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Reads Recap: August 2016

Once I’d ploughed through the last (available) instalment of GRRM’s A Song of Ice & Fire, I was craving something a little more real-worldy. Don’t get me wrong, dragons and demons have their place on my bookshelf, but this August I wanted to check in again with the human world. I found myself picking up four female-authored books (two memoirs, two fiction), devouring them all at quite the clip and doing lots of public crying and laughing during my commute reads in the process.

Ctrl Alt Delete Emma Gannon

Ctrl Alt Delete, Emma Gannon

One of my early summer reads, this hit of nostalgia takes you straight back to days of dial up, of learning to take gawkish selfies and figuring out how to love yourself as an insecure girl with a heavily filtered profile photo. Emma’s memoir has so many hints of my own experiences online that #relatable doesn’t cover it. This was a great, quick read to muffle your laughter on the bus to- and also to cringe in recognition of the situations that seemingly every 16 year old in the early 2000s went through (a belated thank you to my mother for never getting round to buying us a webcam in the MSN heyday). Her career and lifestyle, so entwined with being online, paint a positive picture for ambitious young women in a world that spends more time bemoaning ‘millennials’ than it does celebrating digital creativity. A great snapshot of the  how and what next of this generation of ours.

The Glorious Heresies

The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney

This less than flattering portrait of the working class criminal underside of County Cork, Ireland is as flawless as it is damning. Lucid sentences pile together to give the reader a hit of adrenaline akin to so many of the vices explored in the story- that of a cantankerous old nana offing a hapless addict and the subsequent sprawling fallout. Corking one liners, gruesome detail and lines that leave you – sometimes physically- reeling with the power of them. Even the offhand throwaways are a delight- “It was a skit of the highest fucking order“, and characters are encapsulated in just a smattering of smart words- “for her their was no authority but the Holy Trinity: the priests, the nuns and the neighbours“. This book is a mastery of language and a masterful portrayal of the heartbreak, hilarity and reality of the Irish underworld.

Becoming Laura Jane Williams

Becoming, Laura Jane Williams

Dingdingding- we have a winner. This book has rocketed into my all-time favourite reads, and will now be the first thing I reach to when lost, and also is about to land in every girl friend’s Christmas stocking. Laura’s journey of self discovery through sex, celibacy and a few drunken crying sessions define every girl’s path to become wholly herself after a heartbreak. There is no exaggeration in saying I felt stronger after reading this book- I recognised so much of Laura’s effervescent personality, her quiet vulnerability and her determination to let herself define herself, thank you very much. Becoming spoke to me like that friend who perches on the edge of the kerb with you as you sob through your shattered woes- strong, warm, smart, and so funny that you snort laughs through your snotty, tearstained mess until you feel better.

Jojo Moyes After You

After You, Jojo Moyes

Any much-hyped sequel to Hollywood hit is going to be fraught with expectations, and one of my favourite things about Jojo Moyes’s writing is that she dares to potter off down paths you didn’t expect. With the world watching- Marian Keyes readers and literary critics alike- After You has enough personality to stand alone- though not quite stand up to- it’s predecessor. With a questionable plot twist very early on, lovable Lou Clark plods through life not quite eliciting the sympathy Me Beofre You did, but just as many good natured laughs (a highlight for me was the reliable chortle in “I’ve booked myself in for a back, crack and- what is it?”). Moyes gives us a pleasing end to the phenomenon, and her talent for making me ugly-cry in a public place runs as strong as ever.

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Afternoon Tea at Hotel Café Royal | The Oscar Wilde Bar

Disclaimer: I really, truly, cannot express my disbelief that I have turned-evolved- into a person who regularly takes afternoon tea- one that doesn’t come in an oversized Sports Direct mug, at least. But when your amazing friend Mary takes you to afternoon tea at the Langham, the only fair way to repay her is to take her to afternoon tea at Hotel Café Royal.

We rocked up, fashionably late (my bad), and swanned through to the Oscar Wilde Bar. The old haunt of Winston Churchill, Liz Taylor, Rudyard Kipling and Mr Wilde himself; if you ever need to impress someone, take them here. The room has this amazing old school elegance that radiates class and debauchery (a tough combo to crack- trust me, I’ve tried.)

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If the room feels luxurious, the afternoon tea feels downright decadent. I’d had some friends visit already that had warned me of the vast quantities of food I was about to tuck in to, so I’d gone prepared on an empty stomach- you’d be wise to follow the same advice.

To start, the tea. Well, actually we had champers to start, but can you blame us? The Oscar Wilde Bar is a room that deserves toasting.

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Back to the tea. The selection is wide reaching, but after a few quick-to-bitter teas at other places, I stuck with something I knew and had the Mango Noir. I hate tea that is served in a pot, left to over stew turning into sharp gross cold liquid after just one cup, so was very happy with my fairly unadventurous, but happy-swilling-around-for-more-than-two-minutes cup. (I think this means I’m posh now, everyone.)

The savouries were lush. Delicate cucumber sarnies, goat’s cheese and tomato muffin, teeny chorizo tarts. All very good, all demolished within minutes of our lovely waitress leaving the table.

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On to the sweet stuff- washed down with a quick shot of iced tea (oh la la). The scones were fresh and delicious- being the glutton I am, I would have preferred a larger helping of cream and jam- and the delicate pastries and inventive desserts were a) beautifully presented b) perfectly flavoured and c) piled high. All the winning traits.

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One of the sweetest things about Hotel Café Royal is, in addition to the food and drink- alone enough to rave about- they amp up the experience with little treats. A live pianist brings class, a brief history in a booklet on your table adds depth, and a cheery Toastmaster, reading quotes from Oscar Wilde, adds a sense of occasion. None of the above are necessary to make Hotel Café Royal feel grand and luxurious, the gorgeous food is plenty to write home about, yet they think of everything here and you’ll start to wonder if you should arrange a live pianist for every cuppa you brew.

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Highlights of the tea were the goat’s cheese muffin with the DIY-sauce injection, the rich and fruity (oi oi) Raspberry Regent, the creamy ‘Spitfire Lollipop’, the fruity history supplied in the little ‘OWB’ history book (it’s 150 years old!) and of course, the ever-charming Mary’s company. Treat someone you love or wanna show off to to afternoon tea at the Oscar Wilde Bar and watch the brownie points roll on in.

Afternoon Tea, Oscar Wilde Bar, Hotel Café Royal, 68 Regent St, London.

Oscar Wilde Bar - Hotel Café Royal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Kinky Boots: Theatre Review

I try not to revel in the misery of others. The exceptions I make for this rule are limited to: when someone is mean and they stub their toe, when someone I love accidentally sends a text about their ex to their ex, and when someone has to give theatre tickets up.

So when Hazel, the lovely Hazel, sadly passed over her tickets for the Kinky Boots preview night, despite her clear reluctance, I couldn’t help fist pump. Sorry Hazel.

Telling the kinda-true-story of a Northamptonshire shoe factory that, despite their passion for men’s brogues, just can’t shift footwear. The defeated Charlie, who hesitantly inherits the boring business, stumbles across Lola. Lola, a six foot black drag queen who demands the sexiness of blood red and skyscraper heels, struggles to find boots that fit the sauciness bill, and round her size fourteen tootsies.

Lo and behold, in true fairytale musical fashion, this unlikely duo make a dynamite pair, and frolic into the sunset with a song and a touch of sass.

 

 

The London production of Kinky Boots was incredible. Lola, the real star of the show, gave me shivers when she sang, and certainly got the biggest laughs out of the audience- for all the right reasons. As with any drag character, there is a way to play them that pays homage to their humour and daring without turning them into pantomime leftovers, and I must say that Matt Henry gives Lola all the life, warmth and wit she deserves.

My love of drag artists and the talent of Matt Henry had me pining after more Lola scenes-  I tweeted Andrew Lloyd-Webber during the interval letting him know I’d be more than happy to throw my money at a musical about her day to day life. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, (I’m looking at you, Orange is the New Black), the side characters are more interesting than the main characters, and Kinky Boots is no exception.

c/o @KinkyBootsUK

c/o @KinkyBootsUK

As much as you grow to love Charlie, he takes a few scenes before you really feel for him. In fact, it’s not until he has a meltdown, launching an attack on Lola, that I have any real investment in him. I guess that’s the curse of playing a guy who’s defining characteristic is not being all that sure of himself- but Killian Donnely knocks it out of the park when he belts out ‘Soul of a Man’.

The stand out moment for me, despite there being so many to choose from, is an easy win for the incredibly funny The History of Wrong Guys. Lauren, who has an inadvised crush, tries to convince herself- to no avail- that she doesn’t fancy our hapless protagonist Charlie. Funny, light and smart songs like this punctuate the whole show.

Kinky Boots is a real strutter of a show, and I cannot honestly recommend a better way to spend an evening. Not until Lola gets her own solo stint at my local pub, anyway.

 

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Soften The Grey: Theatre Challenge Review

I know everyone is busy these days, but believe me when I saw I was busy when Sofie, invited me along as her plus one to review two-man-show Soften the Grey earlier this week. Normally I’d have said no, not enough time to look at this link, sorry can’t go. I glanced at the buffering screen on my phone as I waited for a synopsis to shuffle into view and before I had time to click away I’d decided, ah stuff it, I’ll go.

So off we went.

We went for dinner at La Cafe Divina, where, true to form, I was a whole hour late (thanks TFL!) and had to trust Sofie with placing my order despite having practically stood her up. Maybe it shows that I’m a lesser person and would have sabotaged her order had I been the one getting pitying looks from waiters for an hour, ordered her a bowl of pasta with no sauce/cheese/meat and shrugged when she arrived- but alas, Sofie is a much better person than I am and gracefully ordered me a lovely and filling seafood linguini (thanks girl x).

Scoffing that down in enough time to guarantee indigestion and the new possibility I could enter speed eating contests in the future, we made it to the Hope and Anchor pub with just enough time to grab a (very flat) cider and pull up our seats before the show started.

Soften the Grey is a teasing look into the afterlife, written, directed and performed by Jake Hassam and Nigel Munson. We’re onlookers in a Citizen’s Advice Bureaux beyond the grave, after a poor unfortunate soul dies in a diving incident.

Sounds a little macabre, doesn’t it? Well surprisingly, and refreshingly, it’s not. The dialogue toys with deep dark questions and with softer, lighter moments to avoid becoming an angsty piece- the last thing anyone needs after being stuck on the Central line for fortyfive minutes, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Receptionist fronts the Bureaux, echoing every public sector customer serviceman in his deliberate pencil pushing. There’s something child-with-ant-under-a-magnifying-glass about the way he puts our dear dead diver friend through his paces when deciding on the outcome of his life- which afterlife is for you? What have you done right? What have you done wrong? What was it all about? Who let the dogs out? The questions I’m know we all ask ourselves on lonely nights.

We flash back through the diver’s life, witness to important moments that will decide his eternity, which pave the way for some wonderful intimate scenes that have every audience member holing their breath- Damien’s kiss being a notable highlight of the entire hour. Led by the Receptionist, we are welcome to make our own judgements about the ol’ diver’s life value, who is purposefully relatable in a hundred ways- not least that he spends most of the show in a Zebra onesie.

I’d sensed a little ghosts-of-Christmas-past-future-and-present in the Receptionist, who lauded his knowledge and position of the diver- so I put it to Jake and Nigel when we met with them after the performance. They were delighted. “It’s nice to hear that there are more layers to the show than we expected!“. The definite Dickensian undertone of the Receptionist reaches out in other ways- the punishment scenes are dramatically Victorian- but there’s always a steady undercurrent of chirpy humour; “I can’t die, I’m only 25″ -”The early bird catches the worm!”.

Overall, I’d say the name Soften the Grey doesn’t do this play justice. It’s deliciously thrown in, but gives no clue as to the lightness of the show, despite the big questions. This was an absolute joy to watch, and I absolutely demand that you get your butts down to Hope and Anchor to catch it before it leaves us for wherever plays go when they pull the final curtain.

THEATRE CHALLENGE TOT UP: