Monthly Archives: January 2013

Welcome to the free seats

The Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music hold many free concerts, mostly at lunchtime or early evening and there are also free concerts at lunchtimes in churches, such as St Martin in the Fields. Check the length as many concerts are short, so not worth travelling to unless you’ve are shopping or work nearby. I’ve mentioned the drama schools’ free plays (see the new LAMDA season) but commercial theatres also give away seats via audience filling or ‘papering’ schemes. Most productions are in fringe theatres but larger productions do come up, mostly at very short notice, for previews and press nights. These schemes often cost money to join and there’s a booking fee of around £3 for a seat. I am a member of two of these: one was advertised on my work intranet and is free to join; the other has an annual fee. As part of their conditions, I will not name either, not will I ever mention that I have been to a play or concert in this way. If you work in the NHS or other public services you might well find such a scheme available to you. Otherwise, these schemes are open to all (in alphabetic order): Audience Club, Play by Play, Showsavers Plus and Theatre Club. All limit the number of members and I am not sure which are open right now.


Cheap seats but expensive food

I’ve posted about how cheap tickets to Covent Garden can be and a little on how to see plays or concerts cheaply or even for free (more on this in a future post).  Unfortunately, food and drink are not cheap at the ROH, “cheese sandwich and a glass of house wine? That’ll be £16.50, please,” and even a cheap meal nearby will double the cost of a night out. Operas are long: the Minotaur was three hours including the interval and Robert le Diable was over four; add in three hours of travelling to get there and back and I’m out for six or seven hours. The easiest solution it is to go to a matinee but for some reason opera doesn’t seem to do matinees.

However, a Horizon programme has convinced me of the value of fasting occasionally so I’m now killing two birds with one stone. I only go to the opera or ballet in the evening a couple of times a month and I’ve found that fasting on those days is surprisingly easy to handle – I’m feeling hungrier today after a decent lunch than I was at this point yesterday. I suspect there might be dangers to fasting too much so I’m sticking to a maximum of one day a week.

Review: The Minotaur, Royal Opera


The innocents about to be sacrificed
(all images copyright Royal Opera House used with permission)

The composer, Harrison Birtwistle, came on stage at the end of this last performance in this run of his opera to huge, well-justifed applause. The music was wonderful and the huge orchestra (filling the orchestra pit and spreading into the auditorium) was excellently conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth; the singing was superb, especially John Tomlinson as the poor, suffering Minotaur.


Johan Reuter as Theseus and John Tomlinson as the Minotaur

If I were to give the slightest criticism, I would have preferred a shorter first act or more dramatic action to keep the act going – it is very intense stuff for a solid 90 minutes. That said, this was a tremendous production and drew in a much younger audience than I usually see at the ROH. One young man near me was even wearing a safety pin through his ear – maybe punk is coming back!

It’s too late to see it again in this run but I’m sure it will be back.

Review: The Jess Docker Show

As one character says, “You won’t know how it ends until it has ended.” Some great plot twists drive this play by Harry Saks and its one hour length, straight through with no interval, keeps the tension going. Three cheers to the little Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead for a steady supply of great new writing which puts many larger theatres to shame.

Sleeping Beauty pictures

The ENB have very kindly given me some lovely pictures of the ballet to put on my blog, all photographed by Patrick Baldwin:

English National Ballet. "Sleeping Beauty". Vadim Muntagirov, Tamara Rojo and Daria Klimentova.

“Here come the fairies!” (click on any picture for full-size)

English National Ballet. "Sleeping Beauty". Vadim Muntagirov, Tamara Rojo and Daria Klimentova.

The bad fairy Carabosse (the brilliant James Streeter when I saw it) with ‘her’ retainers.

English National Ballet. "Sleeping Beauty". Vadim Muntagirov, Tamara Rojo and Daria Klimentova.

The Lilac Fairy (Lauretta Summerscales) defeats Carbosse

English National Ballet. "Sleeping Beauty". Vadim Muntagirov, Tamara Rojo and Daria Klimentova.English National Ballet. "Sleeping Beauty". Vadim Muntagirov, Tamara Rojo and Daria Klimentova.

The handsome Prince Désiré wakes Aurora from her long sleep (Esteban Berlanga and the excellent Ksenia Ovsyanick)

The pictures were provided by the ENB ( and were taken by Patrick Baldwin. It is  difficult to tell whether all artists were from the cast I saw up in the balcony but they look wonderful anyway.

[Review] Sleeping Beauty: English National Ballet

There was plenty of booing at the end, not because it wasn’t good but because James Streeter was so excellently evil as the bad fairy Carabosse! There was a lot of fuss about Tamara Rojo dancing Princess Aurora (the beauty of the title) in the first performance of the season but I saw Ksenia Ovsyanick in the matinee on January 15th and felt she could not have been bettered. I hadn’t realised it was a special family-friendly performance so there were lots of children in the audience. Luckily, they only added to my delight, creating a real pantomime atmosphere. “Here come the fairies” said a child’s voice followed by an excited “More fairies!”

[Review] Skyfall

Sam Mendes was obviously very conscious that this was Bond’s 50th anniversary and there are lots of references to the old Sean Connery Bond films. Most of my description still applies apart from some deliberate and fun twists. I won’t spoil the plot but, for example, when the new Q gives Bond his equipment. Bond looks at it, “So that’s it, a gun and a radio?” “Sorry, no exploding pen -we’re not into that sort of thing any more.” Exotic locations, beautiful women, lots of drinking, but none of the good guys smoke any more. Javier Bardem is a perfect Bond villain. Beneath the fun there were a couple of decent subtexts (we never had them in the old days) about growing old and about loyalty.


I’m seeing Skyfall this afternoon. I haven’t seen a Bond movie on the big screen for over 40 years but I still remember the plot they all had. Bond is in bed with a beautiful woman, makes bad puns, sabotages something, goes back to bed with the same woman or a different one (sometimes kills her and makes a bad pun as she turns out to be on the other side). Then we have great opening credits (usually the best bit) and music. Bond goes to HQ, flirts with M’s secretary and makes bad puns. M offers mission to defeat a Villain who wants to destroy or take over the World. It will involve lots of smoking, drinking, driving an Aston Martin and sleeping with beautiful women, should he accept it. He accepts it, gets some gadgets from Q including a car with special gimmicks. He smokes, drinks, goes to bed with beautiful women, drives the car for ten minutes and crashes it. The Villain captures him and tortures him. Rather than killing him, the Villain leaves him to be killed by lasers or fish. He escapes with the help of a gadget, a beautiful woman or a paper clip. He kills the Villain’s henchmen and foils the plot to blow up the world but the Villain escapes. Bond goes to bed with a beautiful woman and makes a bad pun. Good end credits (but not as good as the opening credits). The End.

Should be different this time – it’s directed by Sam Mendes. I loved his version of Cabaret with  Alan Cummings.

[Review] Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde

I stupidly waited to the last minute to to see this – it finishes on Sunday. There was a 20 minute queue to buy a ticket this morning (half price thanks to my Art Card) for a slot to visit two and a half hours later. That left time to go around the permanent collection and have a surprisingly decent salad in the cramped cafe before queueing for another 40 minutes to actually get into the exhibition. It was crowded and sometimes tricky to see some of the work properly. It was worth it though. I will not try to judge it as an art critic – I’m not one – but I was impressed and fascinated.

[Review] The Firebird, Royal Ballet

I have always loved Stravinsky’s ballet music above any other composed for the ballet and the Firebird is one of the greatest. Unlike Nijinska’s magical choreography for les Noces last year, I felt Fokine’s 1910 choreography for the Firebird is showing its age and could have been gently improved. The dancing, particularly Mara Galeazzi as the Firebird, was excellent although the footfalls were sometimes louder than they could have been. This was followed by In the Night danced to Chopin’s piano music. I have never got the appeal of Chopin and the ballet did not add a lot except when Carlos Acosta was dancing. I was yawning so much by the end that I skipped the third ballet. I was still whistling the astonishing music from the magnificent Firebird that opened the evening (well worth my £6 seat on its own).