Consuming Culture: 1-15 Jan 2020

I want to do more blogging this year. So one thing I’m going to do is to write about the cultural experiences that I have. My plan is to write short reviews of any films, plays, exhibitions and lectures that I go to. To start us off, here’s what I did in the first half of January.

Film: Last Christmas (Vue Islington, 2020-01-01)

Yes, this got some terrible reviews, but cheesy romcoms are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. This isn’t up to the standards of Four Weddings and a Funeral or Notting Hill, but I really enjoyed it. And I don’t care how much you judge me for that.

Art: Wonder Factory (Dalston Works, 2020-01-03)

This was weird. Fifteen rooms have been turned into Instagram-friendly art installations. They are of variable quality, but the best installations (like the marshmallow swimming pool) are very good. It’s only around until early February (and it seems they’re now only opening at the weekend) so you should get along to see it soon.

Film: Jojo Rabbit (Screen on the Green, 2020-01-05)

The Hitler Youth isn’t the most obvious subject for comedy, but this film manages to pull it off brilliantly. It’s obviously a very delicate balance but director, Taika Waititi, gets it spot on – while also playing a very funny imaginary Adolf Hitler. I see this has been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar; and that’s well-deserved.

VR: Doctor Who – Edge of Time (Other World, 2020-01-05)

Other World is a virtual reality arcade in Haggerston and currently, one of the VR experiences they are offering is the Doctor Who game, Edge of Time. Players are put in their individual pods and loaded up with all their VR equipment (headset, headphones and a controller for each hand) by staff before being left alone to help the Thirteenth Doctor save the universe. I confess I got a bit stuck trying to get the Tardis to dematerialise, but I really enjoyed myself and am very tempted to go back for another try.

Play: A Kind of People (Royal Court Theatre, 2020-01-06)

The Royal Court has a brilliant scheme where they make tickets for Monday evening performances available for £12 each. That price makes it very tempting to see plays that you know nothing about. And that’s what we did for this. We really had no idea what this play was about. It turns out that it’s an investigation of the various prejudices (racism, sexism, class snobbery, …) that bubble under the surface of British society. I’d recommend you go and see it, but it closes in a couple of days.

Meeting: Tech For UK Post-Election Debrief (Onfido Ltd, 2020-01-08)

I want to get along to more tech meet-ups this year and this was my first. Tech For UK is a group of techies who volunteer their time to build tools that increase democratic engagement in the UK. You can see some examples at (this includes my site – TwittElection). This meeting was a discussion about what the group had been doing during the election campaign and where they should focus their efforts in the future.

Art: Bridgit Riley (Hayward Gallery, 2020-01-15)

I want to make more use of my South Bank membership, and this was a free after-hours, members’ viewing of the exhibition. This is a retrospective of Riley’s whole career and, therefore, is a great introduction to the breadth of her work. She’s a fascinating artist (if one who occasionally produces art that can give you a bit of a headache). I recommend seeing the exhibition – but hurry, it closes on 26 January.


War of the Worlds

I’ve always had a massive soft spot for Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds. I think that the album must have originally been released pretty soon after I read the book for the first time. And it must have really struck a chord with me. I borrowed a copy from the library, recorded it and listened to it constantly for several months. That was all, it would appear, thirty years ago.

When I went to university in 1981 we were all cool and trendy and listened to bands like ABC and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. But there was always a time late at night, sitting in someone’s room in the halls of residence when War of the Worlds would go on the turntable. And I have a distinct memory of at least one conversation when we were planning a stage show based on the record.

The stage show eventually saw the light of day in 2006. At the time I didn’t have my ear to the ground and it passed me. I was most disappointed when I found out. But it as the thirtieth anniversary of the original release is upon us they have decided to take the production out again. It will be touring the UK next year. I’ve just bought tickets to see it at the O2 Arena (the old Millennium Dome) on June 20th. Tickets are ludicrously expensive (around £50) but I strongly suspect it’ll be worth it.

I’m really looking forward to it.


(Not) Buying NT Tickets

I just saw that Russell T Davies is speaking at the National Theatre. I’m a big fan of his work, so I decided to buy tickets. I wandered over to the NT web site and found the event I was looking for. I added a couple of tickets to my shopping basket and went to check out.

The site told me that I have twenty-five minutes to complete my purchase or else my tickets will be made available for anyone else to reserve. It also asked me to log in to complete the transaction.

I start to set up a new user account in order to log in. The system tells me that my email address is being used by an existing account. I must have set one up the last time I bought tickets from them (which was several years ago).

I try a few likely username and password combinations. None of them work. My twenty-five minutes is ticking away. I click on the “forgotten password” link. The site promises to send me my login details.

I wait. And wait. And wait.

I check my “potential spam” folder. I check my “definitely spam” folder. No sign of the promised email. My twenty-five minutes is almost up.

With a couple of minutes to go I have a brilliant idea and register with another email address. Somehow I manage to go through the procedure within the time remaining and successfully purchase the tickets.

Instantly after registering as a new user, I get a “thank you for your registration” mail. The promised password details email is still missing somewhere. There’s apparently an email receipt en route to me too. I don’t hold out too much hope.

Why do web sites make this so difficult?


Rock ‘n’ Roll

I forgot to mention this at the time, but a couple of weeks ago, we went to see Tom Stoppard’s latest play Rock ‘n’ Roll at the Duke of Yorks theatre.

I’ve loved Stoppard’s work since I saw The Real Thing about twenty-five years ago and for a while I saw just about every production of one of his plays in London. But that’s a habit that I’ve fallen out of over the last ten years, so it was great to go along and see this one.

Stoppard’s plays often work by juxtaposing two completely different concepts – Jumpers was philosophy and acrobatics, Hapgood was espionage and quantum physics – and this play follows in that classic mould by telling the story of Czechoslovakian politics from 1968 to 1990 at the same time as tracing the history of rock music in general and Syd Barrett in particular.

If you have any interest at all in either of those subjects – or, indeed, if you just want to see a very well-written play, then I strongly recommend that you see this play.


The Play’s the Thing

Not sure why, but over the last few years we’ve got out of the habit of going to the theatre. So we’ve decided to do something about that. We have four trips to the theatre booked over the next few weeks.

It all started off on Saturday when we went see Two Thousand Years at the National Theatre. We’re big fans of Mike Leigh’s films and the chance to see his work on stage was too good to miss.

Then next Saturday we’re off to the Open Air Theatre to see The Boyfriend. We love the Open Air Theatre. It’s such a civilised way to see a play. We love it so much that we’re going back about ten days later to see A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream – which is pretty much the Open Air Theatre’s signature play. And then in early September we’re going to see Rock ‘N’ Roll to celebrate my birthday. Tom Stoppard is one of my favourite playwrights. I used to go and see all of his plays, but I don’t think I’ve seen one since I saw Arcadia over ten years ago.

So I’m back into theatre-going with a bang. What’s the point of living in one of the theatre capitals of the world if you don’t take advantage of it. If people don’t go and support good theatre productions, then producers will just give us more and more crap musicals.


How Not To Go To The Theatre

I made a massive screw-up this week.

My step-daughter is doing her GCSEs next year. One of the plays she will be studying is Romeo & Juliet. As it’s currently playing at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park and the Open Air Theatre is one of the best places to see any kind of theatre we decided that we’d take her along to see it there.

So I was put in charge of buying three tickets, which I did via their web site on Monday. I book tickets for last night. Saturday, 17th. Except I didn’t.

When we got there, I went to the box office to pick up the tickets. I gave the chap my name and showed him my credit card. “Did you book on the internet?” he asked. Then he showed me the booking he had found on their database. It was for the previous night – Friday 16th.

“Please tell me that you still have tickets for tonight”, I pleaded – dreading going to tell my family that we wouldn’t be seeing any theatre. They were sold out, but he did have a group of three returns. They were better than our original seats.

“I’ll have to sell them to you”, he explained, “As it wasn’t our fault.” I agreed. He as they started to complete the transaction he had a change of heart. “Tell you what”, he said, “paying full price twice really sucks. I’ll give you these for our cheapest price.” So he sold us three £17 tickets for £8.50 each. It’s really nice to know that there are people like that still about.

Shame about the play tho’. Romeo & Juliet isn’t one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. And this production really wasn’t very good.