Sunday, 21 August 2016

Bob On... Theatre: Funny Girl - review

In some ways, Funny Girl is going back to the future.  The West End currently features a number of shows looking at the life of, or based upon the music of singers or bands from some years ago.   Funny Girl does this too, looking as it does at the life of comedian, singer and theatre performer Fanny Brice.   But Funny Girl debuted way back in 1964, before the 1968 film version made a star of Barbra Streisland.

For the current revival, National Treasure Sheridan Smith takes on the Streisland role.  And she shines.  Her comic timing is impeccable (looking back, I can’t help but smile recalling the scenes where she meets her future husband and ‘freeze frames’ into what she is thinking).  In the sadder or more emotional moments she wears her feelings on her sleeves; you feel her pain quite palpably.

Funny Girl makes some big demands on it’s lead vocally, not helped by Streisland’s remarkable range and vocal power.  The creative team deserve credit for not trying to out-Streisland Streisland, instead adapting the songs to make the most of Sheridan’s voice (though she can belt out a line when needed and she can hold a note as well; I felt breathless just listening to her).

Sheridan is well-supported by an excellent cast, with special praise being given to Darius Campbell, who has become a polished, reliable and charismatic leading man [SPOILER ALERT] His fall from confident player to desperately clutching at straws to rebuild former successes [SPOILER ENDS] sees him segue from smooth playboy to frustrated at his dependency on his wife’s chequebook – subtle changes to his tone convey his feelings in an utterly convincing way.

I must also praise the set.  It looks basic and simple, but a surprising amount is done with side ribs that change, two conveyor belts and projected backdrops (a nice touch was to replicate the sidewalls of the Savoy at one stage).

If ever a show espoused the saying “The Show Must Go On” it is this one.   Brice's life was a malestrom at times, yet she never let down her public.

I have no doubt that Natasha Barnes is wonderful in the lead when she stands in (and the critics reviews certainly back this up), but if you are lucky enough to see Sheridan Smith perform, you will be in the presence of something special.   I honestly do not think she realises (a) just how talented she is or (b) just how much she is loved – her standing ovation was received by her being close to tears – but she is both, in spades.

Go and see Funny Girl, you will be entertained and moved in equal measure

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Bob On... Theatre: The Play That Goes Wrong: Review

The Play That Goes Wrong is supposedly performed by an AmDram company, who (they believe) have finally found a production within their scope.

They could not be more wrong. One disaster follows another, with hilarious after-effects.

The first half is where the most gut-achingly funny gags occur, as props fail, lines go wrong actors have mishaps, all leading towards (and often combining to create) even bigger gags and laughs. There were times I was in genuine pain; struggling to get my breath and just wanting a gap in the action to regain my composure. And failing completely.

The second half is perhaps not as funny as the first, being more reliant on physical comedy. It is also the home of the one joke that falls flat (mainly through over-repetition). Don’t get me wrong, it is still laugh out loud funny, but just not at the level that makes you feel your inside is going to burst like the first. Though there is a trick performed in this half that I have no idea how they pulled it off.

Two important things: 1. Get there early. There are things going on before the show that you might not realise are going on, but they slip into the show as it develops. Same thing during the interval. 2. Buy a programme. I always get one, but understand others don’t. But in this case, buy one as it joins in with the joke and forms additional jokes that enhance the show!

This show gets rave reviews, and for good reason. If you want a laugh, buy a ticket and go along. You will come out hurting, but for good reason.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Bob On... Motorcycles: 2012 Honda CB600F Hornet review

Here is a screenshot of the 2012 Honda CB600F Hornet review I wrote for Motor Cycle Monthly.
Good little bike, can do a spot of everything. Worth considering.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Bob On... Theatre: Mrs Henderson Presents: Review

Mrs Henderson Presents is the true story of the Windmill Theatre (the only house to stay open all through World War II) and it's remarkable owner.

Obviously, much has been made of the nudity in this show. So let's get the elephant out of the room and say it is not gratuitous. One scene has great comedy (reminding me of old fashioned) farce as the girls taunt the male staff with "You show me yours and I'll show you mine" jibes. The main scenes portray what actually happened on stage. The final one is well done and I must applaud Emma Williams for her bravery and strength to perform a moving, morale-lifting song beautifully, front and centre stage.

The show itself? It does seem like the acts were written by different playrights; the first act is fun, frolics and farce. The second? Given the onset of war (and the bravery of all involved at the theatre in carrying on), it had to take a more serious tone.

As someone who has visited Arnhem, my heart went out to theatre manager Van Damn when he appears wearing the Star of David armband forced upon Jewish people by the Nazis.

OK,  the songs are perhaps not memorable, but the comic moments are well done, the tragic moments had you feeling the cast's loss. 

I must praise Tracie Bennett, who captured the spirit of the remarkable Mrs Henderson and gave a performance that portrayed light and dark, Ian Bartholomew for how slick theatre manager Van Damm became human, affected and caring for his company. And much praise for Emma Williams, who handled the demands of the role of Maureen (who undergoes a roller-coaster ride from dippy tea girl to lead pose to morale-lifting singer to tireless support worker) and has a lovely voice bordering on the operatic.

As you can see, I found a lot to like. I do agree with others in saying this is perhaps a see once show, but it is worth that single view.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Bob on.... Motorbikes: 2011 Honda VT750S Used Bike Review

When I am not looking after this Blog, I write a column for Motor Cycle Monthly, showcasing used motorcycles available at dealerships. In this column I give an overview of the bike, what it is like to ride, plus a price guide for the model in question.

I thought it would be good to showcase them here, so here is the first one, a review of Honda's VT750S cruiser which appeared in the April 2014 issue.

The VT range has existed since the 1980s in one form or another. Originally a 600, the capacity increased to 750cc. The 'S' varient was only around for three years from 2011. It is fair to say it was built to take on the 883 Sportster. Personally, I feel it is a very different experience. So what is it like to ride? Click on the image below to expand it.

For more reviews, plus a bundle of other biking stuff, click on this link for Motor Cycle Monthly

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Bob On... Theatre: Wicked, the Musical

I have been attending the theatre for more years than I care to remember, anything up to a dozen times a year (and sometimes more). Of all the shows I have seen, the one I love above all is ‘Wicked’.

Based on Gregory Maguire’s book of the same name, ‘Wicked’ takes the story of the Wizard of Oz and turns it on it’s head as it tells the tale from the angle of the two witches, Glinda the Good and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West. Where I found the book disappointing, Winnie Holzman’s storybook of the show is far tighter and the narrative structure makes much more sense.

The first half of the show is mostly lighter and contains most of the comedy moments and more amusing numbers (and also contains the two most famous songs ‘Popular’ and ‘Defying Gravity’), dealing as it does with how the two young girls first meet and, from a place of pure loathing they come to form a firm friendship that culminates in their trip to the Emerald City and the chance to achieve their heart’s desires.

But they find there is a heavy price to pay...

The second half is far darker, as the girls’ lives move apart and take a very different direction, before coming back together for the final showdown. The Green Girl definitely has the best of the songs this time around (including one of my favourite songs ‘No Good Deed’), but the two leads share the beautiful and tender ‘For Good’.

I believe ‘Wicked’ balances dark and light perfectly. It gives a lot of spectacle and big scenes for the younger audience, and a classic romance (if you consider ‘green girl meets boy, boy chooses blonde girl but falls for green girl after all’ a classic romance!). But it also deals with adult issues; prejudice, suppression of free speech and the misuse of the media for propaganda are all contained therein.

At it’s heart, ‘Wicked’ is an old-fashioned Broadway musical. And old-fashioned Broadway musicals need big numbers. But it contains gentle songs as well, such as the aforementioned ‘For Good’. The true test of a score is whether the songs are memorable; and in the case of Stephen Schwartz’s ‘Wicked’ score, two of the numbers (‘Defying Gravity’ and ‘Popular’) have gone on to be known in their own right, outside of the musical arena.

I find myself lost in the show; I have always been so caught up in the performance that it took me until the fourth visit to remember to check out the scene change in the lead up to ‘No Good Deed’! ‘Wicked’ just grabs hold of me and keeps me hooked in a way no other show has managed (with the exception of the sublime and beautiful ‘Once’).

But as a huge fan of the show, my views could well be considered biased. So perhaps the best way to explain the appeal of ‘Wicked’ is through different eyes. Like the gentleman sitting behind me on my last visit, who got the humour in the show immediately and was laughing out loud. At the interval he turned to his companion and said “Isn’t it marvellous?”, followed by “That was wonderful” (an accidental pun that occurs all too often) at the end. Or the four girls (in their mid-20s I would guess) sitting in front of me on another occasion, all grinning sheepishly at one another as they realised they had all been weeping openly as Glinda and Elphaba said their goodbyes in ‘For Good’.

But the memory that sums up the appeal of the show comes from a girl of perhaps 10 or 11 who was sat beside me the first time. We were approaching the final scenes and she went to take a sip from her water bottle. But became so captivated she froze in position, totally caught up in what was happening on the stage, water bottle held just an inch from her mouth.

Any show that can have that effect is, my friends, by any use of the word, "Wicked"

Click here for the London show website

Buy the cast recording soundtrack

Bob On... London: Union Chapel, Upper Street

The Union Chapel is one of those treasures that exists in London, tucked away from the main entertainment hubs, but doing a great and diverse job.

As the name suggests,  it was a church, but was in danger of being demolished. Saved by local action, the Chapel was renovated and has become the home of a church, cafe, bar, performance venue, homeless charity and so much more.

But what you will see when you walk through the door is a stunningly beautiful building. And the acoustics are wonderful; it is no surprise so many musical acts choose to perform here.

The range of productions that run here are diverse: Bands, singers, film evenings, comedy gigs, recitals and yes, given it is still a working church, services.

There are free guided tours, daylight concerts and speakers, to crossword challenges! So truly something for everyone. And every penny you spend there helps the Union Chapel support those less well off.

Union Chapel
Compton Terrace
N1 2UN

To learn more: Union Chapel's website

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Bob On... Books: Quick Reads

I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the 10th Anniversary of Quick Reads.

Quick Reads is a wonderful organisation, set up to encourage reading by adults with reading difficulties.

I was surprised to learn as many as one in six adults in the UK have difficulties with reading. To them, the prospect of reading a full-blown novel is a daunting one. But Quick Reads supplies the answer; shorter and simpler tales, making them easier to tackle.

The stories are written by bestselling authors and supported by their publishers. There is a mix of standalone tales and compilations, such as this year's anniversary compilation which features tales by Fanny Blake, Elizabeth Buchan, Rowan Coleman, Jenny Colgan, Philippa Gregory, Matt Haig, Veronica Henry, Andy McNab, Richard Madeley, John O'Farrell... and even a couple of recipes from The Hairy Bikers!

And the great trick is these tales are put out for just £1 - at that price, people who don't read/struggle to read can dip their toes into the water. Spend £1 and don't like it? Not a huge deal. Spend perhaps  £7 or £8 on a full-blown novel and don't like it? Less likely to take another chance.

Over 4.5 million books have been distributed, helping the cause of adult literacy immensely.

To learn more, click here for the Quick Reads site

Quick Reads is a great program, and even avid readers can get a lot from it.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Bob On... London: Workers Cafe, Upper Street

Upper Street in Islington is a trendy, happening place. And you can easily end up paying trendy, happening  (i.e. expensive) prices.

So the Workers Cafe is a little oasis.

The menu is a mix of traditional Breakfast fayre, Pizzas and Pasta dishes, plus Burgers. Fish dishes are also on the menu, from traditional Cod and Chips to Sea Bass. A range of specials are served each day - see the board for details.

Prices are reasonable: I had an All Day Breakfast and a beer, my wife had a Penne Carbonara and a coffee. We followed this with a Millionaire's Shortbread and a Chocolate Brownie. It came to £22 (January 2016 prices).

The portions were generous and tasty, service was fast and friendly.

Will definitely eat there again when in the area. Recommended.

Workers Cafe
172 Upper Street
N11 R6

Workers Cafe website

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Bob On... Books: Jill Mansell's Book Launch

Had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Jill Mansell's 27th book 'You and Me, Always', at the HQ of publisher Hachette.

Jill Mansell's Hachette profile

The launch was hugely enjoyable and met up with a number of authors  (and what lovely people they were).

But I have no idea how anyone working at Hachette gets any work done, with views like this from their roof balcony.

We will see about adding a book review, once we've read it!

Friday, 29 January 2016

Bob On... Cats

These days, a Blog isn't a Blog unless it has photos of cats. So here are photos of our two kitties.

This is Blossom

And this is Buster

They're both about four years old, and both rescued.

Blossom was born in the basement of our local church, but found her way out just as we were passing aged about six weeks (her Mum, brothers and sister were rescued shortly after).

Buster found his way to us after being a stray for around two years. He came in the garden one wet day, looking hungry and the worse for wear. We gained his trust and in time we were able to get him to the vet and have him come and live with us.

Bob On... Bob On Stuff

This site is going to cover a wide range of subjects, as they come up.  Mainly motorbikes, books, theatre, London, tales of our cats and food will be the subject matter... but anything else that springs to mind!

Hopefully it will be fun, possibly informative... and fingers crossed something you will come back and see again.

So dip in and enjoy, preferably with a nice warm drink and a biscuit.