Saturday, 19 September 2015

Maggie's Culture Crawl 2015

On Friday 18 September my Mum and I headed to Paternoster Square, under the shadow of St Paul’s, to start Maggie’s Culture Crawl 2015. We did the walk last year and loved it, so were keen to walk the 15 miles to support Maggie’s Cancer Centres once again.  It’s not just a 15 mile walk, you also visit some amazing cultural stops along the way and this year they were lit up under the theme #litupformaggies.

So once we’d collected our t-shirts, tattooed our faces (with some success) and done some stretches we were on our way! Last year the first stop came quite quickly into the walk but this year we had a little further to go which was good as you walked for a long time in one large group along the Thames, annoying a few joggers on the way.


First stop was the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, after we’d had a nose through the gates at 10 Downing Street of course. We walked through the stunning entrance and along lush carpeted corridors to an impressive hall where there was to be a performance from the Royal Ballet. This was a specially curated piece for Maggie’s called “She Remembers”. I’ve never seen a full ballet performance but after this I would love to. It was completely stunning and mesmerising and as it finished both my Mum and I were trying, and failing, to hold back our tears. It’s especially moving seeing something so beautiful with such evocative music and reading the messages on the backs of fellow walkers t-shirts, showing who they are walking Maggie’s for.



After this emotionally draining performance we welcomed the next leg of the walk along the river to Chelsea Physic Garden. What lay in store for the walkers here was not a surprise to me as I work at the Garden. But still entering the Garden through the Embankment Gates, which are rarely used as an entrance, into an almost pitch-black Garden was quite magical.



The light installation in the Garden was stunning, white paper cranes suspended from a tree with simple white lights shining on them. Written underneath this was a moving story about a young girl who developed Leukaemia 10 years after the atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, just 1 mile from her home. She created 1,300 paper cranes after her father told her the Japanese legend that if you fold 1000 paper cranes you would be granted a wish, but tragically she died aged 12. We were almost moved to tears again as we read her story.
There was herbal tea at the Garden, which was welcome refreshment at this stage of the walk, mile 5 of 15.




Next we walked over the beautiful Albert Bridge and headed to the Foster + Partners Studio. Foster + Partners have designed the Maggie’s Centre in Manchester so it was fascinating to see their architectural models as well as the other various projects adorning the walls. I walk past the offices on my way to work so it was a treat to again be allowed inside again this year, and see the different projects on display. The crisps and juice were also welcome to provide an energy boost for the next leg of the walk.


A walk through Chelsea led us to Brompton Cemetery. We’ve always wanted to go so it was fascinating to visit in the dark. A bit creepy, but luckily there were still quite a few people walking together at this stage of the walk. We went to the Chapel and watched a film about an artist with cancer discuss his work and the impact of cancer on his life. His thought provoking comments on life and death were incredibly moving, particularly given our surroundings. Again we were moved and wondered if in fact it would be our emotional energy that would run out before our legs got tired!  
A packet of seeds gave us another energy boost and we walked the next leg of the walk to Maggie’s West London.




As the walk is raising money for Maggie’s Cancer Centres it is fantastic to visit a Maggie’s Centre at Charing Cross Hospital to see first hand what they are like and what they offer people with cancer. Their slogan “People with cancer need places like these” comes alive as you step through the door, making me even more determined to do as much as I can to raise money to support their work. We sat and wrote on leaves our wishes for the people we know who are fighting cancer, and then hung these on a wish tree. Reading other people’s messages was an emotional experience and on leaving Maggie’s, filled with tea, we know that we’re supporting an incredible charity.


It was quite a long walk next as we made our way to the V&A Museum, so a Heatherwick bus with caramel wafers was a treat, although I’ll give the coconut water a miss next time. I’m a big fan of the V&A so it was a treat to be allowed inside the museum in the middle of the night. We had another cup of tea and while Mum had an apple, I had a muffin. The Western Cast Court was open and there was a meditative atmosphere as at this stage of the walk the groups were quite spaced out.  As much as I wanted to go exploring one of my favourite museums further, we still had about 4 miles to go so it was back to the pavement to continue our walk!


We started to feel the tiredness hit at this point, a 15 miles walk is quite a long way, let alone doing it through the night. It was about 12.45am at this point so we were starting to get tired, which did make us slightly hysterical. I also realised I had a really sore throat as well as slightly stiff legs, we had been talking non-stop for about 10 hours at this point though…

It was into Hyde Park next and a visit to the Serpentine Pavilion, which we’d both wanted to go to, so again it was a complete treat to go in the middle of the night. I also think it was impressive because it was dark, not sure how impressed I’d have been in daylight as thought it would be more of a maze inside.





We started to get excited as the end approached, just one more stop before we reached the finish line! It was another treat as we went to The Keeper’s House at the Royal Academy of Arts where there was an exhibition of artwork by an artist in residence at Maggie’s Centres. The artist was there so it was interesting to hear what he had to say about his work, I’m glad he announced himself so that we didn’t embarrass ourselves with any comments about the work! However the sketches wonderfully captured the various activities that take place at Maggie’s.



Now it was the final mile, mile 15! It was about 2.30am at this point and I wouldn’t choose to walk through Leicester Square at this time of night on a good day, let alone when we were starting to hobble slightly. But we got through the crowds of drunken revellers being kicked out of the clubs and made it to the tranquillity of Covent Garden. The installation of balloons looked stunning and as we turned the final corner we were encouraged to pick an apple suspended above us and given our medals. A toast with a glass of prosecco was the perfect end to an inspirational, emotional and just brilliant night with my Mum.




We’re still collecting sponsorship so if you’d like to donate to Maggie’s Centres and support the amazing work they do please click here, thank you! And thank you to all our generous family and friends who have donated already.



Monday, 20 July 2015

My Latitude 2015 Diary


As soon as I heard that Portishead were headlining at Latitude Festival this summer I knew I had to go, they're one of the last bands on my list of artists I really want to see! So on Thursday 16 July my boyfriend and I headed to Victoria Coach Station to catch the National Express to the festival. 9 hours later we arrived, 9 hours from London to Suffolk and 4 of those hours pretty much at a standstill! I know there's alot of people arriving at once but surely something could have been done. We were due to arrive at 3pm, but didn’t get there till 9pm so I missed the National Theatre Live screening of Everyman I had my eye on! Although we did make some friends on the bus, we were starting to think it was some kind of Big Brother experiment. 

Arriving as dusk falls is quite magical (possibly more so if you have not just spent 9 hours on a coach) particularly as Latitude is one of the most magical places in the world! We had also splashed out on the “glamping” option and it was worth every penny, didn’t fancy roughing it for 4 days although as it was so dry and dusty we still seemed to feel filthy most of the time! Tea and coffee every morning and showers with relatively short queues were a luxury.

The view from our home for the weekend
As we had missed most of Thursday night’s programme I was interested in, we went for a wander around the site. As we were approaching the Obelisk arena a firework display suddenly began, it was a stunning display! One of the best I’ve seen made all the more special as it was a complete surprise. We then continued to explore the site, as much of the festival is set within woods it does feel enchanting and there is so much to see it’s hard to drag yourself away.



Magical woods
Friday

Friday morning arrived after a bad nights sleep, a group of friends felt the need to loudly discuss crisps until the early hours! First on the bill for Friday was a talk from the V&A about their blockbuster exhibition Savage Beauty. I’ve been to the exhibition and so was intrigued to hear more about it, and I wasn’t the only one! A packed tent of avid listeners, and perhaps some bored partners (sorry Rob), absorbed all the detail about the exhibition and the insights into Alexander McQueen’s life and work.
Next up we headed to the Obelisk arena to hear Summer Camp, perfect sunny afternoon cheery pop! Nothing breath-taking, but a nice start to the afternoon. Then it was over to the 6Music Stage for The Districts with their infectious energy!

Up next was something a bit different, I went to Latitude in 2010 and don’t think I fully took advantage of the theatre programme so when I saw that theatre company Made in China were there I made a note to try and find them! I’d seen Made in China perform while I was working at Battersea Arts Centre in a show called 'Gym Party'. 
'Tonight I’m Gonna be the New Me' couldn’t have been more different, while retaining the uniqueness of a Made in China performance. We were slightly late (it’s hard to find a theatre in the woods) so snuck in to see Jess manically dancing, this then broke to her ragged breathing as she regained her breath the monologue began. It was at times hilarious, then suddenly very haunting and by the end I was close to tears. Hard to believe I was still in the woods in Suffolk!


After the intense performance from Made in China we needed some light relief so it was off to the comedy tent for quite possibly the best stand up performance I’ve ever seen. Russell Kane was absolutely brilliant, I genuinely couldn’t breath at times as I was laughing so much. Next up was Jon Richardson, unfortunately I missed a bit as I was stuck in the queue at the bar (a theme of the weekend as the bar staff were slightly clueless for the first couple of days), he was great too although not quite as hilarious as Russell Kane who left a lot to live up to!

During the day I tweeted Public Service Broadcasting to ask them to play Lit Up during their set that night, unfortunately they said it hadn’t been rehearsed but I still looked forward to seeing them perform again (having last seen them at the BFI the previous week!).  It was a great set as usual – the only flaw being that the screens showing the archive footage were a bit too small to see! Django Django were up next on the BBC 6 Music stage, and with a couple of ciders in me I was looking forward to a dance! They didn’t disappoint and are one of my highlights of the weekend.

We were a bit torn next, Alt-J were playing the Obelisk Arena and on the 6 Music Stage was Jon Hopkins who I was intrigued to see. As we’ve seen Alt-J play before we decided to see a bit of their set and then run over to hear Jon Hopkins, a perk of Latitude’s size is that this is relatively do-able! We then ended up back at Alt-J as Jon Hopkins live is very different to Jon Hopkins on Spotify! 





Saturday

Tom Robinson and Band were on at 12 on Saturday morning, unfortunately we were a bit too sleepy to make it but we did get to the comedy tent for 1pm to see Rob Delaney. I know him from his Channel 4 show Catastrophe but have never seen him do stand-up before. Although a funny set at times it felt he was being crude to get a reaction rather than because it’s funny.

Then it was time to pick up some overpriced lunch and listen to Badly Drawn Boy or as Rob renamed him Blandly Drawn Boy. Don’t think I need to say much more about that!  We lay out on the grass for the next artist, the perfect sunny afternoon companion – Jose Gonzalez (remember the ad with the balls bouncing down a hill?)

Lianne La Havas was the next artist we wanted to see, and she completely nailed it. Flawless vocals and so much style that if you didn’t feel a bit scruffy already you certainly did after watching her! A lovely mix of old and new songs, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand.

At this point my excitement was building, only a matter of hours until Portishead took to the stage but before that it was James Blake. Rob and I watched his set at Glastonbury on TV last year and loved it so were looking forward to his Latitude performance. It was good, but wasn’t quite as exceptional as I’d hoped. I’m not entirely sure why but the bass was so loud my hair was shaking (call me an old woman but I don’t like it when it’s that loud, drowning out any melody) and I wasn’t so keen on some of his newer material.

I was a bit wary now that Portishead might disappoint me but I needn’t have worried at all. I’m not going to say how many times their set moved me to tears, but it was more than once.  I’ve wanted to see them for years and couldn’t believe I was really there. Their set was as close to perfection as you can get, Beth’s vocals enchanted the crowd and her iconic swagger was perfection. Often low lights on stage with amazing effects on the stage and visuals behind added to the atmosphere. Even Rob who is not particularly a fan was impressed by their performance.



During the set it suddenly turned into a protest against the Tory government as during their performance of Machine Gun a terrifyingly large image of David Cameron’s head appeared with laser blue eyes staring into the crowd followed by the slogan ‘Stop Tory Cuts’, whatever your political persuasion this was a bold statement and the crowd reaction acknowledged this.

The most talked about moment is probably when Thom Yorke wandered on stage to join the band for The Rip, no announcement just suddenly that iconic voice I’ve heard on so many amazing Radiohead tracks and the whisperings of everyone around going “That’s Thom Yorke”. I could write for ages about Portishead’s set, but I’ll leave it at this, they are quite possibly the best live band I’ve seen, ever.

After Portishead we rushed over to the Poetry tent to try and get in to see John Cooper Clarke but it was already overflowing and after standing outside for about 10 minutes and being pushed and shoved around so much it just wasn’t fun. Next on our adventure was the realisation that Thom Yorke was doing a surprise set in the woods. We rushed over along with the rest of the festival but were met with a dust filled woods and angry people trying to jump fences … so decided this wasn’t worth it either. A bit disgruntled we headed back to get some chips, as we walked past the Poetry tent Rob was wondering if John Cooper Clarke was still around before we realised that he was standing right by us, Rob shock his hand and our disappointing half an hour was forgotten!



Sunday

All too quickly the final day arrived, the Last Leg were on but at 11am and after a late night the night before we didn’t make it! So we got ourselves to the Comedy tent in time for Romesh Ranganathan, very funny particularly when asking a 17 year old boy what his favourite breakfast cereal is and he replies ‘granola’ – very Latitude!

Kindness were next on the bill for us, I love their song This is Not About Us which they didn’t play. But their set was amazingly fun, they all looked like they were having the time of their life! We then grabbed some lunch and headed over to see the Boomtown Rats, neither of us making the connection that their frontman is Bob Geldof, which explained the huge crowds at the Obelisk Arena. He really is a great frontman, completely mad and had the whole crowd transfixed!

Perhaps one of our mutual highlights of the weekend was Seasick Steve, with the sun blazing down on us we pretended we were in the deep South of America and as Rob said, he is just so cool.   We then headed to the iArena to see Jack Garratt, I didn’t know any of his stuff but it was great, a less well known James Blake who still seems really fresh before the commercial music world takes over. Then it was a dash over to hear the rest of La Roux’s set, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to see her but it was actually brilliant, really fun atmosphere and a good kick start to the last night!

Headliners for Sunday night at the Obelisk Arena were the Manic Street Preachers and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds but we decided to go and see SBTRKT instead. Although we did hear a few songs from each, SBTRKT stole our attention. An amazing way to top off an incredible weekend, dancing around and having an amazing time!




Latitude is a fantastic festival, a cultural feast of a weekend with too much to see to possibly feel like you’ve taken full advantage of everything that is going on. And to top it off we had sunshine EVERY DAY!! Despite wearing factor 50 all weekend I now have a tan for the first time in my life. Now I just need to find a cure for those post-festival blues. 




Saturday, 20 September 2014

Lord of the Dance - Dangerous Games

On Thursday evening I excitedly headed to the London Palladium to see Lord of the Dance Dangerous Games. To give my excitement some background I spent a few years of my childhood learning Irish Dance and competed in a couple of Feis. I also saw Lord of the Dance at Wembley and met the man himself, and apparently I’ve seen Riverdance although was too young to remember.  I’ll be going back to see Riverdance this December.

So when I heard that a new Lord of the Dance show was coming to London I couldn’t wait to see it. However, and it really upsets me to say it, I just didn’t enjoy the show. It felt slightly cheap, gimmicky and too provocative than is actually necessary.

Moments in the show where the dancers were all in unison and wearing more traditional costumes were fantastic. Unfortunately these moments were overshadowed by gimmicks that felt unnecessary. The set itself was very, in a word, naff.  It was made up of a large screen at the back, which showed various mystical, futuristic scenes. While I understand the idea it just didn’t come across well. The colour of the stage floor itself was a beige/white colour and this made the whole set appear slightly amateur, particularly for audience members sitting in the circle (as I was). The costumes themselves also felt amateur, with a couple of noticeable mishaps in the show. All of these together just made the show feel a bit unpolished.

I hate to be so disappointed with the show but just as I tried to like it, something else took place that just put me off. At one moment all the girls were dancing in dresses, beautiful soft shoe dances. However suddenly the music changed and they stripped into just a bra and pants, to leering comments from men behind me. I wouldn’t say I’m a prude but sexing the show up like this was just completely unnecessary and also I felt quite sexist. While the men were shirtless in the second half they were never presented in such a provocative, and cheap, way. There was a big divide between men and women in this show which I don't think is necessary in 2014. 

The idea of the show is a fight between good and evil, over who will be crowned the Lord of the Dance. The narrative was lost at times, and it tended to loose its way. I felt quite uncomfortable at one point when the robotic evil characters were marching with the iconic Michael Flatley arm pose, it was slightly too reminiscent of another recognisable march for comfort.

Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud was also in the show, singing a few power ballads. Although her voice surprised me (I hadn’t expected her to be so good) it again just felt a bit gimmicky and didn’t really add anything to the show. Although it did work well when she sang with male dancers in hard shoes accompanying her.  There were also two violinists who performed a few times, although obviously talented I hated the false grins and tiny tight dresses that took away from the music. All the other music in the show was pre-recorded. When there is a pit in the theatre it seems such a shame not to have a live band, that would have made a big difference to the show. 

Just to put the cherry on the cake of a somewhat disappointing evening, a large group of teenage tourists were sitting behind us and, without sounding too much like an old woman, were so badly behaved! Talking all the way through, kicking the backs of our seats, jeering at the stage. I lost my nerve in the end and asked them to be quiet. Come interval time we moved to the other side and the usher did say they had expected them to be trouble. To the credit of the Palladium they did deal with it well although overhearing the amount of complaints I think that the group should have been asked to leave.  I think that the issue of tourists seeing shows to tick it off their “to do in London” list needs to be addressed, as a few shows I’ve seen have been spoilt by audience members who don’t really want to be there. But that’s worth a whole other post!

Michael Flatley doesn’t appear until the end of the show, and it was exciting to see him perform. Despite his success his arrogance felt a little too prominent, particularly when we thought the show had ended and then we had to watch three holograms of Michael dancing with himself – and then another encore performance with the dancers. To be completely honest at that point we’d just had enough.


I really wish I’d liked the show, it had potential but it felt like money wasted on gimmicks could have been used to make a really refined performance. Moments that caused the audience to go wild were when all the dancers were in unison with their hard shoes. The surrounding gimmicks weren’t really necessary. Sorry Michael, but I left feeling really quite disappointed. Let’s hope my ticket to see Riverdance in December doesn’t leave such an impression.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Brief Encounter Screening at the Southbank Centre

One of my favourite films is Brief Encounter. this 1945 David Lean classic is just perfection! Celia Johnson plays Laura, a married women who meets Alec in a now iconic 'meet cute'. Laura gets something in her eye and asks for a glass of water in a station waiting room. Luckily Alec, a Doctor, is standing close by and comes to her rescue. This is the start of a dangerous and emotional love affair and the ending of the film breaks my heart every time.

So, it was with ridiculous levels of excitement that I saw the Southbank Centre was presenting Brief Encounter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Another element of the film I love is that the music throughout the film is all extracts from Rachmaninov's Piano Concert No. 2 in C minor Op. 18. So the idea of the film and live orchestra was too much to resist!



On entering the Southbank Centre we discovered that there was a pianist playing Noel Coward songs, it was a shame this was not mentioned to ticket holders as my Mum and I would have arrived earlier had we known.

An extra thrill on the night before the screening began was an introduction from Celia Johnson's daughter, Lucy Fleming. It was a treat to hear stories from the set, and I felt honoured to be hearing her speak about her mother. I was already emotional and the film hadn't even started yet.

Firstly the orchestra played the concerto in it's entirety with Leon McCawley on the piano. Then came the film and the orchestra! Although I love the film I have to admit I expected the orchestra to be more present, it may be the acoustics of the hall but it just wasn't as prominant as I had hoped. It wasn't that different from watching the film in a cinema, unfortunately. Another thing I didn't like was other audience members finding parts of the film hysterically funny, moments that aren't funny except from the fact that the film is obviously very dated - having been made in 1945.

All in all the night was great, and I do wish I had dressed up in 1940s clothes as many had! As I left my Mum and I decided to have the cocktail suggested in the programme notes. A cocktail that was publicised as being specially created to accompany this screening. However after asking many members of staff, noone knew about it! Although the staff were all lovely it did leave a slightly anti-climatic feel to an otherwise wonderful evening.