Kalgoorlie

Date: Monday 14th to Thursday 17th December 2015

Location: Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, Australia

As an interlude in my trip to Perth, which you can read about here, I took a trip a short way into the centre of Australia and went to visit a town called Kalgoorlie. Kal (as it’s affectionately known) has about 30,000 inhabitants which happens to be exactly the same amount as the town I grew up in. However my town is a 10 minutes’ drive from a city in either direction and a 30 minutes train journey to London. Kalgoorlie is a 9 hour train ride from Perth, the closest large city to it. Let’s just say Kal and my home town have a different feel from each other

Kalgoorlie is right in the middle of the bush, surrounded by that flat red dirt and those trees which seem to just appear out of nowhere. It’s a beautifully stark and repetitive landscape but absolutely full of colour. Within a 10 minute drive in any direction you’re out into the wilderness and it doesn’t take long to lose sight of civilisation all together. However right in the middle of all this beautiful countryside is a big, fat hole because that’s what Kalgoorlie is known for, the gold mine. When I say it’s a big hole, I mean it’s a biiiiiiig hole. It’s 3.5km long, 1.5km wide and 570m deep at its deepest point. That’s one and half empire state buildings deep! It produces on average 2000 oz of gold per day which is dredged up from the ground by a combination of explosives and drilling. The rocks from this mining are carted up out of the hole in trucks that weigh over 30 tonnes empty and can carry up to 300 tonnes of rock and debris (that’s like 60 elephants!). In fact I’m not sure which is more shocking – the size of the hole or the size of the trucks. And before anybody gets their feminist boots on over this, 40% of truck drivers are female. Kal has found other ways of letting the traditional masculine vibe of mining emerge (in the form of topless barmaids). All these facts come from the brilliant tour that you can do of the whole mine, where you drive around the giant hole next to all the massive trucks (not the knowledge of the topless barmaids, that came from a very funny/slightly awkward night out with 3 other guys in the local bar.)

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So the other tour you can do in Kal is a tour of the brothel. Yep, you read that right, a tour of a brothel. It is the only place in the world I found that you can pay to enter a brothel and not be guaranteed sex! Either way, it was entertaining and fun and actually gave some decent history of the area. It is the oldest profession in the book after all.

I stayed with a lovely family in Kalgoorlie (the family of my Perth friend) who couldn’t have looked after me better. They took me to a million places, showing me all the sites, took be out for a bbq in the bush under the beautiful stars and let me join in with all their social engagements like I was an old friend. I couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome and I am incredibly thankful to them for that. One day I was taken round to the stables to go on a horse ride out in the bush, which was lovely. However we were joined by the pet sheep. So sheep are actually quite a lot like dogs, as in they will jump up on you, run around the feet of the horse and annoy them … and chase after cars. It is the only time I have been riding where we had to stop the ride to go chasing after a sheep who was trying to chase down a tow-truck going in the opposite direction. Only in Australia hey?

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Carmen … but not

Date: Thursday 30 April 2015

Location: Almeida Theatre, Islington, London

So this one was a bit weird. Carmen Disruption is the new play by Simon Stephens, The guy who also wrote ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (otherwise known as that play with the long title where the roof fell in at the theatre). I’ve no idea what TCIOTDITNT (had to shorten it somehow …) was like, I never got around to seeing it so I couldn’t tell you if this play was typical for him but I can tell you that really, it was a bit strange.

Don’t let the name fool you, although the characters had the same names as those in Bizet’s opera and there was an opera singer, the similarities stopped there. The characters may have had the same names but they had purposely been changed to be as different from the expected as possible. Carmen became a rent boy, Don Jose became a female taxi driver and Micaela a student who has quite clearly just ended an affair with her university lecturer. You could almost say the characters were a little too predictable in their polar opposition to stereotypes. Interestingly, none of these characters had any relation to each other at all. Which means your brain has got to work for the whole 90 minutes you’re watching this show. No drifting off allowed. That’s not necessarily a problem as it definitely keeps your interest piqued, the moment you think you’re just starting to understand a character the focus changes onto a different part and you’re dragging up what you learnt about this person last time they spoke… So that’s another thing, all speech is directed at you, the audience, which meant I ended up feeling like I had some sort of responsibility for these people on the stage who were generally making fairly poor decisions (couldn’t decide whether I felt sorry for them or wanted to give them a slap back to their senses). I guess this was intended by the author but it doesn’t make for a comfortable viewing experience.

Through all of these strange stories the figure of ‘Carmen’ herself stalks, not speaking but singing snippets of information. Most of which you get but some could have done with some subtitles (age old dispute of opera sung in English).  It’s an interesting addition to the play and I’m not sure it added much, but then I don’t particularly like opera.

I’ve said all of this and I know it sounds like I didn’t like it, but I did. It was different and new and therefore took some getting used to but each of us came out saying ‘I think I liked that’. I couldn’t handle every play to be like this and I’m not sure I’d want to see it again but I did enjoy the 90 minutes I was watching it.

 

 

The Classic

Date: Friday 13 March 2015

Location: Royal Opera House, London

They say that a lot in life has to do with timing. Have bad timing and you’ll miss some important moments or meeting some important people. Have good timing and, well, you won’t miss a thing! But then it’s not really something you can control so maybe timing is synonymous with luck. Whichever it is, the timing/luck was spot on for the performance of Swan Lake I saw with my Mum on Friday 13th March (take that Friday 13th!).

To start with the cast was brilliant, Osipova and Golding taking the leads, Francesca Haywood, Alexander Campbell and Yuhui Choe in the pas de trios and pretty much all of my favourites somewhere in the corps. The company had just come back from a week’s break and they looked refreshed and rejuvenated for it. Then to add to that I don’t know what was happening back stage but they all seemed to be on absolutely top form! Swan Lake is pretty amazing to begin with but with the atmosphere and the dancing being this good it was one on the most moving performances I have ever seen.

Golding was, as always … dreamy (I think this a good word … I’m sticking with it). Technically great and a wonderful dance actor, transporting you into the story with ease. Osipova was … astonishing (used this word for her before but it works … so I’m sticking with this too). Dancing as Odette she is amazing but I can’t warm to her particularly. Although the technique is perfect and the acting is on point, it feels like just that. Acting. It doesn’t feel real. However as Odile there are no words!!! If you’ve never seen Swan Lake there’s this point in Act III where the ballerina has to do 32 fouettes (spin on pointe on one foot 32 times). It’s a classic, it has a massive build up and as an audience member you cross your fingers for the ballerina and start counting, hoping to the gods of ballet that she will get to that sacred number. There are those dancers where the gods do not need to be called upon and they like to add in some double turns every now and again just to show that, yes, they can do this fine thank you very much. But Osipova … oh Osipova … she did double, double, triple (!), double, double, triple(!?!) for maybe the first 8 bars!!!! I have never ever seen anyone dance the solo like that! The applause had started by half way through and carried on straight through her solo, into Golding’s solo and out the other side. JUST AMAZING!!

But enough about the stars, the corps carry the bulk of the work in Swan Lake and they were just as brilliant, if not more. The party in act III was a proper party! You could feel the enjoyment and passion coming off the stage in waves. But this was as nothing to the power and the emotion that was blasted into the audience during act IV. They say ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ but I’m sorry, hell cannot even begin to match the fury of a woman whose friend has been scorned. Times this by 30 odd friends, turn them all into swans, turn the scorning man into an evil wizard and you might have some idea of what I’m talking about. I found myself wanting to join in with them and the voice inside my head was screaming ‘Yeah girls, you go! Die Rothbart die!!’. It was just about the most passionate performance of Swan Lake I have ever seen and I could feel myself welling up just with the pure raw emotion of it all.

Definitely a night to be remembered for a long time and to start a few stories with ‘do you remember that time we saw the really good version of Swan Lake at the Royal…?’

So Bravo Royal Ballet, Bravo

Getting my country on

Date: Saturday 7th to Sunday 8th March 2015

Location: O2 Arena, London

I’m happy to say that this post marks 1 year of writing this blog (yey!) which is doubly exciting because it means that I went to County 2 Country again.

My friend YC and I headed out to Greenwich for both days this year as one of our favourite bands The Pauper Kings nee McKay (can you use nee in this sense?! … Never mind, just did) were only playing the one day this year… being the nice people we are we took an extra trip just to see them. It was well worth it as they filled the Brooklyn Bowl yet again and gave a fab performance! The show included some of their new stuff, which sounded great and I can’t wait to hear more of. Now if only they’d get a move on and release their new album!

The second day we had tickets to the main event which included Lady Antebellum headlining the main stage (squee!) plus three other acts that I didn’t know (not a bad thing, last year I discovered The Band Perry, well worth it). Before heading into the main arena we stopped off again at the Brooklyn Bowl to see the new buzz about town ‘The Shires’. A two piece band originally from Hertfordshire (get it?) who have stormed onto the country music scene and just got themselves a top 10 place on the UK album charts. They were brilliant. The laid back, acoustic, country songs get right into your head and their funny and on point lyrics make you feel everything a country song should. Yet they still manage to give off a uniquely British vibe, a sound you can’t put your finger on but you know it sounds like home (and no, it’s not the fact that they are singing about tea and fish & chips).

The acts on the main stage this year were a bit of a mix. The first act on was Kip Moore, a solo artist with a gravelly voice guaranteed to conjure up images of a porch, a rocking chair and a guitar somewhere in the deep south. His set was great but one song stood out among all the others and caused YC and me to stop talking and listen (no mean feat). It’s called ‘Hey Pretty Girl’ and is just about the most romantic love song I have ever heard. Not to be listened to while in an emotional state but if you feel up to it the link is here – I think I’m up to 57 plays already (can you tell I’m slightly obsessive).

The next act was Brantley Gilbert (you could be nothing but American with a name like that) who I don’t think I’m a fan of, sorry. I could barely hear the words he was singing, or rather shouting, into the mic and seeing that the lyrics are the most important part of music to me it made it kind of pointless. It didn’t help that he was fairly open about his love of guns and I happen to be fairly open about my hatred of them … Maybe not a match made in heaven.

However all was forgiven when Lady Antebellum stepped on the stage. They are so good!! Previously to this show I only had the ‘Need You Now’ album, which is wonderful and one of my favourite albums, but it’s by no means all of their music. Not knowing half the songs didn’t matter at all though as it’s just as easy to dance along with them as it is to sing. They also seem like super friendly people and genuinely happy to be there which rubs off on the audience. It was just a fun and joyful show which played all of their major hits including ‘Need You Now’ which was a damn sight better that when Cheryl Cole and Gary Barlow murdered it at the Queen’s Jubilee. I obviously went straight out and bought their latest album … I am a PR’s dream customer.

C2C was well worth a second year and I’m definitely going again … Which is just as well as next year it will be on for three days!

A trip downtown

Location: Shaftsbury Theatre, London

Date: Thursday 8th January 2015

This was my second trip to see this fantastic show, one just wasn’t enough. The show captures you right from the start with the song ‘Underground’. It sets the scene, introduces the characters and wows you all at once. Pretty good for just one song. Set in downtown Memphis in the 1950’s the plot is a pretty simple boy meets girl story with the background of the anti-racism struggles happening at the time.

Although the story is good (and has an unusual plot twist at the end) it’s not really what you’d go for, it’s the incredible singing, dancing and music which draw you back for a second time. The show starts and you think, ‘yes this is a dancing show ‘(and if you’re me you think ‘excellent!’), then a few songs in you realise everyone on that stage can sing as well and you think ‘ooo singing show too, not bad’. Then you get to the nitty gritty bits of the story and you think ‘hang on, everyone here can act their socks off too’. Basically it’s a stage full of triple threats backed by an amazing band (life does not dole out talent fairly …).

The show boasts a selection of wonderful soul and early rock and roll songs that will have you tapping your toes even if you don’t want to and you will be singing along for days afterwards. Or if you’re like me and the friends I went with it will have you singing along for months afterwards having purchased the newly released West End soundtrack (Somedaaaaay I’m gonna do you wrong … shut it Ruth!)

*INSERT funnily enough I just tried to listen to said soundtrack on the train while writing this blog entry. My tablet decided that headphones just weren’t an option today and I’ve just blasted ‘Make Me Stronger’ at full volume to the whole carriage. My tablet then decided it quite liked causing me this embarrassment and froze so I was unable to turn it off. Needless to say I wasn’t everyone’s favourite passenger. But hey, if it gets stuck in their heads it’s worth it!*

All in all this is a fantastic show which I hope will stay around forever but a good show is never a guarantee of longevity in the West End so do yourself a favour and go and see it now.

 

 

Photos of Wonderland

Location: Natural History Museum, London

Date: Monday 8th December 2014

Last year I had the pleasure of being completely surprised by the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. I wandered in thinking wildlife? Yep, like that. Photography, yep, like that too! Well it should be alright … it was so much better than alright. The hour that I had allotted myself to see it passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was re-emerging into the light 3 hours later and significantly late for my next appointment. It didn’t just transport me to another world, it transported me to our world and my god is it beautiful place.

This meant that I couldn’t wait to get my second dose this year and it happens to be the competition’s 50th anniversary.  For those who haven’t visited the exhibition (firstly, go, it’s amazing) the show is split into several categories which include sections on Earth’s diversity, Earth’s design and Earth’s environments along with another section for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year with competitors starting at the early age of 10.

The selection of photos is breath taking, the wide and varied nature of our planet lends itself very well to modern day photography. The thing that hits you first walking into the room is the colour. From the bright orange of molten lava to the deep greens of jungle vegetation and the stark blues of endless skies and seas it’s an assault on the eyes made all the more dramatic by the minimal lighting and the black walls of the exhibition. The show itself is very well ordered leading you from one section to the next without confusing you and spending just enough time on each subject. There are loads of photos I could name that stood out this year but the one that is still in my mind is an almost disturbing photo of lonely iceberg on a deserted beach in Iceland. It’s so mysterious it feels like it could have fallen out of a storybook.

Each photo has its own description of what the subject is and where it was shot plus a word from the photographer and these small snippets of information add to the interest of the exhibition. When you understand why the photographers did what they did and where they were looking you get a much deeper view of the photo. The show also states not only where each photo was taken but where each photographer is from. The wide variety of nationalities just adds to the pleasure of this show.

As this is the 50th Anniversary the film at the end of the gallery shows every winning photo of the last 50 years and it’s great to see the massive improvements that have been made in terms of photography and how much more clearly you can see the beauty of the world these days.

If you haven’t gone yet I urge you to go to this exhibition, it’s just a wonderful, peaceful and beautiful experience looking at some very talented artists’ work.

Manon. Take two

Date: Wednesday 29th October 2014

Location: Royal Opera House, London

For the second viewing of Manon I went with my friend YB (also an avid ballet lover), we were doublly excited as not only was Roberto Bolle dancing the lead, Carlos Acosta was dancing the second male lead, AMAZING. However we arrived on the night to find one of those little ones (1) that strike fear into the hearts of all Opera House goers next to Bolle’s name … he had an injury. But he was replaced by Matthew Golding, the new Canadian star at the Royal. YB and I had seen him once before and had been suitably impressed so maybe it wasn’t the end of the world. Dancing Manon was Zenaida Yaniwsky, so there were no worries there. The only problem we could foresee was that Yanowsky is over 6 foot tall once en pointe and neither of us thought that Golding got over that height.

The start was absolutely perfect, Manon was portrayed with such emotion that you fell in love with her from the same moment Des Grieux does. And Golding’s first solo took our breath away, I would have run away with him to Paris in a split second too (actually, can I?)! The only issue came when we got to that first major lift … it was pretty wobbly, breath catching wobbly really. But he didn’t drop her and I think I said before I’ve never seen that particular lift done well. The rest of the ballet was good, when they were dancing separately they were both spectacular, when they were dancing together you could tell that they really hadn’t had a lot of practice together (which to be fair, I really don’t think they had!) But by act three they really had warmed up to dancing together and the emotional commitment the two of them gave the roles the whole way through the ballet was extraordinary.

I loved it and I think I’m now slightly in love with Matthew (can I call him this? I’m sure I can …). To point out the emotion of the ballet as a whole the lady next to us started snivelling in act one, crying in act two and full on uncontrollable sobbing in act three. There aren’t many pieces of work that will bring out such emotion in people.

**ADDITION**

The Friday night after going to see this performance of Manon I happened to be walking between clubs in the West End with my friends (maybe a little tipsily it has to be said) when who should walk past me but the one and only MATTHEW GOLDING!!! To my fairly astounded ‘Oh my god it’s Matthew Golding’ he replied with a ‘Hello, yes that’s me’. We then exchanged brief words about how much I had enjoyed his performace, he said thank you, gave me a hug and went on his way hopefully to have a good night. I, on the other hand, collapsed into some sort of puddle somewhere on the Strand with some very confused friends (none of whom were ballet dancers) asking what the hell was wrong and why was I gabbling like a mental person? I’m normally really very calm and collected and I have no celebrity interest so you can see their confusion. However their lack of understanding was so annoying I had to phone YB who I went to see Manon with at 1:30AM on a Saturday morning and shout down the phone to her. She was suitably thrilled and jealous all at the same time.