Posts Tagged ‘Soho’

The Crouch End Festival and Alfred de Musset

June 10, 2018

As anyone who read the post on Marivaux and last year’s Crouch End Festival piece, Corbyn Island, will know in adapting pieces I like to do some half-arsed research in the milieu of how the originals came about. And in contrast to Corbyn Island the update of A Door (Should be Open or Shut) is nevertheless a period piece rather than being located in contemporary Britain. Mid-century London wasn’t too much of a stretch for the update and fortunately the background and context for Musset’s play, Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée, was less unfamiliar to me if only because I’ve been something of a Delacroix obsessive for some time.*

Where’s the connection with Delacroix? Well, of course they’re both French Romantics though working in different disciplines, but the connection is much more personal than being inspired by the same mid-nineteenth century ideas. Delacroix was a great friend of the musician Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the writer Georges Sand. And Musset was previously a lover of Sand.

It was good to hear that Paul Kildea’s new book on Chopin’s Piano is in part concerned with recovering Sand’s reputation (in popular writing that is, it’s been a task undertaken with relish by feminist academics for decades) from its traducement by followers of Chopin (and Musset, especially his brother Paul) who have trashed her literary reputation largely out of unthinking misogyny.**

So as well as reading de Musset’s work I’ve been reading Delacroix’s diaries (an ongoing project over the past few years***, Sand’s memoirs and Paul de Musset’s (very) partial biography of his brother.

Props for 'A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

Props for A Door (Should be Open or Shut)

What did I take from this reading into the new production? Our production is set in 1940s Soho and when I realised that the production of Absolute Hell  would be using pretty much the same setting, and running at the same time as us, I was rather fearful that people would think that I’d been inspired by that. But in fact I was inspired by de Musset’s own life.

De Musset himself was a drinker. A serious drinker. As in he died of it. But this aspect of his life doesn’t bleed into the literary works that he created so I decided that to make the connection with his life I’d update the play from an aristocratic salon to somewhere more modern. Since we had a pub bar as a set it seemed natural that the setting I’d update it to would be one of London’s drinking clubs of the 1930s/40s.

Although there are references to Soho stalwarts such as Francis Bacon the model I was actually thinking of wasn’t the Colony Club. Rather I had in mind Foppa’s, which appears in A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. So we’re more in 40s Fitzrovia than 50s Soho. To someone who never knew either in their prime Fitzrovia offers a rather more literary locus which looks back to the 19th Century (and de Musset) rather than forward to the late twentieth and Jeffrey Bernard. Although the female lead is an artist.

A fun part of the production has been assembling props – a 40s Woodbine astray, an old-fashioned bottle of scotch, a cigarette case and a whiff of 40s in the costume of the characters. And the cast – Anna Rogers, Matt Griffin and Ruari Johnson – have been extraordinarily successful at bringing Musset’s characters to life in a faux-Fitzrovian setting.

If you’ve read this far why not book a ticket now to see the show? You can visit the Crouch End Players website or email 

Thanks to Paul Travis for the photo of the props, and for other shots of the preview night.

#Theatre #London #crouchendfestival

* I’ve written about him before and I’m looking forward to visiting the blockbuster show of his work at the Louvre later this month.

**You can listen to an excellent podcast with Kildea here.

***i.e. the French unedited edition lies next to my bed. And has done for some time! The Phaidon edition in English is what I’d recommend if you want to read pretty much the best writer on art of the nineteenth century as well as one of its key practitioners.

Resto 23 Cinnamon, Soho

April 19, 2017


Between the library and a gig at the Wigmore we were looking for a bit of spice. Soho’s Kingly Street being on the way we took a chance on Cinnamon, which from the outside looks rather too carefully put together in the Bills/Dishoom tradition. I was wrong to have doubts.

It was early evening so the room wasn’t too busy but it soon filled up with mostly local workers and a smattering of tourists. The menu promised classic Indian dishes with a twist (eff). But my eye was immediately drawn to the drinks – £4.80 for a pint of Stella in this part of town is a definite draw! We got stuck in to that while selecting the food.

We shared a plate of lamb shami kebab to kick off – four balls of good stuff with a couple of sauces went down a treat. For main I had an ox cheek vindaloo with masala mash and a dhal to share. The ox cheek vindaloo was a star turn – a good helping of crumbly cheek in a seriously spicy sauce. The masala mash was rather blown away by it and felt a bit unnecessary. I would have preferred a bit more thickness to the dhal but it also had a seriously deep flavour. With an excellent naan to scrape up the juices I demolished the whole lot and wanted more.

The service was excellent throughout and I was completely won over from my initial scepticism. Cinnamon delivers a superior experience to Dishoom at a better price on the same street. And who wouldn’t be happy with that?


#Food #London #Soho

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

Review #80 Aurora, Soho

September 21, 2016

Spilled out of a mundanathon of academic training I was in the mood for a good lunch that wouldn’t break the bank. Aurora I’d visited some time ago and thought it might be worth a punt on this occasion – the punt came off.

Lexington Street is not easily located for the occasionally confused and so we did a fair amount of circling on our way there. Which was fine as it just added an edge of hunger to the party and ensured that starters were a must. Which thing was a warm mackerel on some celeriac and shit. Very good. Mustard in there. Gobbled.

Then what? Umm … yeah, seafood dish of the day. Linguine with creatures of the deep. On spotting my bowl of chilli seasoned sea-things a diner at another table (one of a handful, the quality of the food merits a busier room even on a Wednesday lunchtime) enquired what was in it. The waitress retired to the kitchen to find out but surely the right approach is to have a look for yourself? Either you like that stuff or you don’t? Or maybe you should test yourself on cockles, winkles, razor clams? Well, this had cockles, octopodi and wee prawn with its bigger sibling the big prawn. And that was very good too. Gobbled that.

Ah, but the wine the wine. The wine, a Picpoul, was warm. And though it was stuck in an ice bucket the first taste, which should be crisp, was not so crisp as it ought to have been. Which is a shame.

Communication between chef and staff was by the means of bellows of your cooking guy from the bowels of the resto, whose room (I must not forget) is very well shabbed. Eighteenth century walls, floors, stairs and bread oven giving a feeling of old Soho. We had coffee and left.

I liked it.

7/10 (would have been 8 if the wine had been cold)

To see where else I’ve eaten in 2016 go to the GoogleMap here

Review #1 Wright Bros. Soho

January 4, 2016

Parched of mouth and with a stomach groaning from two weeks of consuming random booze, sequential roast dinners and party snacks January was crying out for a change of gear in the culinary department. What better for a fresh start in 2016 than a visit to Wright Brothers, who specialise in fresh fish and seafood with the odd burger tossed onto the menu to satisfy the carnivores.

WB have several branches dotted around London but the only other one I’ve visited is in Spitalfields. In my experience the service and food have been equally good in either location and so I would assume (unless you’re out of luck and get a stinker) that whatever I experienced this week would be roughly what you’d get in one of the other branches on any given day.

One of the advantages of WB Soho or Spitalfields is that you can have that rare London experience of al fresco dining without the delicious tang of Volkswagen’s diesel fragrance. Both have an entrance on the street (in the case of Soho, Kingly Street) with tables out back in a courtyard. The crowd on the 2nd was a smattering of workers/London loafers with a whole slew of bargain-hunters and tourists fresh from the very bowels of Carnaby Street, clutching the spoils of bore. But a genial atmosphere nonetheless.

To the food. Oysters first up; arriving on a bed of ice with a selection of sauces and relish I despatched them without mercy. Absolute yum, I could feel the zinc working its magic while I waited for the baked cod.* On the side some good bread (so important) and a bottle of decently-priced Viognier, the cod was simply well-cooked with very good veg (kale, samphire and celeriac purée). All very satisfying even if I could have done with a few chips or their like without paying a supplementary fiver.

Service was exemplary and though the bill was a little north of what I was thinking of paying for lunch that day I couldn’t say that I hadn’t got value for money. Although for the same price you could probably get something a bit more elaborate in a more atmospheric room at Bentley’s down the road, Wright’s beats Fishworks in the same neighbourhood hands down for ambience, food and service.


* While I chewed on their squishy interiors I mused on how much price inflation has affected the oyster. What was once a working class staple, gobbled whole with the shell tossed into the sticky brown Thames has now become the preserve of mid- to top-end restaurants and thus unfamiliar to a sizeable chunk of the populace. But this is a review, not an article for Past and Present so I’ll leave it someone else to do a socio-economic study of the oyster through London’s history.

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

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