra Bullock. But my return-flight choice, The Martian, was a pretty lighthearted take on the travails of an astronaut who travelled to Mars and got left behind on that dusty planet. Watching Matt Damon growing potatoes in an inhospitable climate was an enjoyable end to my New York “travails”.