A New Year, A New Play

December 9, 2018

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Having two relatively succesful (Corbyn Island and A Door Should Be Open or Shut) Festival productions under my belt emboldened me to propose to the Crouch End Players committee that we should put on a version of a full length French classic. Seeing a production of Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard at the Théâtre Saint Martin earlier this year inspired me to tackle another of his plays.

Le Jeu de l’Amour at the Porte Martin, played in a style that Marivaux would have recognised, was outstanding. I had no intention of competing with the French on their own turf. No, I felt that I had to find a way of presenting his work that made it resonate with a contemporary London audience but wasn’t as directly political (or sweary, we’re looking for a larger audience after all) as our update of L’Ile des Esclaves.

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At first glance Les Fausses Confidences – in which a penniless young man who has fallen in love with a rich widow attempts to scheme his way into her heart – can seem a distinctly queasy proposition in these #MeToo (or #balancetonporc) times. To be blunt the way in which the leading man and his ex-valet scheme to serve his master’s interests, if entertaining, is nevertheless difficult to approve of. ‘His rampant mendancity has little jusitification.’ * For some critics, no matter how much they admired Marivaux as a writer such dubious morals ‘gâte toute la pièce’ or ruin the whole play. **

How to get around such a flawed leading man? By updating the action to 1919 and making him a serviceman recently returned from the Great War – our version is called A Soldier’s Song – I hope to have given a psychological motivation for such iniquitous behaviour. Hector (renamed from Dorante in the original) has developed an obsession for Harriet (Araminte, now a wealthy widow and music hall performer) for reasons that are hinted at though never over-explained during the course of the plot, thus elevating him from the rather amoral schemer of the eighteenth century original. Music buffs may also see the resonance in French culture of having a Hector obessed with a Harriet.

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Hector Berlioz – not a stranger to romantic obsession

And to my delight when I discussed the play with the director Victoria Welsh she took on this idea further, situating the play in a much more radical staging than I had envisaged that will reference the original Marivaux production by the Comédie-Italienne that will allow us to see Hector as just as much manipulated as manipulator. But more of that as I trace the development of the production over the forthcoming months.

We are in the process of auditions at the moment and my next blog post will be to give my own take on that process, which was entirely new to me. (Casts for previous shows, excellent though they proved to be, were assembled from the resources available rather than via the luxury of selection). The show will be happening in the last week of March 2019 at the Moravian Church Hall on Park Road, N8. If you’ve read this far please do come along and say hello. Or if you have staged or watched Marivaux yourself I’d really welcome comments and questions on your own experience of Les Fausses Confidences.

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My research into other adaptations, purely to see what had been done recently on the British stage, led me to a version that foreshadows a piece that the Crouch End Players will also produce later in the year. In 1983 Timberlake Wertenbaker translated the play pretty much straight for a production at the Lyric, Hammersmith, giving it the title False Admissions. In the autumn the CEPs will stage Our Country’s Good, her account of Thomas Kennealy’s novel The Playmaker, which concerns a group of officers and convicts putting on a play in colonial Australia. Which goes to show that the Players have a wonderfully diverse repertoire to offer the public in 2018.

* Kenneth McKee, The Theater of Marivaux (Peter Own: London, 1958), p. 211.

** Edouard Thierry, La Revue de France, March15th, 1881.

Sport & Leisure History Seminar Autumn 2018 #6

December 4, 2018

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Monday 10th December 2018

“A Game Was More Than A Game” –Sport, Integration and Interwar British Jewry with Dr Dave Dee

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And this term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

Our final seminar of the term will be given by Dr Dave Dee from De Montfort University who will talking to us about the sporting experience of British Jews between the wars.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series. For the details of seminars forthcoming in 2019 go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the Past and Present Room on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.

 

Resto 42 De Peerdestal, Antwerp

December 2, 2018

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After a rather intense couple of week of starting a new part-time job and beginning the production of a new play (of which more soon) it was a real pleasure to be able to switch off for a day or two for an overnight trip to Antwerp.

Key to kicking off this kind of jaunt is selecting the restaurant for the arrival meal. Antwerp was new to me so I was happy to let Mike take a pop and with one caveat he made an excellent choice in De Peerdestal.

It was a late lunch so were concerned that we might be the only people in the room for the afternoon. However, with a big party on one table and a smattering of other customers there was enough atmosphere to give the room a bit of a buzz.

The downstairs room is dominated by the back end of a horse (not a live one you’ll be glad to know; though I remember some meals where I wish the person seated opposite me was sitting under a horse’s arse) and this is a rather unsubtle clue to De P’s USP. I didn’t go for horse up front, instead opting for a shrimp bisque (shrimps also being a local speciality) which was deliciously fishy and salty.

The fact that it arrived about two minutes after an apéritif of gin and tonic was an indication of the one flaw in the meal – erratic timekeeping. We took the hasty delivery of the starters as an indication that they wanted us out of there in a hurry. Boy were we wrong.

Anyway, I snaffled up the G&T and we moved onto mains (this time perfectly accompanied by a bottle of the ‘Bosch’s – Stellen not Hieronymous – finest red). Fillet of horse was a new experience for me, but a good one. Lean and flavoursome with a good dollop of béarnaise and mushrooms, this was excellent cooking. Stodge was chips (cos, like Belgium) delivered in a gurt big bowl to share. And they were very good, I wanted to tip the bowlful into my mouth.

We were feeling pretty convivial by now and it being a holiday we decided to get stuck into dessert. Some devil inside prompted me to ask for a Grand Marnier alongside my trio of lemon things. The waitress pointed out that since I already had a dose of limencello coming on the plate I hardly needed more citrus booze in me. It was difficult to argue with such powerful logic.

By this time it was around half three and we’d been in the company of the horse for a couple of hours. It would take us an hour to take delivery of dessert and the bill, which seemed odd given the way the meal had started. But mebbe it was for our own good … a little rallentando at that stage of the day (and a siesta on arrival at the hotel) ensured that we could make the most of gatecrashing a 70th birthday party later in the day.

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Partying like Belgians – birthday boy is with the grey hair in the background

8/10

#Food #Antwerp

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 41 My Cottage Cafe, Finsbury Park

November 22, 2018

Finding ourselves once again in Finsbury Park on a Saturday it was with a sorry glance that we walked past the now boarded up Walnut to on our search for dinner. Pasta Remoli‘s curious way with food is still quite vivid so we thought we’d try Lebanese at My Cottage Café. As it seems did everyone going to the theatre that evening (we were not) meaning that we were lucky to get two places at a shared table.

The room is bigger than it looks from the outside and the food is more ambitious than the monicker My Cottage Café would have you believe. The last time I was in a Lebanese (insert joke here) it was in Mayfair and I was talking to a tiny, aged Jewish man with a statuesque wife 40 odd years his junior who had been Cy Twombly’s (among others) art dealer in New York. This wasn’t quite the same clientèle, though this being North London theatreland we weren’t short of Jewish company. Just no Naomi Campbell lookalikes. Which was a shame.

The menu was typically east Mediterranean – meze, grilled things and stews – but the cooking was a cut above Petek up the road for about the same price. A massive plus was not being offered death by bread before we’d even ordered. The bread when it came was a refined flatbread in just the right amount. Starters of baba ganouj and okra were excellent, as was the chicken shish. Plenty of heat on the baste meant recourse to a very good Lebanese white was required.

Our table-sharers were a gossipy couple of old baggages who managed to eat three courses before we’d ordered coffee. They indulged in some faux-bants with some fellow codgers across the way and when an elderly lady with an improbably wide Zimmer frame tried to exit the building my neighbour resolutely stared at the wall rather than move her seat. However, ZimmerGal was equally obdurate and deftly span her frame sidewards, all the while scowling at our pair like they’d just shot her cat. The theme from Larry David began to play through my mind.

In five minutes flat the room was empty of theatre-goers leaving just us two to sip a beautiful coffee (which arrived with four baklava) while the waiting staff took a well earned fag break outside. It took a while to get the bill but that was the only fault in an otherwise faultless service.

8/10

#Food #London

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Sport & Leisure History Seminar Autumn 2018 #5

November 20, 2018

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Monday 26th November 2018

‘A festival of self-punishment’: Englishness, British cycling and the Tour de France, 1918-39 with Dr Neil Carter

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And this term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

Our fifth seminar of the term will be given by Dr Neil Carter from De Montfort University who will talking to us about a rather neglected era of British cycling history, the 1930s, when Charles Holland and Bill Burl became the first British men to take part in the Tour de France. To find out more read Neil’s abstract below.

In 1937 Charles Holland and Bill Burl became the first British cyclists to ride in the Tour de France. Their presence represented a brief if symbolic moment of modernity for British cycling. This paper examines the socio-economic and cultural roots of this particular episode and how it tapped into changing ideas of Englishness.

The Tour de France, with its modernising tendencies, commercialism and especially its type of racing – massed start racing – offered a stark contrast with British cycling’s overwhelmingly amateur culture, both in terms of ideology and as a voluntary activity. In particular, the time-trial was the main form of road racing in Britain. It embodied an idealised and pastoral vision of England that many of cycling’s administrators and supporters promoted through their writing and images.

During the 1930s, however, British cycling underwent a transformation. Not only was there a boom in the number of cyclists more generally, but a shift in its image reflected the new consumerism of the decade. Moreover, a fashion for massed-start racing, copied from the continent, began with races taking place on motor-racing circuits. As a consequence, there was a backlash amongst cycling’s traditional supporters. Underpinning this resistance was a defence of the time-trial, which reflected wider cultural anxieties within society over the impact of modernity.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series, scroll down for the details of future seminars or go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the Past and Present Room on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.

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Resto 40 Thai Granary, Stroud Green

November 12, 2018

Finsbury Park can feel a bit bleak after a few days research in Paris so it was a happy thing that I was invited to dinner by friends to a new (to me) restaurant to get over the post-trip blues.

Thai Granary (or Granary Thai) is a tardis like room. We headed up to the mezzanine inside, which is cosy and looks out on a bijou one table terrasse.

The room was not as busy as it could be on a Friday night in SG, which is a shame as the cooking was first class. A starter of spring rolls (we hadn’t specified but they’d guessed correctly that we were carnivores) crispy and meaty. And I was fortunate to get in on some summer roll action from across the table – they were even better, really fresh and aromatic.

My main was a spicy chef’s special (wish I could remember the name), and I mean spicy, and there was plenty of it. The rice alongside had a good helping of bean shoots (yum) and despite predictions to the contrary I demolished pretty much the whole lot. Helped by a couple of good, cold beers.

At 25 quid a head this was as good value as you’ll get in these parts for this quality. I’ll look forward to another Friday night outing with les Travis soon.

8/10

#Food #London

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 39 Brooklyn Pizzeria, Bastille

November 8, 2018

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Let’s put it out there straight away – Pizzeria Brooklyn is the kind of tourist trap that I would normally avoid. But with an appointment with an Opera we needed food in Bastille quick. PB delivered on that, in fact in terms of food it overdelivered.

But everywhere else it didn’t. Let’s do the food first. We got veggie antipasti up front and it was very good – a generous helping of autumny veg. The pizzas (we got the MBappé specials in honour of the great man) were excellent and massive. I now know what a pizza pie is – it’s a puff pizza with deliciously moist dough which when you pierce it with a knife let’s out a column of steam to reveal its meaty tomato guts. But I’d been walking all day and I still couldn’t finish it – we should have got one to share. House white was bland but drinkable (and cheap, it’s France after all).

The room was set up for Instagram – a pizza oven with something sloganned on it. Bits and pieces of vaguely New Yorky stuff around and a soundtrack of things I wish I didn’t know the tune to from the 1980s. And the bogs! Who would not get rajjed having to take a leak with the legend, ‘Keep calm and eat pizza’ drilling into their eyeballs?

Well, people who like to take selfies in front of food, pictures of their food (the pizzas were square (so wonderfully Instagrammable), wonky pictures of pizza ovens and selfies with pizza ovens. They love that shit. No wonder the staff had all the chaleur of a late night petrol pump attendant.

Did I say the pizza was good?

5/10

#Food #Paris

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 38 L’Aubergeade, 11th Paris

November 7, 2018

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A late arrival in Paris and we wanted to eat local. I had a hankering for Cambodian but there was none of that going on near us so we chose L’Aubergeade on the basis that it looked like a friendly. Good instincts.

It was empty when we arrived at 7 but it didn’t take us longo to realize that we were lucky to have got a table. The next time I looked round I was being handed a menu and the place was full.

The menu is nose to tail rustic French stuff. Up front James chose veal head and I chose mushrooms but what’s this? A sinister amount of egg on the mushroom meaning we had to swap plates. I have to say that eating tête de veau isn’t something I’ll do again in a hurry. The meaty bits were ok but the gluey bits were … gluey. No amount of piquant sauce could hide that fact. But if you’re an aficianado of that kind of thing I guess you’ll have booked a table already.

Main was a more conventional swordfish steak with cheese-creamed rice. That hit the spot on a cold damp autumn night. As did the Anjou red it rolled in with. But not the affogato dessert. This was a mug of whipped cream and not enough coffee.

Which was a shame as the cooking is obviously skilled and popular with the locals. I should have trusted my instincts and just rounded off with a coffee rather than indulging in the sweetness. I’d definitely go back but with a more rigorous eye for what works for my palate.

7/10

#Food #Paris

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Sport & Leisure History Seminar Autumn 2018 #4

November 3, 2018

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Monday 12th November 2018

‘Motor Sport Through a Lense, and the establishment of a Heritage visitor attraction at Silverstone’ with Professor Jean Williams

It’s a real pleasure to be one of the convenors for the British Society of Sports History sponsored Sport & Leisure History seminar series at the Insitute of Historical Research. And this term we have a diverse range of speakers and subjects to pique the interest of the historically inclined.

Our fourth seminar of the term will be given by Prof Jean Williams from the University of Wolverhampton. She’ll be talking to us about motorsport and using the rich archive at Silverstone racetrack to explore the history of British motor racing in the twentieth century.

As usual there’ll be a feast of images – I was particularly taken with the Martin Parr-esque depiction of tea in the preview that Jean was able to give me. While there will be discussion of the big beasts of Formula 1, such as James Hunt …

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… Jean will also be opening up the history of women in motorsport.

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Whether you’re a petrolhead or historically curious do come along to what promises to be an excellent talk.

This is only the one of a number of series of stimulating talks to be held at the IHR in the S&L series, scroll down for the details of future seminars or go to the IHR’s website. The talks take place in the Past and Present Room on the second floor – doors open from 17:15 and the seminar to start promptly at 17:30. I hope to see you there.

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Resto 37 Bon Vivant, Bloomsbury

October 29, 2018

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Where does one go when one’s just staggered out of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée wondering ‘What the f*** was going in that thing?’ French I guess, to keep the vibe going. Not too far either if it’s the coldest day of the year and you’ve got a stinking manflu. So we went to Bon Vivant, which has replaced a perfectly good Italian on the corner of Marchmont Street, something I’d slightly held against it when walking past previously.

But rarely does London stay still and BV does a good job of imitating a standard French bistrot. A pungently good French soup worked wonders as a starter. Despite being in the grip of  la grippe mâle. I could taste the garlic and got a good fishy slap around the chops to boot. The Viognier fared less well against such a blast of flavour, I should have picked a red. Good bread kept us going while we waited for the next round.

For main a confit duck leg was good without being to slaver for and came with death by spuds (one of The Fall’s B-sides compilations) but not by vegetables. Some frizzy lettuce made like tumbleweed across the plate before I pronged it and scoffed it. A sticky red wine sauce was excellent, as was the service.

The room was empty when we arrived at 6 on a Sunday but it soon started to fill up with mostly visitors to these shores. The music was all over the place, starting Europoppy and then moving onto to something more soporific. Except for the volume which always stayed just the wrong side of discreet. I could have done with some Georges Delerue, or indeed to keep with the Orpheé theme, some Georges Auric. And what the pre-pubescent boy at the next table made of the rather lascivious décor in the ‘powder room’ I’ve no idea but it wasn’t to my taste. The food, on the other hand, was. Next time I’ll order me own légumes.

7/10

#Food #London

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap


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