Category Archives: Street Theatre

Things to do before the end (of your life in London): The Magic of the Theatre!

theatre London

(taken from

Slightly misleading post title, I know. I mean it’s purely theoretical. I don’t have any plans to leave at any point soon. Why would I? Duh, it’s London.

There are of course push factors: lack of any family in close proximity to us, a moderate to small flat with no outdoor space, Michael Gove, David Cameron, you get the picture. But frankly, nothing’s reached tipping point yet. My son’s in a good school that The Missus and I both like, modest though our flat is, we’ve made it our own and we may not have a backyard or front yard garden, but we do have a lovely flat roof veranda that we have to struggle to climb through the window to get to adjacent to the bathroom loo. So, why would we want to move from this dreamy place?

I digress.

I’ve been to more theatre than ever this year, courtesy of a few different online and print publications that I’ve been reviewing for and I feel so privileged to be able to have done it and to keep doing it. The truth is theatre in London is nothing less than phenomenal. Though the first item on your bucket list in one of the greatest cities in the world may not be to spend two hours in a darkened room with crowded strangers, there are good reasons why it should be.

billy elliot

I usually don’t say this, but I liked the film better. A lot better. Image from

Obviously, you’ve got The West End. Word Famous. Who hasn’t, right? But it really is the overpriced tip of the iceberg. Any chump can wait in line at a kiosk in Leicester Square, part unthinkingly with 100 quid for two seats with restricted viewing to see Billy Elliot and go home happy, having gawked at Elton John’s vision of the working class in the North of England. What you’ve got to do is explore.

Pre-parenthood days, when we first moved to London, the weekend consisted of picking up the Guardian Guide in the Saturday Edition, paying £6-12 a ticket, and seeing some marvellous, or appalling theatre. Whether it was marvellous or appalling, it was always engaging, in only the way that a performance that utilises space, human voice and movement, and the deep connection between performer and audience can engage on that deep, penetrating sort of gut level. I have seen Paul McGann reach heights of magically realist redemption in a backroom space of a pub in West London in Tom Murphy’s The Gigli Concert, took a student group to see a version of The Tempest in West End that was heavy on trapeze artists but fell just short of meaningful, was genuinely touched by Samuel Beckett’s ode to Vaclav Havel, Catastrophe, failed to be moved beyond audible snoring in a dishwater-dull perfunctory attempt at Faustus in The Arcola several years ago, and recoiled in horror at a character’s eyes being gouged out of their sockets in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall as part of Serpent’s Tooth, written as a response to a production of King Lear. But my greatest, most heartfelt, and most intensely cathartic experience in London theatre was in a tiny little performance space underneath a pub in Baron’s Court, near Knightsbridge. The production was a version of Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), an immersive performance that set you up with a frame story lulling you into a false sense of safety until the actors turned everything on like a switch about 10 minutes in and from there to the end of the night it was a joyfully bleak journey to the utter depths of the human capacity for pathos.

Serpent's Tooth London Theatre Shoreditch

Possibly the best I’ve seen this year, Serpent’s Tooth (image from

Because theatre’s a risk, always. More often than not, I’ve been gripped and even when I haven’t, I’ve been provoked by what didn’t but should have gripped me. It’s a cognitive process that happens rarely for me with movies, and almost not at all with TV, probably because my most UnAmerican tendency is not watching it much.

My judgement of course could be somewhat flawed having never been much exposed to theatre when I was a kid, hailing from a small rural town in a mountainous region of District 12 and raised by wolves. My first real memory of proper theatre was a local university production of Waiting for Godot, in which the actors pronounced it Godot as opposed to what the rest of the world say, Godot (Cue Beckett’s gaunt and ghostly cyberfist shaking in indignation), beginning a lifelong obsession with Irish absurdist. But that it is the main reason why I review plays; not because it’s good practice or because it adds to my portfolio, but because I find theatre, especially here in this great metropolis, breathtakingly inspiring and that it lifts my mind off the ground nine times out of ten well after I’ve exited the foyer and am out on the street.

So if you’re in town, go to see a play. There’s nothing wrong with paying a lot to see a play in the West End (there could well be much wrong with paying through the nose to see a musical, but that’s another blog post) and you most likely won’t be disappointed by your investment, but it’s more fun, less expensive, and more of a unique experience to get out into the smaller theatres and performance spaces and see what’s out there.

Go on. It’s worth the risk.

Celebrating The Olympics: Hackney Style

This was supposed to be a rather different blog post, an in-depth and personal probing exploration into whether it is possible to separate corporate sponsorship from the purity of enjoyment of sport in the middle of 3 fenced off big screens in Victoria Park, East London. That post may come, but my material changed very suddenly today when I innocently sought to take a picture of what looked like some garishly dressed, golden-bedecked hairdressers, styling a young girl’s hair to the backdrop of thickly pumping hardcore/trance, and was very quickly with coy and at the same time grandiose gestures, invited up to experience the ‘styling’ of Osadia, a street theatre group based in Barcelona since 1996 striving to push the boundaries of interactive, street entertainment and the extent of participation and ownership in that art through their performances.

Especially in the last few years, I’ve been trying to be more confident and let my inner-American out. We are to a great extent defined by how other people react to us and how we provoke those reactions and I enjoy sometimes exceeding the expectations of the kind of American people think I am. So instead of shrinking into a corner with my plastic bottle of what will remain an unnamed Dutch beer, I decided I was game. What I was game for I didn’t realise until about 20 minutes of styling, a round of applause and a crying child who wanted to know why I had changed so much later. I will admit, along with that brazen American stepping up to the plate or stage as it were, there was wild anxiety, which got slightly wilder with each step this fascinatingly fetishistically dressed performer took, because if you want hair this good, believe me, it is a long and involved process. I thoroughly enjoyed the result though as I became a part of the continuing artwork with various Park-goers striding up to take my picture or have a picture taken with me. 
Ah, the price of celebrity. Pictures don’t lie. I felt like someone or something different. Wicker Man crossed with Puck the mischievous fairy via Ziggy Stardust. Alas, I would have loved to have kept the look for longer, but the wonderful and lamentable thing about the carnivalesque is that you can only transcend your identity and the boundaries of it for the duration of the carnival. Leave it and you become a spectacle on a Hackney street, with some awed, some cat-calling, some scoffing, and some speechless. 
That was my Olympic experience today. I saw Katie Taylor, from Bray in Ireland, the same town my wife is from, win gold in women’s boxing. And I left Victoria Park, East London, blazing loud green and pink.   

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