Posts Tagged ‘Review’

What I Review… And What I Won’t Review

| Reviews You Can Read In One Minute, Uncategorized

 

I read a lot of books, see a lot of plays, and watch a lot of films. It’s my job: you can’t write without studying your craft (well you can be you probably won’t get far), and that includes digesting as much material as possible. The creative process is a hard thing to define and explain, but for me a large part of it is to be stimulated: different genres and different mediums all feed back into my ideas and what I’m working on. A newspaper story, a documentary, a superhero film, a literary novel, a four-minute Youtube sitcom: it all goes into the melting pot. For me it’s all about story: and you find that in every form of expression.

All this creative-crudité-crunching means I come across some amazing things I want to share: plays that made me cry, books that made me laugh out loud, and films that chilled me. It also means I come across things I find not so successful. Creativity is subjective, and even if I find flaws in works I understand that getting a book written and published, producing a play, or getting a movie green lit is a big deal. It’s hard to achieve, and it takes a vast amount of work. We’re talking years of sweat and tears and determination and very possibly near-bankruptcy. I also know the finished article an audience receives has had the input of many others: a book will be shaped by an editor, a film re-written numerous times by multiple writing teams, a play tailored by a theatre. The faults you think you can see in a creative piece don’t necessarily originate from the writer.

photo-17So who am I to blog negatively about someone else’s work? We’re all learning, we’re all growing, we’re all hopefully moving forwards. If I don’t like something I don’t review it. I write about the things I enjoyed or loved*. There are already enough hurdles artists have to overcome, there is already enough rejection to endure: they don’t need a silly little blog giving them a bad review.

 

*If you or your publisher have sent me your book and I have not reviewed it, please do not assume it is because I didn’t like it: sometimes life gets in the way and my to-read pile gets out of control. My apologies.

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Review: Coffee at the Town Hall Hotel, Bethnal Green

| Hotel and B&B Reviews

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I popped into the Town Hall Hotel for a ‘posh coffee’, after being tipped-off about this destination hotel from a number of fashion brands hosting events here. You always know you’re in for a visual treat if the fashion set favour a place.

IMG_5309The boutique hotel is a triumph of restoration design, reviving Bethnal Green’s old council offices. It’s smothered in marble foyers, Art Deco panelled corridors – complete with jelly mould Bakelite light fixtures, imposing stone staircases and modern art that holds your attention and captures your imagination. The original Edwardian and Art Deco interiors of the 1910 building are enhanced further by artfully chosen hip stylised vintage furniture. I had a thoroughly enjoyable nose around.

 

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The original council chamber is still in place, complete with its horseshoe of green leather chairs, fold down wooden desks and two entrances – one for the ayes, and one for the no’s. It would make a perfectly quirky setting for a private event.

Finding somewhere to actually have my coffee at 3.30pm on a Thursday (surely prime afternoon tea time?) proved comically hard. Each member of staff I spoke to was friendly and helpful, and yet it took four attempts and four different people questioned before I located the lounge on the first floor, and ascertained that, yes, a hot drink could be procured. Wandering through the old corridors and pushing through door after door, I did begin to feel like I was stuck in a bureaucratic Kafkaesque nightmare. Albeit a fabulously styled one. For the love of caffeine – I only want a hot chocolate! The hotel feels more geared up for residents, and lunch and dinner guests, but I’d still recommend popping in for tea just to see the building. A cappuccino costs £3,00, which is incredibly competitive when compared to hotels of a similar standing in the West End or North London.

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The lounge itself (first photo), which led onto the council chamber, was all dark wood and lead windows, studded leather sofas and reclaimed furniture – like hanging out in a Mad Men Gentleman’s club. When I go back, I’m wearing my best fifties frock.

 

 

 

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Ordering a snack again proved tricky. Cake wasn’t an option. Faced with a plate of meat and cheese (more suited to cocktails) I chose the only available alternative: spiced rice crackers. They came with a generous bowl of chicken mayo to dunk in. It all tasted delicious, though eating them was nibbles Russian Roulette: overloading the delicate crackers with dip risked them breaking en route to your mouth and splattering mayo over your legs like ‘cum’. I only managed to do this three times, which is fair testament to how delicious they were. Worth the risk, and the stain reminded me of an excellent afternoon.

IMG_5306 Decor: 5/5. Food & drinks 4/5 (when you could get some).

 

Further information on the Town Hall Hotel can be found here.

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Review: Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food, Terminal 5, Heathrow

| Restaurant Reviews

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Tell me there’s a TV chef’s restaurant in Heathrow’s Terminal 5, and I’m going to check it out as soon as I’ve checked in. And tweet about it. Obvs. I’m that demographic. I also need to know if Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food lives up to its wry wordplay name?

I imagine an interior designer would describe the decor as ‘futurescape 1950s airport IMG_5368glamour’, if they couldn’t think of the correct terminology. Plenty of curved golden beige seating, shiny reds, hints of propellers and sculptural light fittings. One side of the restaurant is dominated by a floor to ceiling window overlooking the runway, providing melatonin for the jetlagged. Though the space is a continuous open plan flow from shopping concourse, through the bar, through to the restaurant, it manages to afford you privacy enough to swear profusely if your flight’s been delayed. Which could prove vital to your positive dining experience. The furniture is funky and functional, while avoiding the outright plush luxury you may wish to recline in for one too many hours. As with most airport restaurants, there is an air of speed and efficiency: turnaround will be quick.

Having said that, it initially proved difficult to flag one down one of the frenetic staff. This may concern anyone with a tight window of time, or those, who like Mr Me, panic about being late. I’m well practised at being late – I’ve been called for a flight in the past, dashed to the gate and boarded a plane to sarcastic applause from my fellow passengers – I can wait five minutes for my grub.

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Once a helpful member of staff had been ensnared in our ‘you give us lunch/we give you money’ trap, I ordered the steamed seabass (£14.95). The restaurant amenably replaced the shrimp dressing (I’m allergic to shellfish), with a fine pesto and olive oil substitute. Served with roasted tomatoes and samphire, the fish was light, with a hint-of-crisp skin, well seasoned, and all gone within a few minutes. Sadly the side of chips I ordered got lost in transit. (This is the third side I’ve ordered recently, at different establishments, that has failed to arrive. I’m beginning to think people are giving me a subtle hint). Mr Me wolfed his spiced chicken and cashew curry with basmati rice (£14.95), before I could photograph it. He deemed it tasty and filling, without being too rich or heavy for before a flight.

 

I also partook of the artfully named ‘breakfast martini’ (£8.00) – a zesty orangey hit of alcohol that would launch any day with a bang. It’s hard to fault a place that’s got the balls to serve you alcohol at 8am. Missing carbs aside, I’d recommend Plane Food to those looking for a decent meal before they fly: pleasant atmosphere, good, well-cooked food, with balanced portion sizes that won’t overload you before take off.

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Those short on time, or travelling at the wrong time, can get a takeaway: Plane Picnics. These posh packed lunches have a choice of starters, mains and desserts, and come in a practical cool bag. At £12.95 for a freshly prepared three-course meal, they seem particularly attractive if you’re booked on a low coast airline that only serves peanuts. And infinitely better value, and better for you, that the £5 limp Panini you’ll get flogged on board. Just hide that branded cooler bag, so you don’t look like a twat.

 

More information and booking details for Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food can be found here:  http://www.gordonramsay.com/planefood/

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Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

| Uncategorized

Spoiler alert: this review is written on the assumption the reader is already familiar with the plot.

The stage of Regent’s Park fairy light drenched open-air theatre has been concreted over.  There are caravans, the hustle and bustle of tracksuit-wearing men and body-con, body-baring neon clad girls with big hair.  There’s even a crane.  Workmen shout and jeer through the audience.  This is Shakespeare meets My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

It is an inspired contemporary setting.  The hierarchies of the traveller world, the marriages at a young age, the oxymoron of swaggering, foul mouthed underdressed girls who value their virginity, who won’t have sex before marriage, as documented in the channel 4 TV show, fit nicely into Shakespeare’s Athenian society.  Leaving aside questions over the TV show’s fair portrayal of a race of people, this is what the wider audience now recognises as Gypsy life: huge wedding dresses, massive diamante studded tiered cakes and a bumping and grinding dance routine to LMFAO’s, I’m Sexy And I Know It.  Puck rides through them, a hoodie on a BMX, his face covered with a bandana; as if he’s arrived straight from the London riots or a Banksy artwork.

The Director Matthew Dunster’s Big Fat Shakespeare world is funny.  Very funny.  I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Oldfield’s tottering performance of Helena, clicking after her Demetrius in a fine example of both comic timing and slapstick.  It was wet and cold on the night I went and I was wrapped in a ski jacket and a bin bag.  Each time Oldfield and her fellow actors plunged about the sodden and concrete floor I winced.  They didn’t even flinch.

George Bukhari excels as Bottom.  His performance was a delight from start to finish.  So much so that the darker side of the play took a while to sink in.  Referencing the case where a group of travellers were arrested for imprisoning migrant workers, homeless and other vulnerable men as ‘slaves’, Bottom and his cohort of disparate voiced workmates are kept locked in a white transit van.  They are prisoners.  When they speak of being hanged there is a genuine fission of fear.  This is a clever and bold move by Dunster.  Again it fits nicely into the original tensions and motives explored by the play.  But it does cast the traveller world in an archaic light, how easily their ways and community sit with a play written in the 1590s.

Or does it?  Oberon and Titania appear in magical, if somewhat Mad Max style, guises.  The unreality to balance the reality.  Peer closely at the advertising hoarding that dominates the stage backdrop and you will see something familiar about the glossy couple advertising Athenian Developments.  Puck famously reminds us to think of what we have seen as a dream at the end of the play.  Has Dunster created a nightmare where the audience finds itself laughing at an oppressed people?  When we giggle at the nylon tracksuits and gaudy jewellery, a ‘Chav’ uniform, we laugh at the lower class.  When we laugh at Bottom and his captive clowns, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Theseus, the man who has imprisoned them for entertainment.  An uncomfortable feeling settled like a layer of rain on my laughter.  This is a production that questions more than what is on the stage.  Go, watch, laugh, enjoy, but think about it afterwards.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is showing until 5th September at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.  Further details here: http://openairtheatre.org/production/a-midsummer-nights-dream

Photo from Evening Standard website.

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