Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Strange Beauty

Posted: January 5, 2012 in Blog, Blogging, Entertainment, Life
Tags: , ,

20120105-012254.jpg

Oh my! It’s so long since I’ve written on my blog that I almost forgot I had one! New year’s Resolution – start writing again!

I thought I’d use my first post back after such a ridiculously long break to tell all my non-existent blog readers out there about my most fantastic experience of 2011! Seems apt given it’s now the start of a New Year and it concerns something which also has the initials N Y!! Yes, after nearly forty years of dreaming I finally achieved my life long ambition of visiting New York city in October 2011. Wow, what a place! The first time I walked into Times Square, this place that I’d seen so many times in movies or on the TV, I was enthralled, captured, staggered even! It’s almost impossible to describe in words, or even convey in pictures, the sheer magnitude, scale and strange beauty of this brightly lit, commercial valley! We walked through Times Square on many occasions during our five day trip and never once did I fail to be in awe of this magnificent beast! For a beast is perhaps the best way to describe it – when you walk into it your jaw drops and you have no choice but to stop and stare! The lights, the Broadway show billboards, huge adverts for everything under the sun – wherever you turn. The hustle and the bustle – like nowhere on earth I’ve ever been, no matter what the time of day!

For our first tourist outing, having settled into our apartment just two blocks from times square and practically opposite the theatre in which Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, was appearing in ‘How to succeed in Business….’, we headed up to the Empire State Building. Through queues of hundreds of people and several security checks we finally made it to the observation deck and to memories of the final scene in the film ‘Sleepless in Seattle’! Only a little more crowded than Meg Ryan found it! What beautiful panoramic views of New York though! Stunning! Well worth the queues!

A visit to Greenwich village was recommended by both our trusty guide books so the following day we made our way down to this laid back and relaxed part of town. It proved to be a welcome break from the brashness of central Manhattan. No skyscrapers, or oversized billboards, just lovely old buildings, bars, antique shops and the Magnolia bakery, made famous by the Sex and the City girls and very popular judging by the long queue! However, being British, I was not only not put off by the crowd I positively embraced it (not literally!) and proudly took my place, waiting patiently in line whilst my male companions went off in a search of alcohol! Being a cake aficionado I hoped for baking heaven and I was not disappointed! The most delicious looking cakes of all flavours greeted me, begging to be released from their glass cages! Trays of fluffy cupcakes stood waiting by the window, anxious to find their way into the little boxes which would carry them to freedom and into the mouths of sweet loving customers like me! I finally settled on several cupcakes and a mouth watering, gigantic slab of cream covered red velvet cake! It lasted most of the holiday and was immensely tasty! Yum!

Later on walking across towards the bay in search of more satisfying food, we came across an unusual looking restaurant called The Spotted Pig. Initially we walked past in the hope of finding a more conventional place (my fault entirely! I’m a fussy eater!) but hungry, time limited and having failed to find anywhere else to eat we soon ended up back there. And I’m so glad we did! Delicious food and a slightly alternative, hippy feel to the place led to a lovely evening and a desire to stay longer and soak up the local atmosphere! Unfortunately we had to leave to go and see a show but it’s a place I would definitely go back to! I still dream about their amazing ultra curly, ultra thin chip stack!

The next day for me was walking, shopping and Central Park while my two long suffering friends went off and did more manly things, like visit the Planetarium and find more alcohol! No trip to New York would be complete without a visit to Tiffany’s and an hour later and a couple of hundred dollars lighter I came out of the iconic building clutching a small bag with the most expensive piece of jewellery I had ever bought or owned tucked inside! Ironically it was one of the cheapest items in the entire store….how the other half lives!! Leaving Tiffany’s I was faced with a very unusual but lovely tribute to Steve Jobs (who had sadly passed away a couple of days before) outside the Apple Store. Hundreds of post it notes adourned the wall – apples, candles and other tributes covered the ground. It was truly a touching sight.

Later that night we went to see a broadway show, something I’d been dreaming of for so long. We couldn’t get tickets to the Broadway smash Book of Mormon (despite queuing for returns!) so went to see the musical theatre megastar, Bernadette Peters, and pint sized British star Elaine Paige, in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. What a show! Amazing performances all round, fantastic set – a wonderful way to experience Broadway! And as we came out the theatre we happened across the stage door and spent the next few minutes getting pictures and autographs from the cast! Fantastic! Then round the corner to what was fast becoming our local bar for late night cocktail drinking!

There were many poignant moments on the trip – seeing where the Twin Towers had once stood, taking in the permanent and temporary tributes to the people who lost their lives on 9/11, watching the new towers rising defiantly out of the ground. But one of the most touching things we happened across on our trip was a fence full of brightly coloured painted tiles in Greenwich, ‘Tiles for America’. Each one personal or patriotic, lovingly created, a tribute to those caught up in the dreadful events of 10 years past, an acceptance of the changed landscape and a simple message – “we will never forget”.

I have so many good memories of New York – seeing the Statue of Liberty and climbing up inside the pedestal; enjoying a tasty steak meal on our last night after viewing the Manhattan skyline at dusk from under the Brooklyn Bridge; watching shows as part of the New York Musical theatre Festival; visiting Radio City Hall; getting very tipsy in various New York bars; basking in the glorious October sunshine! But most of all I will remember the two friends I went with, who made my experience all the more special, and who finally gave me the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful city to the full! I always hoped I would go to New York with my partner or husband – being single that wasn’t an option! But I can’t think of anyone else I would have had a better time with!

Here’s to beautiful New York and to glorious friendship! May they both forever thrive!

There was a time when I watched The X-Factor avidly.  I really loved it.  I truly believed that we were being sold reality – that those shots of thousands of people turning up to audition were taken ‘on the day’, that all contestants were seen by the celebrity judges, that this was indeed a real talent show.  Maybe I was naive.  Maybe, as a Nearly Was, I just wanted to believe that here was a show that offered talented people a real opportunity to get themselves seen and to hit the big time.  Over the years, my opinions of the show have been as cruelly shattered as  the dreams of 99% of the X Factor contestants. 

I can’t remember exactly when I found out that all wasn’t what it seemed.  I suppose in the back of my head I must have realised that there was no way the judges could see all those thousands of people who turned up to audition.  That would take many, many days.  There had to be initial auditions to weed out the dross – so why were we being shown auditions of contestants who clearly had no talent or were mentally imbalanced?  I mean, why would you progress people through an audition when they so obviously did not have what the show was supposedly looking for – someone with the X Factor.  Surely they weren’t deliberately putting contestants through for people to laugh at, to make fun of, for the sake of ‘good tv’? 

I say again, maybe I was naive.  But it really did take time for me to realise that this was the reality – that the objective of the early X Factor auditions was not to find someone with star quality but to ensure that people kept watching the programme by giving them ridiculous characters to laugh at.  Schadenfreude. 

The contestants that you see on TV have already been through at least two auditions – these are held by producers and other people connected with the show,  and not by people with any musical pedigree.  There is a suggestion that they have a quota of  ‘good tv’ people to find in addition to putting through genuinely good contestants (I don’t know if this is true or not).  

To some degree I quite enjoy the final stages of X Factor – there are some genuinely original and talented contestants and I like watching them improve each week and gain confidence.  I don’t like the way the Great British Public often choose to vote for the less talented contestants because of looks or some other reason but then the Great British Public have never been very good at the whole voting for the best contestant business!  Anyway, that’s another blog post!!

What I can’t abide are the false, early auditions which set out to exploit delusional people for the sake of entertaining the public.  Shame on us for laughing at people who think they’re good or who are behaviourally challenged!  Just because a word exists for the act of laughing at other people’s misfortunes doesn’t mean that we should encourage it!  Schadenfreude or not these programs that legitimise making fun of others who do not know how bad they really are should take their moral responsibility more seriously.  It may help them get good ratings but it doesn’t make it right.  Are we to believe that people would not watch the X Factor if they decided not to progress the downright bad contestants through to the televised auditions?  I really hope that we as a public could be as interested in a programme that sets out to find real talent without having to laugh at not so talented people in the process.  It would be a sad state of affairs if this was indeed not the case.

This week I have been mostly drinking alcohol, watching shows and performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Yes folks, I’m in Scotland and enjoying the surprisingly good weather!  Despite packing for torrential rain and arctic conditions, as is normal for Edinburgh in August, there has only been a spattering of rain since Tuesday morning and the sun has been remarkably friendly, popping out frequently to say hello! 

So, onto the Festival (and the reason I haven’t updated my blog for several days!).  If you’re a fairly normal kind of person you probably think that the word Fringe is just a way of describing the hair that covers your forehead or the tassels that used to hang around the edges of 80’s sofas.  If however you’re slightly mad, a bit theatrical, or interested in Arts ‘on the periphery’, then it’s likely that you know all about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, have probably been and experienced it as a punter at least once or maybe even performed there.

For those of you who don’t know, the Fringe is an Arts Festival which originally developed as a response to the more formal Edinburgh International Festival by performers who weren’t invited to perform but who turned up anyway and did their thing!  Since then it has grown into the huge Fringe beast that we know today and pretty much anyone can bring their show to the festival, no matter what it is, so long as they can find a venue to perform it in!   At the festival, literally thousands of shows are performed all day, every day for practically the whole of August.  The shows range from new musicals, old musicals, plays and comedy to dance, physical theatre and much more in-between.  Venues such as University buildings, students union, sports centres, lecture halls, churches and pubs change overnight into performance spaces complete with auditoriums and makeshift backstage areas.  It’s truly an amazing feat!  Every day a section of the Royal Mile, which leads from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood, is teaming with performers desperately trying to publicise their show and get people to come and see it.  You never know what you might see as you walk down the street – people dressed as British queens, Jedi knights, headless kings, Romans, plague victims….the list is endless! 

Last year was my first year at the Fringe; hard to believe that I had gone through so many years of my life as a performer and never been to the Fringe.  With singledom comes an immense amount of freedom and suddenly I had the time to get involved with all those things that I’d never done before – going to the Fringe was just one of my many tasters of freedom.  I spent a week at the Fringe helping backstage with a show full of child performers, but despite that, it was seven days of immense fun not to mention a significant amount of alcohol!  So when I got the opportunity to actually be in a Fringe show this year I jumped at the chance. 

It’s been about five months since I first got involved with the Fringe show and it’s been a long and sometimes difficult path to performance!  We only had a very small show – a cast of three – and we were performing for just a week which is quite unusual.  Most shows will perform for a minimum of two weeks and many will even perform for the entire festival.  We had small audiences – between 11 and 35 each day – but we made it to the end of the week in one piece and sober enough to tell the tale – which may yet end up on a blog post, but not now! 

Unfortunately my Edinburgh Fringe 2010 trip ends tomorrow but I’ve had a fantastic week and as I sit here writing this I’m thinking about all the brilliant shows I’ve seen and the incredible talent, both amateur and professional, that has been thrown together at this amazing festival this month.  Here are some of my highlights:

  • Barbershopera – Apocalypse? No!   A very funny, witty, clever and tuneful show sung in the style of a Barber Shop Quartet.  This original musical, about a timid teacher who ends up saving the world by collaborating with the three horsemen of the Apocalypse (Death is, well, dead, killed by a freak accident…!), was simply brilliant and practically faultless. 
  • Spring Awakening – An excellent production from graduates of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama of this brilliant but at times difficult and graphic new musical dealing with teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality in late nineteenth century Germany.  The two leads were joy to watch and dealt incredibly well with some very challenging scenes.
  • Reginald D Hunter – A very funny, rude and crude, stand up comic who had the audience practically rolling in the aisles!  Me, I just loved his deep southern drawl! 
  • Showstopper – The Improvised Musical  What it says on the tin!  A new musical every performance, unfolding in front of our eyes based on ideas from the audience.  I saw this show twice and it was clever, funny, brilliant – favourite numbers include “Burying my doughnut” in the style of The Smiths, and “You’ve killed me” done as a smokey, jazz number.  Just wonderful! 

So many other shows – One Man Lord of the Rings, Comedy Countdown, Stand up comics Chris Addison and Paul Sinha, brilliant male a capella group Out of the Blue – too many to mention!  What a great week – what a great festival!  The Arts is well and truly alive in Britain!  If you’ve never been to the Edinburgh Fringe then put a date in your diary for August 2011 – you won’t regret it!

Edinburgh Fringe – http://www.edfringe.com/

Barbershopera – http://www.barbershopera.com/

Showstoppers – http://dylan.myzen.co.uk/ss/