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.

War Horse Breathes to Life on Stage

A review by Brenda Daniels

The West End Production of War Horse, filmed and broadcast by National Theatre Live, will be screened at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa this month. The show is based on the book by Michael Morpurgo and set during World War I making the show’s release this year a particularly meaningful one as 2014 marks the war’s centenary.

War Horse is the touching story of Albert and his horse Joey. Raised by Albert and trained to plough on the family farm in Devon, Joey is sold into the British army and sent to France. Too late to stop the sale, heartbroken Joey joins the war in the faint hope of tracking down his beloved horse.

Brave Joey shows spirit and strength as he endures the hardships of fighting, as well as compassion to a fellow horse and a number of kind humans who come across his path. Joey even changes hands across enemy lines joining the war effort on the side of the Germans.

The story conveys a strong message of reconciliation, always featuring the beautiful horse as its heart.

What is remarkable about this multi-award-winning production is the amazingly realistic, life-size horse puppets. Manned by three people at a time, the puppeteers do a brilliant job of bringing their horse “shells” to life. Whinnying, neighing, snorting, stamping, galloping, rearing, tail swishing – everything a horse does these puppeteers do. And although the men and women handling the puppets are visible to the audience, it’s the horse you focus on; the humans do not detract from the story at all.

There is something else noteworthy: this stage production was done in association with the South African-based, award-winning Handspring Puppet Company.

If you think a stage show couldn’t possibly be as stirring or visually exciting as the film which is also based on the book, think again. The theatre methods used are so clever. Scenery splashed up on a “torn” screen to represent a sketch book, “pole” theatre (actors holding poles to define areas), uniquely choreographed movements and a revolving stage all work together to create an absorbing entertainment experience.

Although quite lengthy (two hours and 50 minutes including an intermission during which an interesting interview takes place) I urge theatre goers to watch this wonderful production.

War Horse releases at Cinema Nouveau in South Africa on 12 April for eight screenings only – 12, 16, 17, 19, 23 and 24 April at 7.30pm and on 13 and 20 April at 2.30pm in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town, and at Ster-Kinekor Blue Route Mall. The National Theatre Livescreening of War Horse will also mark the first theatre production to be broadcast in South Africa in Sony 4K, following the recent digital technology projection upgrade at all the Cinema Nouveau and Ster-Kinekor sites.

Two horses in the filmed stage production of War Horse (Source: Ster Kinekor)

Two horses in the filmed stage production of War Horse (Source: Ster Kinekor)