Posts Tagged ‘Crouch End’

The end of Marivaux

June 20, 2017

This being the first time I’ve produced a play I don’t know whether it’s a common phenomenon but I definitely feel like I have a case of post-show blues. From coming up with the idea to adapt Marivaux on a train to Paris in January to seeing the idea realised on stage in June has been an at times turbulent but always rewarding experience. And now all’s to be done is to think about how it went and come up with a new idea for the future.*


The script – and direction notes

One of the things I was concerned to do in putting the play on was to position it for a twenty-first century audience. This meant throwing out Marivaux’s finale of reconciliation and replacing it with something much angrier. I feared that perhaps I’d misread the level of anger in this country but recent political and social events would seem to suggest otherwise. Although the snap election and its result did necessitate rewrites. And a change in direction for Jeremy’s character, who went from being a simple figure of fun (for some sections of opinion) to a genuinely inspiring figure (beyond his usual constituency) not just in reality but in the way that he/she was portrayed by us on stage.


Jeremy in inspirational mode in Corbyn Island (© Emma Hare)

I certainly wasn’t the first to see the potential for a socialist reading of L’Ile des Esclaves. It was picked up in the 30s, a time when France was strikingly polarised between left and right, as representing a radical precursor to calls for social reform. But Marivaux was no socialist and definitely no revolutionary. Those on the right could take comfort from his apparent final advocacy of social hierarchy – for him a  paternalistic version of fraternity trumped equality as a means of attaining the common good.

But Alex/Cléanthis, who is the character I most drastically altered, is not content to live within Marivaux’s or Trivelin/Jeremy’s social order. I envisaged someone whose liberalism was more informed by a Thatcherite urge for individual liberty. Someone who chafed at the way in which Thatcher’s opening up of social mobility in the 80s – whether by the breaking down of the power of unions or of the opening up of professional bodies and the City to state school entrants – seems to be being increasingly closed off in our own age.


Alex has an issue with Jeremy’s pacifism (©Emma Hare)






Or at least that’s what I thought, I’m sure the audience would have taken various views of what was going on on stage. If the plot lacked clarity then that was purely my fault as a writer, I couldn’t have asked for a more committed group of actors to take on a novice’s work and turn it into a coherent show that got a lot of laughs. I only wish we’d had a couple more nights to iron out the inevitable wrinkles that crop up in the transition from rehearsal to final production.

But I’ve learnt a lot and I’m grateful to Anna, our director and to all the cast for giving up their spare time to make it happen. Now, what next …

I’m also very grateful to Emma Hare for these fantastic images from our preview. I can heartily recommend her to anyone who is looking for a professional photographer.


Eve and TC have a touching moment in the seduction scene (©Emma Hare)


TC and Inglis don’t quite see eye to eye (©Emma Hare)


Douggie doesn’t like the new ending (©Emma Hare)

*I have a couple or few.

If you’d like to read the script of Corbyn Island it can be downloaded here.

Corbyn Island – Final script

#Theatre #London

The Crouch End Players and the Comédie-Italienne

May 24, 2017

Corbyn Island with Cast 2

Artwork © Nick Kobyluch

Since translating Marivaux’s comedy L’Ile des Esclaves for the Crouch End Festival I’ve been immersing myself in the culture of the early eighteenth century in France, partly with an eye on working on something more ambitious sometime in the future but also with my mind on costumes for Corbyn Island, the updated version that’s in production with the Crouch End Players. One way I felt that I could tie the modern adaptation to the work that inspired it would be by having two of my modern characters in fancy dress that had a whiff of Baroque France about them.

Naturally my thoughts turned to the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, whose building is a little bit of France in the West End. The 18th Century French rooms I’d tended to skip through on previous visits – all that flouncy, sleazy Boucher is a bit quease-inducing even if you have the reward of the more civilised Watteau alongside.  I prefer the more sober pleasures to be had in the company of Poussin and De Hooch.

So it was a surprise to find that not only did the Wallace have plenty of canvases depicting eighteenth century French fashion it actually had a picture of our antecedents as interpreters of Marivaux, the Comédie-Italiennes.


The Italian Comedians by a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret

The painting depicts the actors in theatre dress with the stock characters Pierrot and Arlequin most obvious – each in his distinctive costume with Arlequin also masked. Arlequin appears in L’Ile des Esclaves as the slave to an Athenian aristocrat and displays all of the attributes that his audience would expect whichever production he appeared in. He’s a cheeky, rustic joker who has simple tastes – food, drink and the ladies, not necessarily in that order.

In Marivaux’s production he would have been played by Thomassin, the most famous Arlequin of his age and probably the man depicted by Lancret in the painting above. Our own Arlequin (who now goes under the name of TC, a little nod to the Assistant Coach of my football club, Ipswich Town) is played, I have to say magnificently, by Ric Lindley. He doesn’t have to perform the acrobatics that would have been expected of a seventeenth century Arlequin, nor did we direct him to adopt a ‘high-pitched voice like a parrot’ as described as being characteristic of the part by contemporary accounts.* But I think he definitely captures the earthy qualities of Arlequin, as well as his sentimentality and good-naturedness.

Lancret is one of those artists who seems to be permanently overshadowed (like de Hooch by Vermeer) by a more illustrious peer for seemingly no good reason. Watteau of course is the big name here but they had very similar backgrounds starting as apprentices under the theatre scenarist and artist Claude Gillot. For some reason Lancret seems to be treated as the apprentice to Watteau whereas in fact he was much more of a rival. So researching Lancret’s painting was a lot more difficult to do than if it had been Watteau’s. There are (justifiably) books by the yard on Watteau in the library but very little, even in French, on his fellow painter.

Lancret’s ability is shown by many canvases in the Wallace but is nowhere more apparent in London than in the marvellous Gallery A at the National. Tucked away either side of a large canvas from the studio of Boucher (isn’t that telling of Lancret’s neglect, he could probably chat to Guardi about it who has a little picture up the row) are four canvases depicting the four ages of man. Philosophical pieces describing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, they are little gems that deserve a wall of their own.

They also led me to reflect how one would depict the life cycle in the modern age. Childhood and youth separate? It hardly seems that a tot is out of nappies before it is turned into a consumer and given a screen to suck on. But then how to separate youth and maturity when middle-aged men go shopping in the supermarket in leisure wear and spend their cultural capital yarning the ins and outs of superhero franchises. So, it would seem, we go straight from youth to senility. But I digress.

True, Watteau was the pioneer of the fête galante but it was a genre that Lancret developed and proved to be a master of very quickly, as shown by the portrait of the Comédies-Italiennes. The vividness of their characters brought them into the modern age for me as I was standing in the Wallace and gave me the feeling that even if I’ve twisted and mangled Marivaux out of shape as an author, as a company we’re still communicating with these people through four centuries of theatre history and revivifying the roles that they created. It’s a tremendous credit to Ric, Sophie, Richard, Mia, Victoria, Mike, Nadia and Vic that they’ve taken this project on and given it life beyond the page. If only we had Lancret around to immortalise them.

#Theatre #London


*François Moreau, Le goût Italien dans la France tocaille: théatre, musique, peinture (Paris, PUPS: 2011), p. 40

Putting on Corbyn Island

May 11, 2017

Corbyn Island with Cast 2.jpg

A short post as a bit of promotion for Corbyn Island, my adaptation of Marivaux’s L’Ile des Esclaves, which I’ve talked about on here before. Well, previously it was just an idea and a little side project to keep me occupied while doing some long commutes (you can read about it here). Now it’s happening!

Rehearsals have started, the costumes are coming together, tech stuff is being dealt with, we have a confirmed venue and tickets are available. And take a look at that poster! My mate Nick Kobyluch has done us proud.

If you’re interested in coming go to the Crouch End Festival website. Our venue is the Great Northern Railway Tavern, fresh from a spanking refurb and serving great food and beer to the north London public. What’s more, tickets are free and you get to see my friend Gemma’s very funny Vibrantly Lieu as part of the package.

#London #Theatre #CrouchEndFestival

Resto 24 Saki, Crouch End

April 30, 2017

Opposite the now defunct Ohba Leaf Saki is maintaining a solid Japanese option in Crouch End. The elimination of its rival has obviously not harmed business for we were lucky to get a table even at around 6 o’clock. People arriving after us without a reservation were being turned away.

The menu is standard sushi/sashimi, bentos and curries but no ramen as far as I remember. Which was good as it made me try something different for a change. We took a range of appetisers to share which arrived as they were cooked. Duck dumplings were excellent – crispy and squidgy – while the octopus balls (‘When was the last time you had octopus balls?’ badinaged across the table) were okay but not especially life-enhancing. Best of the three was the squid; fluffy batter sweet and hot chilli sauce, made for not sharing, you’ll want the whole plate.

Big food was eel on rice. How I love eel! This was well cooked in a tasty sauce on sticky rice. I wish I’d got some veg to go with it but apart from that it was perfect. Asahi on the side worked fine and for about twenty quid a head this is a good option in a fiercely competitive N8 market.

#Food #London


To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap


Resto 22 Dragon, Crouch End

April 15, 2017


A Chinese restaurant isn’t the traditional venue for a Good Friday dinner I guess but when you’re in the grip of the perma-hang it’s  a good option. The last time I was in Dragon was at least twenty years ago but it’s a good sign that in a place like Crouch End it still exists. Few other restos in N8 have such staying power.

We got a mixture of starters and then a main each with some mixed vegetables. All of the starters were piping hot and cooked fresh – definitely a good sign in a genre of dining that too often (in my experience) relies on the reheat. We should have got two soft shell crabs as between four of us I was lucky to get a crabnail.

My main of sizzling Szechuan prawn arrived suitably spectacularly and had a good kick of fresh chilli. I should have had a beer but my mind said I’d had enough so we had wine. It wasn’t the best wine but it was quite cheap. In fact the whole meal came in at under 25 quid a head for plenty of food and drinks each.

The room was quiet for a Sunday evening and this is a shame when other places around here are bursting at the seams. The décor may be old-fashioned but the atmosphere was pleasantly calm, and the service was excellent. I think it won’t be two decades before I visit again. For a trad Chinese Dragon does a good job for which more ‘designed’ places in this area would charge you a premium.


#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Review #108 Bistro Aix, Crouch End

December 19, 2016

On a filthy, grey cold day of such a gloom that only London in December can provide we sought big food in bright surroundings. We found what we were looking for at Bistro Aix.

Warmth was provided by a series of food-themed pictures around the walls showing scenes of sun-baked gallic types involved in producing good stuff. The room itself was cosy in a classic bistro style with solid furniture and plenty of linen to go round. A big window gave a view out onto nippy Christmas shoppers hurrying by.

We went for a pre-theatre set menu which comes in at a very reasonable £18 for two courses (£22 from memory for three). And they’re not stingy on the options – there’s one fish, two meat and something for veggies. First up for me was a chicken liver terrine, followed by magret de canard. The terrine was smooth and rich, ideal winter food. Home made bread on the side was a nice touch. The duck was a hunk a duck and plenty of spuds and beans with the star of the plate being a thick lashing of deep-flavoured sauce that makes me slaver to think of even as I write this.

Didn’t we have wine? You’re asking me after all these reviews? You bet we did. They’ve got a big, chunky book of wine with a good selection from around France. I was tempted by a Pinot from Alsace but eventually opted for something from the South West to go with my rustic duck. It was well worth thirty quid and did its job perfectly. You can go plenty north of that on the wine front if you’ve got the budget (and the discernment) but there’s enough options around the 25 quid mark.

Service was faultless and very French. A coffee to round off and we sloped around to the Harringay Arms for soul tunes and Laphraoig. I can’t wait to go back to Aix in the New Year though and take a look at the à la carte – it’s a place worth saving for a celebration.


#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #47 La Bota, Crouch End

May 20, 2016

Argh! So not only have I been too busy to eat anywhere, I’ve been too busy to even write about the places I went to before I was too busy to eat. So La Bota is a distant memory now.

As I recall we were looking for meaty snack yums and we got them. We also got Padron Peppers (but no hint of the Russian Roulette as billed on the menu) and ice cold Mahous.

Service was prompt and the bill was reasonable.


To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #40 Ohba Leaf, Crouch End

April 24, 2016

In Crouch End for a friend’s 40th we thought it wise to lay in some ballast before the festivities began. Since the opening of the two cinemas on Tottenham Lane this end of Crouch End has been re-energised on the dining front with a myriad of (to me) new options from which to choose. A good thing.

Early Saturday evening and Ohba Leaf was already beginning to fill up, which was a good sign. As was the number of takeaways flying out the door, turnover always being desirable in the land of sushi. The menu is standard Japanese fare – sushi/sashimi/rolls ramen/teriyaki/curry. My point of comparison would be Shoryu Ramen and OLeaf easily matches their standard for food and service.

We went for a few dumplings and soft shell crab to kick off. The crab was beautifully light in a ginger sauce while the dumplings were satisfyingly sticky prawn gobbets. The main of spicy ramen wasn’t quite as spicy as I would have liked it but had a good helping of seafood and no egg. Which I guess for most people would be a problem but as I don’t like egg it was a blessing for me! A big bottle of Asahi to wash it down and I was set for a Kiwi knees up.


To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Review #9 – Mélange, Crouch End

January 26, 2016

A quick review for what was a quick but satisfying bite. Mélange has become an old standby for a steak-frites fix in North London and it’ll be something of an interesting chore to try and find somewhere as dependable for my fix in future. I took the precaution of booking well in advance for a table on a Saturday night – when we got there they were turning custom away for lack of space.

The room is a game of two halves. At the front you have the screen showing films (silently) which I find a bit distracting, although I guess it might be welcome if you have especially tedious company. At the back of the room this isn’t an issue. While busy I didn’t feel too squashed in to our table though I wouldn’t have minded a little more room. Chunky individuals might want to consider whether they want people brushing past them on their way out.

Service was bright and friendly without being exceptional (should you pour out the second glass of wine before the customer has gone through the formality of sniffing it for funkiness? Probably not). We went for calamari to share as a warm up (ample for two, good crunchy batter) and then I had a fillet steak. The steak was cooked to perfection, as were the fries on the side. With a shift of haricots verts it was just what I was looking for on a hungry Saturday night. So hungry in fact that we split a crème caramel for dessert with an Armagnac to wash it down. In an area where restaurant value can be highly variable Mélange is dependably consistent in its product at a reasonable price.


To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

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