Kat calls

Kat Pope June 13, 2013

Hello m’dears! Kat here, beginning a new weekly column letting you in on what I’ve been to see each week. It’s a ragbag of odds and sods so you might be surprised. You might even be vaguely entertained. If not, you lucky people, you always have the option of shutting down your browser. I, on the other hand, have to go on living this life and then endlessly writing about it to an ever diminishing audience.

So now I’ve thoroughly depressed myself, we shall begin?

Last Friday I paid my annual visit to the Arts Degree Show in Grand Parade. The building was an oven as usual. God knows how any creativity emerges, seeing as the students are slowly being cooked. Remember, students die in hot buildings. Add a kiln and a glass furnace and they really are stuffed.
The usual plethora of resin was on show. When did this become so popular as a material? I did have a splendid Plasticraft kit when I was a nipper and got a right earful when I encased my Grandad’s war medals in chip-proof plastic. Mum was not happy. “But you can stick a thing to the back of it and wear it as a brooch now,” I wailed, rather missing the whole ‘medal’ concept.

My son Sid managed to break a very delicate artwork. “I wonder what that’s made of,” was all I said to him. A finger poke later and crack! Oh blimey. “Don’t worry,” smiled artist-boy. Well, it was more of a pained grimace. “Someone poked the other side out earlier today so he’s only made it more symmetrical.” We shuffled off pretty quickly and emerged in the fine art corridor where there was the obligatory vid of a woman wiggling her arse about on a canvas and making a lovely mess. Will this ever go out of fashion? Only, I predict, when women cease to have arses.

Saturday saw one of our many London trips. Off to the Lyric Hammersmith for a matinee of Tony Award Winning show City of Angels, a musical within a musical about an LA private dick. This was a student show again, from LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts). Every year their 2nd year students, both acting and technical, have to produce shows. Then they give the tickets away for FREE! This was the second we’d been to and was a 150 minute show of pure unadulterated joy. I fell in love with the lead instantly which always helps.

Being a theatre nut and going to about ten shows a week means I fall in love every other day. It’s great. You get to ogle them for a couple of hours, float out of the theatre like a Disney character in a dream, and then promptly forget about them when you fall for the next lead in the next show. PLEASE NOTE: this is what happens when you’ve been celibate for 15 years and only have cats for company.

Honestly, these LAMDA shows have been my discovery of the year and now I’m letting you in on the secret, fool that I am. The fledgling actors are the cream of the drama school crop (LAMDA is consistently in the Top 5 Best Drama Schools lists) and if any of them make it big it means you have fantastic bragging points: “Of course, darlings, I saw so-and-so when he/she was still at drama school.”

An awkward bus ride later and we were at the Royal Court where we had a two hours wait for the play to start. I’m a terror for being early only because I so hate being late, so my son and I do spend an awful lot of time sitting around in cafes with a glass of tap water between us. He plays games on his phone til it’s too hot to handle and is about to explode in a fireball, and I marshal my notes, or read the reviews in the papers.

We’d come to see The Victorian in the Wall, a new play by and starring stand-up comedian Will Adamsdale. Being the Royal Court I expected gloom, doom and wailing, but it was a lovely little musical play about a middle class guy whose wife has left him at home in charge of supervising a knock-through. Can he do such a simply task without fucking up? And what will he make of the Victorian gent who appears out of the plaster?

Front row seats, lots of laughter, just the right duration: couldn’t have asked for more. Afterwards we strolled back to Victoria on a bit of a high.

Sunday and I was back in Brighton doing a fringe review of a play too, too ghastly to name. My god was I bored. My little black notebook is full of doodles and the odd ‘PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!’ I’m usually pretty tolerant of whatever I see, but this was just words, badly delivered words that made me feel like I was drowning in a tub of papier mache. And I was fantasising about an Almond Magnum….

Back to London and LAMDA, this time in their own Linbury Studios (no, not the one in the Royal Opera House – I narrowly avoided going there by looking it up at the last minute). Situated on the Hammersmith Flyover, it’s not the most glamorous of locations and the studio was tiny and only a third full, but the play – Some Explicit Polaroids by Mark Ravenhill – was spikey and satisfying and played with gusto. I was expecting full-frontal nudity as that was what it said in the programme. Instead I got fellatio on a corpse…under a sheet, mind. And a door on the stage fell off half way through. My son Sid adores it when this sort of thing happens. He’ll talk about it for months after, having forgotten what the play was about. I should mention that he wants to be ‘something technical in theatre’ when he grows up, so that explains it. He’s already learning from other’s mistakes.

Another eternal bus ride and I was at the National Gallery to see Saints Alive, a room full of kinetic sculpture based on the lives of the saints by Michael Landy (Artist in Residence there this year). Or rather, I saw some defunct sculpture as out of seven large pieces, only two were working. I got chatting to the National Gallery attendant who said that it was frankly embarrassing. One of the pieces conked out on the press night and it’s taking them at least two weeks to get them fixed when they break down. Still, I rather liked the concept, if not the delivery.
Michael Landy's Saints Alive exhibition at the National Gallery, London.
Of the ones that were working, Saint Jerome is the most spectacular. He’s just a torso and an arm carrying a large rock. Every now and again the gallery shakes as he starts to beat his breast. The saints are made of fibreglass and it makes a terrific row. I would have loved to have seen Saint Apollonia pulling out her own teeth and Doubting Thomas’s finger eternally poking at Christ’s side but it wasn’t to be. Later that night on the train home, I began doodling my own anti-saints. There would be IDS, shown continually tipping a man out of a wheelchair while braying ‘Scrounger! Scrounger!’ for the whole of eternity. Or a revolving Cameron, constantly doing a U turn, while holding a paddle that whacked a bending over Clegg on the arse. Or a smirking Osborne hoovering up a never-ending line of coke while juggling bags of money. Every now and again he’d drop one and it’d fall on the head of a street urchin killing him stone dead. Oh, that’s an endless game, that is…..

Off to the National for my first ‘proper’ reviewing gig; by that I mean ‘in with the big boys’. There was Quentin Letts scowling (so would I if I worked for the Fail), Libby Purves looking jovial, and loads of other faces I vaguely recognised. Billy-no-mates here sat on her own in the press pen at the interval, wanting to gulp her orange juice but sipping it seeing as the second half was 90 minutes long. The whole production of Strange Interlude, an Eugene O’Neill revival starring Anne Marie-Duff, is three and a half hours long – that’s longer than a bloody opera!! – but it goes pretty quickly as the acting is good and the piece holds the attention.

strange interlude
It’s strangely exhilarating to think that my opinion somehow matters. Or rather, there’s the illusion (and the trappings of that illusion) that it matters. People are going to read what I say! Or are they going to skim over it like I do myself with so many articles? Well, if you’re still reading this article, thank you. You’ve made my day….

To see my review of Strange Interlude CLICK HERE:  

What better night out is there than an old fashioned seaside night out at the Hippodrome in Eastbourne? None.

This was far and away the most fun I had all week AND I had my old mum with me. Usually we fight like cat and dog, but her mate Mel came as a chaperone and sat between us to stop us bickering. I know. It is THAT bad.

We got to the Hipp, a lovely old theatre that the council rent out to a stage company each summer, to be greeted by a man in a hippo suit (see what they did there?) I popped into Tescos over the road for my interval intake of a pound of chocolate (and you were imagining me slim weren’t you!) where I happened upon a lively discussion in the queue as to whether a man dressed in an animal costume draws you in to a place or makes you run a mile screaming. The oldies loved the concept, the youngsters said they would rather eat their headphones than be seen going into such a place.

As I waved cheerily to the hippo, whose name is RHT (for Royal Hippodrome Theatre, but which makes him sound like the ideal hippo for menopausal women), I had no idea that the person inside was the man running the whole shebang and the one I was supposed to meet. That’s dedication though, isn’t it: that’s mucking in, dressing up in a hot, sweaty costume, waving at all us oldies, when you could be in a comfy office out back sipping rosé with your feet up.

The theatre itself is a little gem, although a little musty too. We sat in the middle of a row in the stalls which proved a bit of a challenge. I was lost in a sea of grey. I was the youngest there – and I’m no spring chicken myself. It’s the coaches, you see. The old dears book their Eastbourne hols and that includes getting coached round to a show every night, and I’d imagine Eastbourne has enough theatres to see a show a night for a whole week. The problem was the seats were very tight and trying to make way for latecomers wasn’t easy. Sticks and crutches went flying, a northern man grumbled that an old dear had her bum in his face, apologies were exchanged, seats went bang. It was a merry dance.

WEB.300.7Then on to the show. Are you old enough to remember Seaside Special and even older enough to remember The Good Old Day? Well, if not, you won’t have a bloody clue what I’m on about. The show is performed by a mix of am, semi-prof and prof, mostly pulled in from the local Rattonian drama group. Men in boaters sing and dance with women in one-piece bathing suits. A troupe of kids come and do a couple of numbers (one is a boy with a ginormous head and a permanently startled look, one is a girl very obviously on the verge of an eating disorder). There’s a solo from the ‘star turn’. Then there’s the comedian.

I looked round Mel to my mum to see if the noise was coming from her, and sure enough it was. Funny man Alan Reed who, by his own admission, Tony Hatch had called rubbish on New Faces 20 years ago, had my mum guffawing and snorting so hard I was worried about her. Yes, his jokes were a bit lame. Yes, they did include lines like “Are you going to Oldham?” (keep up). But he was going down a storm. Reed is a giant of a man, stuffed into a powder blue suit and Hawaiian shirt, with a mouth that begs for teeth that fit and who will drop into ‘pub singer’ mode at the drop of a hat. We had his Elvis, we had his Johnny Cash. We even had his giant orange orangutan vent puppet. Did I laugh? Of course I did. It was funny.

WEB.300.3If you go to a show like this with a postmodern ironic chip the size of a bus on your shoulder you’re going to loathe it. Tell you what; walk along the pier before you venture to the Hipp and chuck the chip into the sea. Feed it to the seagulls. I guarantee you’ll have an entertaining time if you do.

OK, so the dancing and singing wasn’t West End standard, but it was ‘good enough’. I admit my expectations weren’t that high to begin with, but they were well exceeded. Also, I learnt that Lazy Hazy Days of Summer is a very American song which I’d never noticed before: soda and pretzels and beer, and then later on even a wiener pops up. How did I miss that?! All right. I know. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the price of eggs, but I was happy to have noticed….

Sitting in the Hipp, smells wafted over me. No, not embalming fluid. And no, not that either. It was a smell of lavender, of talc, and of damp. It took me back to somewhere but I couldn’t quite work out where. It may indeed have been back in time to a theatre in this very town, for we used to go and see the panto every year when I was young, with some Carry On star or other in it. I felt unsettled, like something bad was going to happen, like I was a kid again and…oh, I don’t know.

And that’s the thing with smells – Proust wasn’t wrong – and especially smells in theatres. I sat and watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane the other day and the smell of the machinery on stage was overpowering but gorgeous: a mixture of dust and oil and heat. And sometimes all I’ll be able to smell will be popcorn, or the person next to me’s breath, or damp from a wet steaming coat, and the smell gets mixed up with the production and the characters, and influences how I feel about the whole experience.

Sitting in the Hipp, I felt a wave of nostalgia, for my childhood and for the form of entertainment I was watching, and I felt sad.

To find out more about the Tuesday and Wednesday night Seaside Specials, CLICK HERE:

London yet again, this time to spend the evening in two different kinds of tent: the Germanic kind and the upside down purple cow kind.

As usual Sid and I were early, so we pottered around Beanotown, a temporary exhibition adjoining the Festival Hall to celebrate 75 years of Dennis, Minnie and Gnasher et al. “I’m not going in there! Can’t you hear it’s full of kids?” Sid (14) shuddered. I pushed him in nevertheless. As we walked over the threshold a klaxon sounded. “Ah, that’s tripped by that camera there,” he said happily and was away with the backstage fairies, looking to see what everything did and how it did it.

This is an idea place to take your kids. They’ve got a cafe (expensive) and a room full of beanbags where the kids can have a romp around or take an art workshop. There’s an exhibition of Beano art through the ages, and a case full of toys that used to be given away with the mag (I saw a Gnasher glove puppet that I remember hanging around in my bedroom for yonks).


Off to London Wonderground which is between the Festival Hall and the Eye, to see Limbo. I’d got it in my head that we were seeing Flown, but this is nothing new with me. If I have to change trains at Clapham Common I have to clap quietly all the way to remind myself, lest I get off at East Croydon instead. Old age or stupidity? I’ll let you decide.

Mind you, there’s Limbo, Flown and Beyond, three circus shows on at the same time at the same place. I defy anyone not to get confused.

So it was Limbo for us. Front row, fifty smacker seats, with a free programme and a free drink (although they weren’t marvellously keen to let on about the free drink). And front row really did mean front row: we were almost on the stage ourselves. “Dale,” said the usher into the little mic round her neck, “Can I fill my ringside with posh?” Do what you want love, I was tempted to reply, until I realised she was talking about the variety of seats. I never did find out what made the seats ‘posh’. You’d have thought ringside would have been the poshest as they were the most expensive, but no, ‘posh’ was one grade down. How humiliating for the guy I’d met on the door who was asking the staff if he really needed to queue up with the plebs as he had “splashed out for posh tickets” and didn’t see why he had to wait in line like everyone else.

To see my review of Limbo CLICK HERE:

Hal Cruttenden in the Udderbelly was next, but first we had to tackle the disabled toilets. The Udderbelly, it has to be said, provides wonderfully clean, large toilets for us crips. The trouble is, you can’t get into the things in the first place. Sid had to run back to the bar and queue up to get the key (no Radar), and then someone had to physically bring the thing to the loos. It’s attached to a bit of wood that is, I swear, nearly as big as Sid – and he’s shot up like a Leylandii lately. Then the bar person had to find the right key on it and then had to stand outside all the time we were in there. This is plain ridiculous. Please Udderbelly, get yourself a new loo lock!

WEB.300.8Cruttenden, a comedian on the cusp of stardom, made us both laugh and I enjoyed showing my age by singing along to The Jam’s Eton Rifles which was played before and after his turn. The Udderbelly is a strange beast. You always think you’re only in half of it because you expect it to be in the round as it’s a tent, but it’s just a normal stage. It perpetually feels that there’s another gig going on on the other half of the circle, just behind the back curtain. “Don’t be so stupid,” said Sid. “A place like this comes with loads of baggage and boxes and props that they have to store somewhere, and behind the curtain is where they put it.” I was suitably chastised for being imaginative.

To see what I thought of Hal: CLICK HERE: 

NEW KITTEN DAY!! Oh, the excitement! Off I went to collect him, a sweet little ball of Siamese fluff. And oh, how I’d forgotten quite how annoying and anxiety-making a kitten can be. Does he need a poo? Will he wee on my bed? Am I feeding him the right things? Will my other cats eat him? Will he keel over and die?

Luckily he’s had a poo, had a wee (yes, one on the bed but the others in his tray), the cats have stopped hissing and swiping, and he’s still alive. But boy, is he still annoying…..

WEB.300I love Siamese cats for their friendliness (nay, neediness), but in kitten-form it can be a tad overpowering. Everytime I eat something he’s there, his nose in the dish, the nose that’s just been covered with litter from him rootling around in his tray, and he WON’T STOP PESTERING ME! I throw him – gently – to the other side of the sofa. He’s back, and worse than ever. He has to have his face right up next to my face, kissing me, purring wet purrs against my chin. But I already couldn’t do without him, the odd mis-aimed wee and all.

A Chorus Line at the Palladium calls. Sitting on the platform waiting for the train, this poster had been staring down at me for months. An all gold and very sparkly John Partridge raised his gilded top hat to me as if to say ‘Come and see us. We will high kick you straight to heaven.’

So off me and Sid went. All I’ll say is that it was a disappointment. How much of a disappointment you can read in my review. To read, CLICK HERE:

It didn’t help that the audience was a noisy bunch. Even if you’re trying to get one sweet out of a crinkly bag verrrrrrrry carefully, it will still sound like an iceberg breaking up in the middle of a theatre.

WEB.300.9Off to Islington to do an interview with ex-Big Brother ‘sexual activist’ Benedict Garrett. He turns out to be really nice. End of story really. You can read the interview in this month’s mag. I was supposed to be interviewing both Big Bro Nikki and X-Factor Lloyd who are both in new gay play Up4aMeet too, but they both sort of fizzled out, so I ended up with Benedict. Did I mention he’s a nice guy? I did? Oh, I’ll shut up about him now then….

Off to King’s Cross to find the Skip Garden, part of the London Open Garden Squares weekend. I got lost the moment I came out of the station of course. I get lost everywhere I go, even when I have  a map on my mobile supposedly pointing me in the right direction. This is a trait that Sid has inherited from me, so quite a lot of the time we’re two hopelessly lost people wandering round London in a daze.

A young bloke smelling of booze asked if I needed any help. After he’d figured out where he was, where I was, and where I wanted to get to, he pointed me in completely the wrong direction. He then asked for money with the usual “I hate having to ask, but….” so I gave him 21p and he seemed ridiculously grateful. Or he was taking the piss.

King’s Cross is having a major makeover, and I mean MAJOR. They’re busy creating 20 new streets and 10 new squares, plus nearly 2,000 new homes (some of which I’m glad to say are going to be so-called ‘affordable’). The construction company claims that 40% of the developed land will be open space for everyone which sounds pretty impressive.

I eventually stumbled upon the Skip Garden, run by a charity called Global Generation which helps youngsters to create a more sustainable world. Unfortunately there wasn’t a great deal to look at and they’d run out of food and I was starving, so I didn’t stay long. I’d wanted to go to a couple of the Inns of Court gardens that aren’t usually open to the public, but they were only open on the Sunday so it was a no-no. I then got lost looking for the St Martin’s Degree Show until a kind soul pointed out that it hadn’t started yet.

Picking up a free ‘I heart King’s Cross’ badge, I walked along the Regent’s Canal a bit, looking at some baby ducks and barges, until I came across King’s Place, a huge arts centre underneath the Grauniad buildings. I’d never visited before, but I’ve got tix to see the still-sexy Michael Palin here in a couple of weeks so needed to get my bearings (as if).

Sitting on a big corporate leather sofa, I wrote my Up4aMeet article while scoffing veggie wraps and coffee cakes until I felt sick and my eyes wouldn’t stay open. I drifted off, only to wake up with a start at 5.30pm thinking ‘Rats, I’ve got to get to the Coliseum.’

It was one of those days when every bus driver I asked gave me different info, each assuring me that I couldn’t possibly want to get on HIS bus. Eventually a friendly one let me on and took me pretty near – well, the Aldwych, which is within walking distance. I stopped off at the Ratty Tescos, as me and Sid call it as it was closed down recently due to an infestation, and diced with death by buying bread and cheese for dinner. Then I marched into the Coliseum, sat down and ate it out of my carrier bag. I’m that sophisticated.

The Perfect American is an opera about Walt Disney and his personal demons, with music by Philip Glass. The first half was so dull I drifted off again, my chin proped up on my crutch. Even a 6’4″ animatronic Abraham Lincoln malfunctioning on stage couldn’t keep my attention. During the interval I tried to wake myself up by getting ice cubes from the bar and rubbing them over my face (well, what do you expect from someone who eats bread and cheese from a Tescos bag at the opera for god’s sake?) but that didn’t work. The second half was a little better and I did manage to prop my eyelids open but I was in such pain from sitting still for so long that I just wanted to get home. Serves me right for taking too much on…..

The Perfect American, ENO June 2013
And that, my friends, was my week. It was eventful and tiring, and I expect next week will be the same. I’m now off to go and get some proper shut eye in my own bed. Night night m’dears. I’ll leave you with this headline. I know, I’m childish…..