Month: April 2016

King Lear

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

29/04/16

Michael Buffong’s King Lear is a tour de force: gimmick-free yet undeniably modern, a fast-paced production that manages, like all the best Shakespeare, to be at once timeless and of its time.

Don Warrington is the eponymous old man, a case-study in futile bluster, self-destructing in his anger at the ravages of old age. I like the way his impotence is emphasised here: he’s never a magnificent, raging tyrant, just an old man who commands deference only as long as he wears his crown. Pepter Lunkuse’s Cordelia is also a revelation: for the first time, I see why she is Lear’s favourite. She’s as stubborn and destructive as he is, as incapable of compromise. She’s neither sweet nor resolute in this production: she’s a headstrong teenager, with the moral certitude only youth or extreme religion can provide. I love the way her lip curls at her sisters; she’s self-righteous and scathing, a Cordelia for the modern age (maybe this is how she was always meant to be?).

It’s a grim play, one of the Bard’s bleakest, and the comic relief from the Fool (Miltos Yerolemou) and Oswald (Thomas Coombes) is most welcome. They’re witty and engaging, pushing just far enough to undercut the tension and provide those all-important shades of light and dark. While we’re on the subject of grim, the notorious blinding scene is played for horror here; there’s nothing subtle in an eye gouging that results in “vile jelly” flying out across the stage into the audience. It’s so shocking there are gasps and groans – and that’s exactly as it should be, I think.

The storm scene is perhaps a little undermined by the fact that the Exchange’s new water-feature has been enthusiastically showcased in almost all recent productions, so what should be astonishing is more, “Oh, this again.” Still, it’s effective – the lightning strikes, the thunder claps and everyone is drenched.

Lear is a dense and complex play; there’s too much of it to cover in one shortish review. Suffice to say, I loved this production: a pacy, confident interpretation that trusts Shakespeare’s words to do their magic.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Watson’s Bistro

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17/04/06

Chapel Street, Conwy, North Wales

The charming coastal town of Conwy is a picturesque place what with the castle, the harbour and the beach. On a sunny Sunday afternoon in April, it also turned out to be a great place for lunch. Watson’s Bistro is tucked away off the main drag, right next to a stretch of the old town walls and it’s well worth seeking out. Step inside and you’ll find a delightful family-owned restaurant, a Diner’s Choice winner in 2015. There are four of us to dine and after some perusal of the menu, we decide to eschew starters and go for two courses at a very reasonable £16.95. Some fresh bread is provided with a saucer of dipping oil, which makes for a pleasant palette cleanser, but we’ve barely finished eating that when the main courses arrive.

I have the 24 hour cooked shin of beef, served with creamy mashed potato and an ‘unctuous’ gravy. I can’t help feeling that the word ‘unctuous’ is an odd one, meaning as it does, oily and insincere, whereas this gravy is quite the opposite, rich and satisfying. Being of a cheeky persuasion, I also ask if I can sample the home made Yorkshire pudding that is really supposed to come only with the roast beef, and happily, the answer is ‘yes.’ A word about that shin beef – it is of the ‘pulled’ variety, full of flavour and melt-in-the mouth tender. Add a swirl of that ‘unctuous gravy’ and you have heaven on a plate. Susan’s roast beef is also deliciously tender and backed up with crispy roast potatoes and a flavoursome thyme jus. One of our companions has the slow roast shoulder of Welsh lamb with a minted port wine sauce and that too is spot on. The Yorkshire puds are light and very dry in texture – I like them, Susan is rather less keen. The meals are accompanied by a dish of perfectly cooked vegetables – boiled potatoes, carrots, broccoli and (a nice touch, I think) tempura cauliflower florets. This is all pretty much note perfect and the generous portions mean that we’re glad we skipped the starters.

Puddings can sometimes be so-so in these places but happily, not so here. Three of our company opt for the pear and toffee crumble, which manages to be moist and crunchy and sticky, all at the same time. I have an orange sponge pudding with chocolate ice cream, the pudding moist and sticky with orange sauce, the ice cream bursting flavour. Mmm. It’s not considered polite to lick your plate clean afterwards, but sometimes these things just cannot be resisted.

A glance at the evening specials and the a la carte menu seem to offer endless possibilities for further investigation, but sadly we’re not close enough to Conwy to make this a regular haunt, which is a pity. This is one of the best Sunday lunches I’ve ever had. If you’re in the area, you’ve no excuse, get down there and enjoy!

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Pokusevski’s

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16/04/16

Shaw Road, Heaton Moor

Finding the right place for a leisurely Saturday afternoon lunch, isn’t always easy – especially when you’re meeting up with a couple of old friends who are bringing along their first baby in order to introduce him to you. Pokusevki’s has been on Shaw Road for many years, but it was previously an upmarket delicatessen with a couple of indoor tables and a few more out in a (rather nice) walled garden at the back. But recently it’s undergone a transformation; the indoor dining space has been extended into what was previously the garden and the result is a charming, bustling interior that no longer has to bow to the vagaries of the English weather. Background music is kept discrete enough so that conversation can flow without the need to bellow over the top of it – exactly what we needed. (There’s also a new Pokusevki’s at Media City. Do be careful when making a booking to ensure that you’re talking to the right establishment, something that we spectacularly failed to do. Luckily, they managed to fit us in anyway!)

We took our seats and perused the lunchtime menu. The staff were relaxed and helpful – when a highchair was requested for the smallest diner it was promptly provided. The soup of the day was pumpkin so we all chose a bowl of that and a toasted sandwich apiece, each of which can be supplied on white bread, wholemeal bread or focaccia. The food arrived quickly and when it came, it was piping hot and nicely done. All right, soup and a sandwich isn’t the toughest meal to prepare, but it’s amazing how often places can get it wrong. This however was wonderful. The soup was thick and wholesome, deliciously seasoned and satisfying. My club sandwich was generously loaded with chicken, bacon, rocket and mature cheddar, while Susan’s goat cheese sandwich featured caramelised onion, tomato and rocket. A side order of chips was just the ticket, crispy and salty and exactly what was needed.

We had coffees to follow and the bill came to around £15 per head. Mission accomplished. While we there, we couldn’t help noticing the long list of tapas-style dishes and main courses available later in the day, so we resolved to return at some point for further investigation.

But for what we needed today, this would be hard to beat.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

The Chairs

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15/04/16

The Lowry, Salford Quays

Ionescu’s The Chairs is an absurdist play, depicting the claustrophobic relationship between an Old Man and an Old Woman, excitedly preparing for the arrival of an orator. They have invited ‘everybody’ to hear the Old Man’s discovery, but the guests, when they arrive, are all invisible, and we, the audience, do not know if they are real. This, it seems, is a post-apocalyptic world, and the Old Man and the Old Woman might just be the sole survivors.

It’s an interesting premise, and the translation (by Martin Crimp) is beautifully done. The set is charming too: a dilapidated, shonky-looking research station, which reminds me, oddly, of 1980s kids’ TV. It works, creating that other-wordly vibe that the piece needs; it’s unsettling and strange.

Extant is a performing arts company of visually impaired people, and their production has some excellent features. I loved the audio recordings of stage directions, spoken by the actors, describing what they were doing as they did it. It worked: not only was it a means of “integrating access for visually impaired audience members” (director Maria Oshodi), it also added to the surreal nature of the piece.

The stand-out moment is the chair-setting scene, which sees the Old Woman bringing out chair after chair, each one more damaged than the last, until, in the end, she produces a single broken leg. The frenzied tension developed in this sequence is mesmerizing – and very funny too.

The acting is good, with Heather Gilmore (Old Woman) clearly reveling in the comedy, while Tim Gebbels (Old Man) has a calmer, more serious presence. The relationship between the two is convincing, and the dynamic is strong. Their blindness adds an extra dimension to the play: the guests’ invisibility imbued with new layers of meaning, as the whole notion of ‘what we can see’ is given prominence.

If there’s a problem with this piece, it’s that it’s all a bit one-note. It feels long and quite repetitive; the mood never really shifts. The truth is, it’s too similar to the more familiar (and slightly later) Endgame – and it’s not as good. Ionescu got there first, but Beckett did it best.

3.2 stars

Susan Singfield

Victoria

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13/04/16

Victoria (Laia Costa) is a young Spanish woman, living and working in Berlin. We first encounter her dancing by herself at a nightclub and it’s there that she first meets Sonne (Frederick Lau) and falls for his boisterous chat-up lines. She’s supposed to go and open up the cafe where she works, but instead falls in with Sonne and his friends, Boxer, (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burat Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) and agrees to go with them to visit a favourite hangout of theirs. As the night progresses, it’s clear that Victoria and Sonne are falling for each other – but when Boxer enlists Victoria’s help to drive a car for him, so he can do a friend ‘a favour’, the mood quickly switches into thriller mode and it becomes apparent that this is not going to end well for anyone involved…

As you may have heard, the ‘gimmick’ with writer/director Sebastian Schipper’s film is that it’s shot in one continuous take, which is of course, a monumental undertaking in itself. (Innarutu’s recent hit Birdman gave the impression of being shot in this way, but he managed to sneak in a few clever edits. This, however, is the real McCoy.) Schipper and his cast and crew manage to achieve their goal with such verve and brilliance, that you feel like applauding their ingenuity. (Apparently they could only afford three attempts to get everything right and the third take is the one they used).

But don’t go thinking that a gimmick is all that this film has to offer. There’s more. Much more. As the story progresses and Victoria and her new-found pals fall deeper and deeper into the brown stuff, Schipper expertly racks up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. This is gripping, nerve-shredding stuff that will keep you on the edge of your seat right up until the brilliant conclusion.

An unqualified triumph. Don’t miss it.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

An Evening with Jo Caulfield & Friends

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12/04/16

The Stand, Edinburgh

We missed Jo Caulfield at this year’s Ed Fringe, so here’s a golden opportunity to rectify the situation. It’s an unusual gig – she’s recording her stand up set for a new CD, Disappointed With You; and also an episode of the podcast gameshow The Good , The Bad and the Unexpected.’ The UK’s most iconic venue is packed with eager punters, ready for a good laugh, which is pretty much what they get tonight.

After a brief good-natured warm up from another Jo entirely – Jo Jo Sutherland, on comes Ms Caulfield, clearly in a mood to take no prisoners. A luckless Australian visitor, picked out in the intro session, is bluntly told that his country is of ‘no interest at all.’ ‘I’ve looked into it,’ she adds, ‘but… no, nothing.’ She then proceeds to take on a whole series of scattershot targets, knocking each one down with glee, revelling in the cantankerous middle class persona she habitually adopts. Subjects range from indecisive shoppers in queues, buying a fitted kitchen and the over friendly staff in Marks and Spencers – not the most promising list of subjects, I’ll grant you and yet, her world-weary, bitchy demeanour manages to extract the maximum amount of laughter from each subject. Her occasional potty-mouthed utterances are delivered with perfect timing and one childhood memory concerning being disciplined by her Irish Catholic father results in a punchline so shocking, we feel guilty even as we laugh out loud. She finishes by thanking us for laughing ‘for the recording’ but it was ridiculously easy. She’s a funny woman and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t see more of her on TV.

Next up, Jo introduces a short set by a young newcomer, Tony Sloan, looking like a chunkier Rick Moranis. He expertly plays the persona of the helpless loser, still living with his mother (‘It’s OK, she has the top bunk!’) and looking for romance – (‘You know what Tony is, backwards? Y-not?’)  One or two of his more obvious puns draw audible groans from the crowd, but there’s an interesting idea to be developed here and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him in the future.

After a short interval, on troop the four comedians taking part in the podcast – Keir McAllister, Stuart Murphy, Richard Melvin and Gareth Waugh, together with Jo acting as question master. Getting them all onto the tiny stage is quite an achievement in itself. Like so many of these podcasts, the show stands or falls by the quality of the comedians in any particular episode and it is well served tonight, particularly by Stuart Murphy, who must be one of the most quick-witted comics currently treading the boards. (Interested parties should check out his free Sunday lunchtime improv shows at The Stand, with partner Garry Dobson). He manages to reduce Jo to helpless laughter at several points so perhaps it’s little wonder that his team win by a wide margin. There’s a whole series of these shows which can be found, free of charge via iTunes.

Then it’s all over and we troop off into a rainy Edinburgh night.

Jo Caulfield  – 4.6 stars

The Good, the Bad and The Unexpected – 4 stars

 

 

Tony Singh at Apex Grassmarket

Grassmarket, Edinburgh

12/04/16

The Apex hotel is an unprepossessing location for a meal, despite the always startling view of the castle from the plate glass windows. It’s got that sterile vibe that so often permeates hotel restaurants: too corporate, too samey-same.

But Tony Singh’s new restaurant here has garnered a lot of press attention, and we’re keen to see if it’s as interesting as they say, so we meet up with a couple of friends and take our seats with open minds.

To be honest, it’s all a little bit odd, and it takes us a long time to decide what we are going to eat. It’s called a sharing menu, but the dishes, in the main, don’t seem like things that are easy to share. It’s called ‘fusion’ too, but it’s not well fused. “Confusion,” mutters one of our companions, and she’s not far wrong.

Still, the food when it arrives is mostly very good indeed. There’s Vuhra (a spiced lamb kebab with mint & coriander sauce and tamarind dressing), which – once we’ve gone through the rigamarole of cutting it into four – Philip and I adore, the spicing intense and packing a real punch. Our friends are not as keen, but they’re not fans of red meat anyway; if you are, you’ll like this one. The Haggis Pakora are delicious too, and easier to share. They’re robustly flavoured, and accompanied by two contrasting dips. We all enjoy the BBQ Pork Doughnutfilled with sticky pulled pork, sweet with maple syrup, smoked bacon and a whiskey glaze. It’s possibly the best thing we eat all night, but it’s definitely one to consume in moderation: I don’t imagine they’re recommending this much fat and sugar in any health clinic.

We try the Tiger Salad with Cured Salmon too; it’s fresh and zingy, an excellent contrast to all the deep fried food we’ve been indulging in. The Fish Taco with Crema and Loco Salsa is a similarly light, and wonderfully flavoured dish. Less impressive are the Fish Balls (poached & fried with Manong’s Grill Restaurant’s famous sauce). The sauce is indeed very tasty, but the fish balls themselves are oddly chewy, and somewhat unpleasantly textured. These are the only real ‘miss’ of the night, and can probably be forgiven among so many ‘hits.’

We have dessert too, sharing Churros and Sliders; the former are unexpectedly dense while the slider, with its chunky brownies and intense tasting ‘monkey blood’ is better, but I can’t help wishing I’d ordered the more whimsical Tuck Shop Float, which would have been a lighter end to what is actually a rather heavy meal. We can’t complain about the price though – £35 per head for seven sharing plates, four desserts and several rounds of drinks is good value for money, especially in the heart of the city.

All in all, we’re glad we’ve tried this restaurant. The food is great. But I’m not sure it’s somewhere we’ll come again; it’s all a bit lacking in cohesion and atmosphere.

3.9 stars

Susan Singfield