Wine, Whales and Penguins – All on the way to the Cape of Good Hope


Our journey continues with a lovely breakfast at the Cape Heritage Inn (oh, I do love this place), fond good-bye’s from our hosts, and our first attempt at driving on the Left in South Africa.

Unlike St. Croix, which is also drives on the Left, but with normal US cars – these cars have been built for drive on the Left. That means that the driver’s seat is on the right, and the controls for simple things like windshield washers and turn signals are reversed. Victor struggles manfully with the controls – while I attempt to navigate us out of Cape Town.

Our first destination is a Winery called Groot Constantia. It’s the home of Grand Constance – world famous for being Napoleon’s wine of choice while he was on St. Helena. Naturally – we have to try some. It’s quite yummy, and the personalized tour of the wine making facility, while not new news, is still very interesting. Our wine tasting paired the wines with chocolates that had been custom made to match – yummy.

All of this takes quite a bit of time – so we decide to eat lunch at the Vineyard, and we share a traditional African meal, Bobotie. It’s a ground meat pie, topped with a fried egg, and served with yellow rice that’s been flavoured with raisins. It is huge and delicious – and very filling. We relax (perhaps a bit longer than we should), and eventually head out ever Southward.

Our next stop is Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town. It’s home to over 2,000 Penguins – who have been living, fishing, mating and having babies in this rock strewn bit of South Africa since 1982 when 2 breeding pairs first arrived. The Penguins are everywhere – they live in depressions under the African shrubs that dot the hillside, and they splash around in the waters of the Indian Ocean that lap the shore. Because of all the huge rocks, the waters here are just rough enough to bring in the fish, but not so rough as to make it hard for the Penguins to get in and out. It’s a perfect place – and they clearly love it.

Part of South African’s National Park System – there’s a fee to enter, but it’s clean, well kept, and well – full of Penguins. It was great.

We take lots of pictures – my favourite shows a tiny baby staring directly into my camera from under his mother’s protective wing, and then head on South.

Every Southward we go – past adorable towns, beautiful beaches, and African Scrubland. We arrive at the entrance to the “Cape of Good Hope National Park”, and pay our $13.50 Canadian each to go in. A bit steep – but clearly this is a place for tourists – and South Africa knows a tourist trap when they see one. If you went to Cape Town – wouldn’t you go to the Cape of Good Hope?

The well maintained road winds along the top of the ridge – with the Light House at the tippy top of the final peak – Cape Point – clearly visible in front of us. When we arrive at the base we realize there are two options for going up to the Light House – climb a zillion steps, or take the tram. We decide to do neither – Victor has plans for later today, and wants to see and get gone. So we turn around, and head to the lower road that runs along the shore. Here we end up at the actual Cape of Good Hope – and reward ourselves with a bit of a walk, a bit of a stare into the ocean – and a photograph! The waves that roll in are unhindered in their journey North from Antarctica and are huge. They crash onto the rocks at our feet – then fall back into the ocean for another try. It’s beautiful. We spot Ostriches that have made this scrubland their homes – and they are apparently raising a family based on the number of what I think are Ostrich chicks at their feet. We also spot Baboons who have decided that the tourists here are easy pickings. They aren’t the least bit concerned about us – unless we happen to have some food. They climb on cars – try to get into car windows, even test the door handles. Wily beasts…

We now head back towards Noordhoek, where there is a Food Market on Thursday evenings. The idea – grab food from a stall, and enjoy sunset! Sounds good – so we head North. We pass folks doing a bit of whale watching in the Indian Ocean (I can see the spouting of the whale as we drive past) and somewhat surprisingly – a shanty town.

Housing in this part of the Cape has been quite a bit better -so the sudden appearance of the shanties is a bit of a surprise. It’s the one and only we’ve seen since we left Cape Town. In general this part of South Africa is less barricaded and blocked in – which feels better to our western sensitives.

And after a few wrong turns, and some GPS confusion, finally find ourselves at the Market. This is a hugely popular local event – the food is reasonable, and the view spectacular tonight – not a cloud in the sky.

We check out the offerings – there are about 2 dozen stalls, set up with cooking facilities and serving Pork Belly, Fish and Chips, Pork Steaks, Greek Food, Vegetarian options, BBQ Pork Belly Sandwiches, even Tuna Steak. So many choices, and all priced at around $8. I opt for the Pork Belly with cooked yams, Victor gets the BBQ Pork Belly Sandwich, and then goes back for the Tuna Steak. He also gets a bottle of white wine, and we relax on a picnic table to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean. Peaceful and so lovely.

After dinner, We carefully drive on to our lodging for tonight. We’re staying at the highly rated Tuscan Villa Guest House in Fishhoek, and it’s worth it’s rating. Our double sized room features another of these huge bathrooms – with a large shower and huge freestanding tub. We’re warned yet again about the water crisis – and asked not to use the tub. Well – we weren’t planning on it – so you are ok. Our charming hostess explains that the fines for ‘over use’ of water are extremely high, and she’s being forced to use the shower at her son’s place to avoid having the guest house deemed an over consumer. That kind of thing is really hard to control too. We promise to be careful, and she wishes us good night.

We remove the fresh lavender stalks that have been carefully laid on our towels, our pillows, and the bath mat, and settle down for the night.

Tomorrow we are heading North to the wine tasting district of Stellenbosch.

Signing off out of total exhaustion – The Soup Lady

Exploring the Khayelitsha Township near Cape Town with Maurice Podbrey (Part II)


For the past 8 years or so, Maurice Podbrey has made it his mission to help a Youth Football Club in the Khayelitsha Township flourish – and an uphill battle it has been. But to attempt to explain what he’s been doing – and why it is so interesting, I think I have to start with a quick description of South Africa today, at least as far as I could see.

Officially – Apartheid ended 22 years ago – but undoing it has been much harder than I think most of us in North American can begin to appreciate.

I was lucky enough to find a wonderfully well written article on Apartheid (written in 2014). I highly recommend you read it – but I will summarize it below.

If you’d like to see the original piece – here’s the Link. Please read it – it’s quite interesting.

Here is my quick summary – The author makes several important points – He starts with a quote from Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town. Edgar says: “The social engineering of apartheid came down to a very successful model of spatial engineering,” The author continues: “Tracing his fingers over a map of the city in his office, he explains how both natural landscape features and manmade infrastructure were employed as physical barriers to keep the different racial communities as isolated as possible.”

“Cape Town was conceived with a white-only centre, surrounded by contained settlements for the black and coloured labour forces to the east, each hemmed in by highways and rail lines, rivers and valleys, and separated from the affluent white suburbs by protective buffer zones of scrubland,”

Driving around Cape Town today – in fact driving anywhere in the area – one can see exactly what Edgar is talking about. It’s easy to spot the shanty towns (no electricity) and the black townships (bit nicer but still shanty houses – have electricity). And if one looks carefully – one sees how the highways, huge zones of scrubland, and other natural features hem in these areas. Folks who live in these areas have a very strong sense of community – but they can’t easily move away. It’s a giant move, or stay put. That’s the only choice.

And it’s a hard one even for us to make in Canada – if you chat up new grand-parents – they are torn between living their lives where they are, or moving closer to the grand kids. Hard choice. Now make that choice harder by not having enough money for a car – and putting the pieces of your life an hour away by bus (if the bus comes), or 2 hours away by foot. Keeping your family close, if unemployed is somehow more appealing.

In any case – life in the townships is tough. There are few jobs – well, I’m being generous – there are no jobs for young adults. No A&Ws, no Dad’s factory, no where to work. If you want to earn some money, you can try to start your own ‘business’ – selling stuff you pickup to passing cars, gathering wood from the near by scrubland, maybe helping people park their cars, but the pickings are slim. And you are miles and miles away from the places where any kind of normal job could be found. To visit the township where Maurice’s football club is located was a 45 minute drive from Cape Town. And there are 1.5 million people living in just that one ‘Township’ If even just 10% are young men from 16-22, that’s 150,000 of them. The numbers are simply staggering.

Back to Maurice. His football club isn’t trying to address all the problems – but it does specifically target some issues in one tiny area of the ‘Khayelitsha Township’. Kids who belong to the Pauline Podbrey Club get a hot meal after school – and are encouraged to do their homework either before or after practice. The teams (and there are at least 8 – organized by type of game, girls or boys, and age) have team colours and team outfits – paid for by Maurice’s fundraising. In fact Maurice’s fund raising has basically paid for everything – from the white board to the plastic chairs, to the kitchen set-up used to cook the hot meals.

When we went to visit – we were introduced to several of the ladies who work in the Club – the bookkeeper, a lady who works with handicapped kids of all ages, and one of the team managers. Some of the kids also came to talk to us – they told us about their ambitions – one wants to play professional soccer, or if he can’t do that – something with Math. The other young man isn’t on any team – he’s new to this township, having just moved here from the Eastern Cape, but he’s good friends with kids in the club, and is thinking about joining. Two young ladies, about 10 years old, were also there. They play Net Ball – a version of Basket Ball that is popular here. They demonstrated their techniques, as well as told us a bit about their lives. If you’d like to make a donation – and trust me – even a dollar would be well spent there – click here for the link to the Pauline Podbrey Foundation.

After we said goodbye to the Club space, we visited the new park that has been built near by the Club. It is a year old, and a lovely space indeed. There is a garden area with plants and flowers (the only growing things besides kids we’ve seen here in the Township), a playground, a soccer pitch, and a net ball court. Quite a remarkable difference from the rest of the township. We also drive by the shopping area – you can buy almost anything you’d want there – although it’s likely to be displayed on the ground, or hanging from the fence that surrounds the space. There are traditional looking, albeit poorly stocked, shops, but most of the shopping is done from individual sellers who spread their wears on the ground around the shopping space.

South Africa is a glorious country – magnificent beaches, towering mountains, wide open spaces. Surely there is enough room and enough resources to go around. There must be a solution – although it is of course not one a casual visitor can easily imagine.

I did dream up one idea – although I am willing to describe it, I can’t see how it could happen. There is a lot of undeveloped land in the District 6 area, hard by several of Cape Town’s now integrated Universities and Colleges. My idea is to build dormitories and Apartment houses on this land. The dormitories would be occupied by students – roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, 1/3 coloured. The idea being that living together would help them understand their similarities. Then here’s the interesting part. The Apartments would be rented only to graduating students who had lived in the dormitories – roughly on the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 basis. And the rent received from the students would be kept on account for them. After 5 years – they would have to leave the Apartments to leave room for new students, but they would get back the rent they had paid in, perhaps matched by the government. This would give them seed money to get better jobs, a better home, to start a business.

Anyway – on to our travels.

After leaving the Township, we head back along the water to catch a lovely light lunch at one of the small towns on the beach. After lunch, Maurice drives us up to the base of the cable car that goes up Table Mountain. We’d hope to catch the thing – but it wasn’t running – too much wind. But never mind, even from the base the view is amazing.

Tonight Victor and I have decided to do something really really different – we’re going to a show at Gate 69.

The Cape Heritage Hotel where we are now staying is in a busy bustling part of Cape Town – very different from the deserted landscape just past the Water Front. And right across the street is the Gate 69 Club. I saw a brochure for the place – and it is obviously a Drag Queen Supper Club. And I figure – why not?

Getting reservations is actually part of the fun. They are officially sold out for tonight, but I decide to visit the box office for myself. I run into all three of the owners – all busy getting ready for the night – but very willing to find a space to squeeze in two guests from Canada. ‘Cathy’, the main hostess runs out quickly – only partly dressed – to welcome me – and tells me that she’s (he’s) only been here in Cape Town for 2 years – but loves every minute. I’m guessing that foreign visitors haven’t quite figured out how much fun this kind of thing can be – and we are being treated as honoured guests!

There is only room for about 80 guests – all seated at tables in front of a stage. The theatre space is all red velvet and gold curtains, the welcoming bar area is done in purple plush – and they have camped it to the max! Cathy Pacific – our 6’4″ hostess for the evening is decked out on the red carpet – greeting guests as they arrive with big hugs and a smile. She’s lovely – if a bit muscular for my taste! We are escorted in to the bar area, and share a glass of wine before climbing the stairs to the theatre proper.

Dinner is a complete surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting – but not a fabulous multi-tiered platter – somewhat reminiscent of a British High Tea service. There are two kinds of olives, several different types of toasted breads, a liver spread, a hummus spread, two different kinds of ‘sandwiches’, chicken Satay, a tiny plate of cold vegetables, fresh bread served while we eat – and a wonderful hot soup with decidedly unique citrus notes. It’s yummy – and more than we can eat! We save the cheese plate and the fresh strawberries for later – and admire our ‘waitress’. Like Cathy – she’s enormous – and dressed to fly in a tight fitting airline hostess outfit. These ‘girls’ would never make it onto a plane – with their headdresses we’re talking over 7 feet – easy.

The show starts with the three owners welcoming us to their ‘place’. I had met ‘Cathy’ earlier in the day – and she has consistently refered to my husband and I as our ‘Canadian’ guests – too funny that. And then the show is on the road.

The premise is that the three airline hostesses have recently been demoted – something about using the toggle to eject the door and inflate the slide so they could make it on time to a performance in Cape Town. So they are doomed to ‘domestic’ and begin by mourning their loss of ‘duty-free’ benefits. The show is a brilliant combination of patter – and songs often set to recognizable tunes with words re-written to suit the venue. My three top favourites were a send off of ‘Be Our Guest’ that included the line – we’re not French you know.., a version of Rolling Down the River (Proud Mary) that laid them in the aisles – and of course the absolutely perfect ending song – Mein Herr. Yes – done sitting (sometimes) in chairs.

We laughed, we groaned, and we admired! After the show they served Tequila ice cream as a good-bye treat, and while other’s stayed to continue to soak up the bar, we headed across the street and to bed. Tomorrow will be a Big, Big, Day!

Signing off to get her beauty rest – The Soup Lady

Cape Town – The Waterfront, District 6 Museum – and a horrid hotel


So – we arrived by rail into Cape Town – and like the luxury excursion it was meant to be – the trip ends just as well as it began – porters take our luggage from the cabin to the debarkation point where all the shuttles are gathered to take guests here, there and everywhere. Rohan Vos, our host and the owner of Rovos Rail is in Cape Town to bid us farewell – and makes an effort to shake everyone’s hand. His personal commitment to this grand adventure is intense. Yes – for him this is personal.

As pre-organized, we are met by a gentleman from the Southern Sun hotel chain. He helps us into the car – and drives us quickly back to the hotel, announcing that he’s in a rush because he has another appointment.

The Southern Sun – Cullinan and the Southern Sun – Waterfront are actually back-to-back hotels on one large piece of land – not quite at the Waterfront – although the name does imply a rather different location. To get to the waterfront is probably a 10 minute walk – max, but we are told that this area is not safe to walk around – even during the day. A scam currently in vogue is to approach tourists and inform them that there is a fee for walking on the sidewalk. Nice welcome, eh?

Sufficiently cowed, we foolishly opt to eat dinner at the restaurant in the hotel. Be forewarned – it’s a buffet – and the food is mediocre at best. There is plenty of it, and a nice selection of cheeses, but after the careful plating and elaborate fare on Rovos Rail – this is a let-down. It’s a bit like going from one of the nicest boats on a fancy cruise line to one of the cheapest. They got the memo, and think they can ‘do’ the same – but they miss the point.

Our room is fine – a smallish bathroom where they have crammed in a bathtub and a shower – with notes everywhere telling of the water crisis in Cape Town. So please – keep showers short, don’t run the sink, and for goodness sake, don’t take a bath.

Oh well – we weren’t planning on it.

After our oh-so-forgettable dinner, we are off to bed. Tomorrow we will try to explore Cape Town.

Breakfast is another buffet offering – but this time I ask if there is any other option. Given that you can’t ‘walk’ the streets – the pleasant gal suggests that we try the cafe, located a floor below the restaurant. They are happy to serve us just a latte and a cup of coffee – and two poached eggs and toast. Total cost – $10. Not a cheap breakfast, but better than the sky high prices of the Buffet.

To get to the waterfront, where our cruise to Robben Island starts, we must take the hotel shuttle – and that leaves every hour at 5 minutes past the hour. Ok – we will wait. Eventually the shuttle leaves, and because we don’t explain that our purpose is to take the trip to Robben Island, he takes us to the far end of the Water front. We hustle as fast as we can towards the meeting point – but arrive 10 minutes too late. We understand from the information gal that it will be ok for us to wait till the 12:30 trip, advice that turns out to be totally wrong. We have missed our trip, that money is spent – and the next opening for ticket sales is on Friday – by which date we will be long gone from Cape Town. I’ll admit now that I’m not happy about missing the tour, I’d organized it months ago, it was one of my ‘must do’ adventures. But I can’t really blame anyone. We could have moved a bit faster in the morning and caught the earlier shuttle – we could have asked to be let off nearer the meeting point – could-da, should-da. But these didn’t happen.

Oh well – such is travel – if nothing goes wrong, it’s not much of an adventure.

Faced with lots of time on the water front, our next choice is the new Modern Art Museum. But today entrance is free in celebration of Heritage Day and the grand opening of the museum. The line up stretches around a city block. This kind of thing is not appealing, I’m sorry.

So our third choice is the Chavonnes Battery Museum – which turns out to be a good option. The museum is very small – and devoted to the history of this tiny section of Cape Town, but on the main floor there is an exhibit of Prize Winning underwater Photographs. And they are stunningly beautiful. Really the highlight of the museum space.

After the museum, we go looking for fish and chips – but our first choice is sold out. Heritage Day has proved unusually popular! Our second choice is near where we will catch a taxi to the District 6 museum, an exhibit that I’m quite keen to see. So we eat there (it’s ok – not outstanding), and we grab a taxi. Hint on taxi’s in Cape Town – insist that they use the meter. They are very keen to quote you a price – much higher than the meter would be – but so reasonable by our standards that it’s hard to resist. We are quoted 90 Rand by one guy – and the actual metered cost was under 60 Rand. Lesson learned. Meters on please.

The District 6 Museum is a one room affair with lots of reading material. The point of the museum is to celebrate and explain the happenings in 1970-1976 when this part of Cape Town, a thriving if poor ‘multi-racial, multi-cultural’ area was deemed by the then government to be ‘white’. All the current inhabitants were told to move – and ‘relocated’ to appropriate settlements much much further from the center of the city – and their jobs! And the relocation locations were different depending on your status – so folks of Chinese background where forced to locate to one place, blacks to a different area, Indian’s (from India) to yet another. This despite having been long term neighbours and despite having owned their homes for up to 100 years!

It is very hard to defend a seemingly arbitrary decision like this – particularly since most of District 6 is still undeveloped land today. As folks were ‘moved’ out, their homes were bulldozed to prevent other folks from moving in, and while a large portion of the newly ‘flattened’ space was used to build the (at that time) white only Technikon College, the rest was left uninhabited. There is an on-going attempt to make restitution – but to prove that your family actually owned land in District 6 requires photographic evidence. And folks are not able, or in fact willing to move back. They have new homes, new communities, and District 6 is barren.

After our tour, we decide to try for the Castle of New Hope – a fort located close by the museum. But it is closed at 4:00 PM – so we decide to walk back to our hotel. Mistake. Should have taken the taxi. Our walk is short – maybe 15 minutes, but we are approached by young men several times, and while I don’t know what they wanted – we weren’t willing to slow down and find out – the result is a very uncomfortable feeling.

Back at the hotel, Victor decides to go back to our room and work on his computer – I’m itching to go back to the water front – and so I catch a taxi in that direction. He doesn’t even have a meter – so I overpay a bit – but I’m glad not to be walking alone. Once on the water front, I check out the line for the new museum – and it’s gone! Perfect – just what I wanted to do.

So I explore the brand new Zeite MOCAA museum. This is a modern art museum that has been open for just 3 days – and has been built in restored grain silos. It is a stunner. The architecture alone is worth the visit. The museum occupies 6 floors – with an additional 6 floors of what I believe to be condos soaring above. They have skillfully opened spaces in the silos, sometimes keeping the distinctive silo appearance, other times losing it completely to the space for art. It is glorious. And mobbed. I run into two young SA ladies in one of the rooms – filled with bricks hanging from the ceiling, forming a barrier to progress but providing multiple photo ops – and they ask me to take their pictures. We chat a bit – one is a model/Actress (her words), and is quite stunningly beautiful. Her friend is no slouch in the looks department either.

We wiz thru the exhibits – it’s very close to closing time – and end up missing the last 2 floors – simply no time left. But as is normal with Modern art museums – some things you get, some you wonder why they are considered art. One section of rooms were cow skins that had been formed into bodies of women in a variety of poses. The skins aren’t complete – so you must imagine the parts of the women you don’t see – but the effect is quite brilliant. I also loved a series of black on black photographs of young black women. Not so obvious to me were an area of candles – some lit, other not, and a series of hair styles on oval picture frames. But modern art is always a bit challenging.

After the museum, I wandered a bit of the water front – it’s busy and bustling, there are friendly faces everywhere – and it’s the first time in our trip that I have been able to walk and feel comfortable. I go into the Victoria and Alfred (Not Albert – this is about her son, not her husband) Mall – and am immediately impressed. It’s huge, filled with nooks and crannies that provide an interesting walking experience – and the stores are incredible. There are the traditional over-the-top international shops – Gucci, Hugo Boss, and the like, there are multiple Diamond merchants, and there are some not so familiar names – like Woolworth, There are a total of 450 different outlets scattered over 300 acres. There is a food court, multiple restaurants – including Willoughby & Co where I had a lovely sushi dinner, and a variety of ‘African’ art shops – from the insanely expensive to the relatively bargain variety. I had a lovely time wandering the space – enjoying the freedom of being able to just walk!

The Water Front area is a working marina and port – albeit for small boats – the larger boats go elsewhere. And this of course adds to the ‘reality’ of the place. Bridges open and close as boats go in and out, and there is a section where the Hairy Seals that love these cold waters hang out to sun bathe.

Bottom line – I loved it!

Eventually, I head back to where the shuttle will pick me up to go back the oh so short distance to the Southern Sun Cullinan, and head home.

This day has ended much better than it began – I have high hopes for tomorrow.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Well – about time I posted again, eh?


Yeah – I know – been gone for months.

It’s not that I wasn’t busy – not busy isn’t in my vocabulary, it’s more that reporting on trips to places like Maine (I love the sea – but is a family holiday worth a blog post) or Toronto (to play bridge – at the National ABCL conference – can you say boring) worth blogging. I say no.

So – what am I doing that is worth Blogging? Ah – that’s a very good question.

I just spent 4 wonderful days doing Theatre in London – which besides being unbelievably expensive – is also a top ranked city for theatre.

We caught two current offerings – Woman in Black (Ghost story that’s been running for 28 years or so) and a brand new play – The Play that Goes Wrong. We also opted for pre-fix meals before the theatre – one of which was a huge bargain, the other of which was terribly over priced. So even the best of planners can go astray.

First review – The Woman in Black with dinner at the Homage Grand Salon – in the Waldorf Hilton. First question – What happened to “Waldorf Astoria” – did Astoria lose out to a bidding war with Hilton. I suspect yes, but the signs were very consistent. But I digress, as I so often do. On to the review. The meal started off nicely – my daughter opted to join us – and the very kind Matre D’ allowed that he could seat 3 as easily as 2. Given that the place was sold out (he turned away folks while we were waiting to be seated), I was pleased. But I was much less pleased with the meal. I don’t mind small portions, in fact I prefer them. But these portions had been downsized to non-existence. And it wasn’t that much of a price bargain either. 23 pounds per person, plus extra for dessert, extra for drinks, extra for coffee – extra for tip – and some of the meals on the menu had surcharges that ran 50% of the price of the meal. Very very pricy dinner for a lovely restaurant, kinda icky service – we had to go find people to get water, butter, a knife – and to order dessert. Which by the way was the highlight of the meal. A decided high note in a meal that didn’t rate 2 stars – let alone 5.

But on to the Show.

The theatre is one of the smaller theatres in the West End – and it was packed with young women – looking for a good scare. And they obliged the actors by screaming pretty consistently at almost everything. Which is a good thing – Ghost Stories are much more fun if people scream.

The story of the play is pretty scary – although it takes some time to get to the scary parts. And the acting, as would be expected in London, was top notch. I won’t give anything away by saying that it did succeed in scaring me. I’d rate the play 4 stars, dinner 2.

The next night we picked much, much, much better!

Dinner was at a very casual place called Boulevard Brasserie – a ‘French’ restaurant within 150 feet of our theatre. The meal actually started off better – the waiter was much less pretentious, and while our table was smaller – the restaurant itself was cute and fun. Decidedly brasserie. Again we had pre-ordered the theatre meal – and were extremely impressed with both the quality of the cooking and the size of the portions. At least here they don’t think smaller is better! Bread was extra – and I needed to order the bread. My smoked salmon appetizer simply begged for it. And good bread it was too – served with both butter and an olive paste. Yum. My dinner was a lovely cooked trout, at least twice the size as the fish I’d starved on the night before – perfectly cooked and delicious.

Dessert was the only course where the Homage Grand Salon trumped the lowly Brasserie. Their potted chocolate was far superior to my too large and too dense Valrohna Chocolate Tart. But hey – at 1/2 price – the Brasserie was by far and away the better bet.

Again on to the Show..

We’d picked “The Play that Goes Wrong” because Victor felt strongly that we wanted something light and funny – enough seriousness in our lives. So the reviews made this one sound perfect.

Curiously – we had to subject ourselves to a bag and personal pat-down before we could enter the theatre. This hadn’t happened the night before, but we were assured that it wasn’t that unusual for London. Our seats – purchased at a substantial discount thru Time Out, were on the front row. But in these tiny theatres, it’s rather hard to get a bad seat. And we were center front at least.

The play started with a bang – the mantle of the fireplace falls off, and the stage hands madly attempt to fix it with duct tape while trying to tell the audience to ignore them.

And the play goes up, or perhaps down, from there. It is absolutely historically funny. So funny that I actually had issues stopping laughing – not helped at all by one of the actors breaking character to chastise me from the stage – “This isn’t funny – stop laughing!” You try to stop after that – I dare you!

The idea is that a group of rather amateur actors are finally getting to put on a play in a ‘real’ theatre – and the play in question is a murder mystery. There’s all the requisite components – house with hidden doors (including one in a grandfather clock), folks with too many secrets (including romances between several of the characters), and a section of the stage that serves as a study raised above the rest of the stage and reached by an elevator on stage. But of course – things go wrong, the mantle falling off is just the first of many gags that combine physical comedy with exquisite timing. When the study threatens to fall off the walls into the audience – with two actors continuing to speak their lines while game-fully trying not to slide off – well – the audience is torn between laughter and concern for their safety. I still don’t know exactly how they managed not to slide down – the angle of tilt was at least 35 degrees! It was steep!

Through all the mishaps – only one actor manages to stay serious – and I truly have no idea how he manages that feat. There are actors who overact their parts – there are stage hands that try desperately to fix things (doors that won’t open, props that go missing, and sound effects that either happen late, don’t happen at all, or happen incorrectly. A door slam to the face takes out one of the lead characters, and a stage hand with a script is quickly drafted to take her place. When the lead actress recovers and tries to get back her role a bit later – a fight ensues between the stage hand who is enjoying the applause and the over-acting lead actress not pleased at being replaced.

If you have ever been involved in amateur theatrics – or if you just want to laugh until your sides hurt – this play is completely irresistible.

5 stars for dinner, 5 stars for the Theatre – a prefect evening is a lovely town.

On Tuesday our trip changes pace – we’re heading to South Africa! So stay tuned.

Signing off to play with her newest grand-daughter – the Soup Lady.

Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

London Scavenger Hunt – Oddities you must find!


I’ve been roaming London – or at least some parts of London for several weeks now – and have decided that my readers need a London Scavenger Hunt!

This is not a radical idea – there’s actually a game in London – the newest version is called “Mind of the Maker – a cryptic trail for 4 people”. They charge 60 pounds (that’s about $80 US) and you get a series of text messages that lead you arround London. Reading the fine print – you’ll walk about 3 miles – and it will take about 3-4 hours. I think it sounds awesome – but hardly 3 week old baby friendly! So here’s my quick and dirty version.

Find these in London:

1. Sleeping Policeman. These are omni-present and fairly easy to find. Just drive a bit fast on any of the London roads and soon or later you’ll be thrown skywards as you sail over a hump in the road. Some stretches have 4 or 5 between blocks. I guess when the speedlimit is 20 KPH – that’s around 15 MPH – you need to constantly be reminding folks – slow down!

2. The “Way Out”. What happened to old fashioned “Exit”. Why are Emergency Exits called – “Exits”, but non-emergency – run of the mill – you always go this way – exits called “Way Out”. Way Out of here – Way in to there… Not sure – but it’s pretty consistent. You won’t have trouble finding these. Start in any Tube (Underground) Station and look around.

3. “Guard my Parking Spot” – Parking is a challenge in London – and if you’ve ‘paid’ for a spot, you don’t want to arrive home to find some horrid person has usuped your space. So – how do you prevent this from happening? Well – here in London – they have posts that are positioned in the middle of the front of these ‘parking spots’. These posts are about 2.5′ high – made of metal, and about 4″ in diameter. What makes them interesting – besides how effectively they guard your spot – is how they ‘disappear’ when the owner arrives. I spotted at least 2 options. There’s a manual version – you stop your car, get out, unlock your post, fold it down into a nifty under the ground trench, get back into your car and then park. To leave, reverse the process. These ‘manual’ versions can be spotted by the fairly substancial locks they have on the sides. But there is also a remote controlled version. In this case, the parking spot owner presses a remote, the door to the trench opens, the post falls down into the trench, the door closes. Then the owner parks. Londoners are very very serious about guarding their parking spots!

4. Swans. And Canadian Geese. And Ducks. But mostly Swans. There are lots of Swans that call London home – and I’ve been told that officially they all belong to the Queen. If true – she’s not doing a wonderful job of feeding them – but it works out. I’ve spotted kids and adults feeding swans – which generally results in a avairy feeding frenzy. The London Pigeon population is clearly growing – and they target the Swans as feeding companions. Feed me, feed my Pigeon.

5. Odd Clothing Sightings. I mention this in another blog – but really – it’s worth listing on a scavenger hunt list. Find 2 people dressed for opposite weather. Bet it won’t take long either. I’ve seen folks in Fur Coats followed by folks in Shorts more than once, kids will wear all manner of odd things – from fairy wings to pink Tutus. And the T-shirt collection on display is amazing. I’m wondering if anyone in London throws away anything remotely wearable. Speaking of which – there is an awesome 2nd hand market in Deptford on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. We stumbled upon it by accident – but it’s written up everywhere. It’s a hoot – and you can probably spot anything your heart desires there.

6. Brellies. Londoners love their umbrellas – and sport them constantly – regardless of the actual weather. Be prepared for rain seems to be a universal motto – that basically all Brits follow without fail. There are big ones, folding ones, silly ones, standard ones – you name it – there’s an umbrella walking someplace close by – just keep your eyes peeled.

7. Bobbie Hats (the dome shaped variety please). Amazingly – these have not gone out of fashion! While phone booths are becoming hard to find (who besides Dr. Who uses one anyway), Bobbie hats aren’t that hard to spot. I asked for the rules on Bobbie hats – from a friendly Bobbie on my way to the Southwark Fireworks – and he explained that they are only worn by foot patrol officiers – as they are uncomfortable in a car! And they are intended to prevent ‘bad guys’ from bopping the Bobbies on the head. I suspect that they are also protection from horse riding, sword wielding fighters… but that seems to be perhaps a bit too historic.

8. Grenadier wearing a Bear Skin – on his HEAD. My husband owns several of these hats – tall, and terribly imposing, they are the standard head gear of the Grenadier’s of the British Foot. I’d start in front of the royal palace actually – but I actually spotted one at Picadilly Circus. The Coldstream Guards famously wear these when on parade duty.

9. Buskers. Not as many of these around as I’d kinda hoped actually – but again a good starting place is Picadilly. There are also ‘musical’ buskers in the tubes – particularly in the sections with long walks – check out Green Park when you change from the Jubliee to the Picadilly line.

10. (A good Scavenger hunt always has at least 10 things to find) – a ‘local’ with a crazy name. This should be a ‘walk in the park’ objective – there are pubs on every corner – and apparently they all have crazy names! I can never walk past the St. James of Bermonsey without thinking of going to church – and I really can’t understand what the owners of the “Jolly Taxpayer”, the “Blind Pig” and most famously the “Hung, Drawn, and Quartered” were thinking. But famously crazy isn’t really important – it’s what hits you as odd that satisfies this hunt objective.

Signing off to go look for more ‘oddities’ in London – The Soup Lady.

London like a Local


I’ve been in London now for almost 2 months – and am beinging to feel local. Or at least as local as a very foreign older lady can possibly feel.

I love riding my bike thru the parks around the flat that my daughter and her darling husband own – I feel like one of the regulars as I ride by the same people walking the same dogs day after day.

I know I’m getting to be local because my coffee shop gal recognizes me – I’m a cappuchino with 3 sugars and no chocolate! She sees me open the door – or even just park my bike at her bike lock, and she starts my coffee. That plus a friendly smile definitely builds repeat business!

And I’ve price checked my morning coffee – the range is 2 GPB to 2.7 GPB – and more $$ doesn’t mean more coffee – my local gal is the lowest price with the largest serving – another reason to make her my go to coffee place.

I even know where my closest bus and tube stops are. There’s several near me, which turns out to be typical of most of London. What is really nice are the electronic scrolling signs that list the next 2 to 10 buses – depending on the stop. In Montreal, you have to phone up – but here in London, it’s super easy. Just know your destination – and you know when the next bus will arrive. I particularly like when it says ‘due’ as the bus pulls up to the sign.

Other signs that I’ve become local – I know the panhandlers by sight. There’s one man with a dog wearing one of those cones around his neck that is particularly distinctive.

And I’m learning some Cockney! My newest lessons – Completely Nackkered if you are very tired, or Cream Crackered if you really want to sound local. There’s also Done and Dusted for finished. And just last night I got told that the expression Quid pro Quo is the origin of the term Quid for a 1 pound coin. No wonder I only understand about 1/2 of what people say to me!

 But there are things about London that still amaze me.

The weather for starters is very odd. It’s already November – and it really feels like May – or maybe early September. I can go outside without a fall jacket – although I’ve seen kids – and adults wearing fur already. Seriously – it’s just not that cold. It is however always damp. It doesn’t rain that often apparently – but every morning I wake up to fog. I rarely go out without my rain jacket, but I also rarely need it after about 10:00 AM.

Another interesting thing – even though my kids live in a very residential area – there is always noise outside. Apparently Londoner’s deal with this omnipresent sound by having seriously sound proof windows. Last night, well past midnight – someone outside was setting off fireworks! In early November? Apparently – this isn’t as odd as I imagined.

Guy Fawkes day is November 5th – and it’s bigger here than Halloween – which the stores are trying to build into an event, but with limited success. I saw some folks in costume, generally near bars and pubs and odd ‘hangouts’, and there were a few kids dressed up – going I’m guessing – to a party or community gathering. I saw no one going from door to door – not on the street, nor in the hall of our condo building.

But Guy Fawkes day promises to be special. We’ve gotten ‘free’ tickets to the local borough fireworks display – the gates open at 5:00 PM, and close at 6:30 with the fireworks set to start at 8:00 PM. In between I suppose we’ll be chatting wiht our neighbors or visiting the food stalls. We shall see. I’m excited, but in the end, I might be glad it’s walking distance and free.

Things I haven’t done – I’ve done no theatre since my grand-daughter was born on October 14th. Not surprising I suppose, she’s a bit fussy at odd moments to chance in a theatre setting. And we’ve been eating in. I organized meal delivery from a wonderful company called “Gousto”. It’s an on-line, we deliver the groceries, you do the cooking, site, and it’s been absolutely perfect so far.

There are lots of these services springing up here, there and everywhere. There are at least 2 here in London – one of which features Jamie Oliver ‘meals’. But we like ‘Gousto’. The website is very easy to use, and there’s at least 9 recipes to choose from every week. The pictures look yummy – and we’ve now had 6 of their meals – all at least 3.5 stars – and some getting into the 4.5 level. This rating is by my daughter – who is a chef – and should definitely know good food when she eats it. I’ve been doing the cooking – which is what is truly amazing. You must know that I don’t cook – I make reservations. So when the challenge is to create a recipe with instructions suitable for the lowest common demoniator – I’m the perfect test case.

My only complaint with ‘Gousto’s’ recipes is a simple one. I do wish they had a ‘Mise en Place’ stage – where you did all the prep work at the beginning, and then just concentrated on putting stuff together once you started the cooking. The recipes for GoodFood – which we use in Montreal – does it that way – and it makes it a bit easier. I found having to stop and peel and slice carrots half way thru cooking to be a pain.

But the meals have been yummy – and varied. We’ve had Beef Burritos, Asian Noodles, Minty Lamb Burgers, even Chicken Snitzel. All Yummy, all easy, and all fun.

Most importantly – it’s cut way way down on our need to eat out (much more expensive than doing these meals), and even on our need to order in (also more $$). I’m sure the local restaurants aren’t that pleased – but I’m very happy! And more importantly – it’s a lot easier with a 15 day old baby who delights in needing to be feed the moment I announce ‘Dinner is served’.

And the icing on the ‘Local’ cake – I got my hair done at a local beauty parlor. It wasn’t quite the same as I’m used to – they were equally as busy – but took no reservations, everyone was a ‘drop-in’. And they shampoo’d my hair 3 times – I don’t know why. Another oddity – the color took longer to set. Normally it’s 35 minutes, they left it for 40. But then they didn’t massage it in to the ends and let me sit for 5 more minutes – they just washed it out. Different.

I shall report on Guy Fawkes as it happens – meanwhile I’m signing off – it’s another day in the life of a little baby – and I need to be there for her!

The Soup Lady

The London Theatre Scene – So many options it’s amazing…


I can’t help being impressed with the London Theatre Scene. It feels a bit like NYC – so many options at so many different price ranges it’s almost too confusing for words. And it’s all in English – sort of.

Which is one of our first problems. We’re here for 5 nights, so 4 nights of theatre seems reasonable – but there are some issues.

1. Figuring out what to see.
2. Figuring out how to get tickets
3. Figuring out where the Theatre is
4. Figuring out how to eat dinner before a 7:30 show

Trust me on this – #4 on the list is pretty important. You can’t enjoy a play if your stomach is growling, and for some reason we’ve been getting a late start – aka late breakfast – every day. So lunch is delayed – we’re not hungry at 6:00 – and finding something quick to tide us over is a challenge. In the end, we decided to eat after the Theatre – which worked successfully twice. Hurrah for small sucesses.

But – ignoring our stomachs – lets just stay calm and carry on shall we?

Picking a show is a huge part of the fun, and there are dozens and doznes of options. There are the big shows – long running American Shows like “The Book of Mormon”, “Wicked”, “Mamma Mia”, and the like. There are popular NYC transplants like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” and there are chestnuts – “King Lear” or “Amadaus”. There are ‘big’ plays I’ve never heard of – “The Libertine”, “The Woman in Black”, “The Ghost or Who is Sylvia?”.

And then there’s the National Theatre who has three stages – and we found out – discount ‘day of’ tickets. Playing there was “Amadaus”, “The Red Barn”, and “A Pacifist’s Guide to the war on Cancer”. But the season constantly changes so you must check when you arrive in London. Coming up there’s Hedda Gabler, Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet, and Love. They also have several ‘West End’ theatres which keep their longer running productions – like “The Curious Incident of the Dog” – which is on it’s 4th staff change!

In the tube and on the buses – you just see ads for the ‘big’ guys – and that spoke strongly of which shows are money makers, vs which shows are more about theatre.

Plus there are smaller theatres – ones harder to find out what is going on at because of the number of hits you get for the bigger shows. Time Out in London is an excellent fast resource (and it you sign up – they sometimes email you interesting discount offers). There’s also a great “off the West End” site to check out – http://www.offwestend.com – which bills itself as the ‘all em-bracing site for independant Theatre’. They cover an amazing 124 different theatres – none of them in the “West End”. Included on their list is the Old and New Vic, and the Globe. Again – sign up to be kept in the loop by email.

Getting tickets – ah ha – there’s the rub. The worst place in the world to get tickets is thru an on-line reseller. They are often priced much higher than the theatre originally asked – and the ‘time is running out’ pressure can lead to bad decisions. The best place to get tickets – in my opinion – is from the theatre box office – or at worst the Theatre’s website. Those are priced as the Theatre thought they should be – and represent a bargain over the re-sellers. Some theatres even release a block of inexpensive tickets on the day of the show to clear up any empty chairs. We ended up having to use wholesalers for 2 of our 4 choices – only for the National Theatre Performance of “Amadeus” and “The Curious … Dog” could I buy tickes from the theatre itself.

Now – back to our 4 actual choices.

Unlike the Intrepid Traveler, my husband wants to go to theatre that has been pre-approved to be worth his time. And that means either a story he knows, or a story that appeals to him on some inate level, or something that has won numberous awards.

This explains our picks:

The Libertine – a “West End” production in elaborate period costumes that tells the story of a morally questionable young gentleman and his ‘reward’. Given that the play is quite old, we expected that the moral judgement would be quite harsh. But our issue with this play was one of accents. Our British isn’t that good apparently.

The Book of Morman – another “West End” production – winner of countless awards – which after have seen the show makes me wonder about who exactly hands out these things. Maybe it was a bad year for competition. My advice, ignore the marketing – avoid the Musical.

Amadeus – an absolute stunner of a production with a live orchestra that wanders the stage – ‘acting’ as well as playing glorious music. But the killer part belonged to the young man (Luciani Msamati) in the role of the vicious Salieri. Words simply can’t describe how outstanding his performance was. Breath-takingly glorious production with an outstanding cast in a fabulous theatre. What’s not to love.

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night – I’d seen this in NYC with my sisters – and loved it. The computer and light effects are stunners – and I found the story wormed its way into my heart. At first the plight of the young man seems outside of our experience – but he gradually becomes more clear, more open, more worthy of our regard. It’s a strong play that can work that magic on an audience – and while not the stunner of Amadeus – this was a good runner up for best night out in London.

It turns out finding the Theatres was super easy – The Map option on my iphone even shows me the fastest transit option – including locating the bus stops! We only got confused when we arrived at Piccadilly Circus – which has become a Circus of epic proportions. Thank goodness for Ripley’s Believe it or Not – it’s such an obvious landmark you can easily use it to rotate your body and map to find the Theatres.

So there you have it – what we saw – and how we found out was was playing – and what we thought of the plays we saw.

My advice – try the OffWestEnd.com website for listings, and call the theatre directly. And stay away from those mega shows. They are on their 3rd and 4th castings – the original performers are long gone – and even the crew is getting a bit tired. Do new I say!

Signing off to check on more theatre options here in London – The Soup Lady

Zastrozzi, Bar Karpra and Bus Stops


3 Plays in 3 nights – color me Crazy! And color me lucky that I live in a city with so much relatively inexpensive live theatre! What fun it is to be able to pay under $15 to see great theatre.

And I’m not even a professional reviewer.

A statement that some of my readers might find disingenuous at the least. But marching on as always – I will attempt to both tease and torture my readers into keeping their eyes peeled for any of these to show up at a theatre near you!

First stop – Bar Karpra the Squirrel Hunter – which is a fringe winner trying way to hard to be a real piece of theatre. Cute for fringe, and not badly acted, and certainly well produced and staged – it’s a play in search of a strong story line. Unfortunately for the audience – it doesn’t find it. I read a review of this play that tried to defend this lack of point by describing it as a poem – well – it’s a badly written one then.

The staging however was quite cool – and I loved how the flowing side screens filled the darkened space with just the hit of forest green and white as the seasons changed. I also found some of the physical tricks appealing – not realizing until the very end that two of the ‘flat’ surfaces in fact were padded. Neatly done. But good staging does not a great play make.

Fast forward 2 nights to Bus Stops. Put on by one of our professional theatre groups – and costing the viewer significantly more than Bar Karpra – it suffered from many of the same ills. And given that the same set designer created both productions – I suppose it makes sense that both should be more about glorious set design than about story.

Too bad I care more about story.

Bus Stops – being far more polished and professional – is perhaps the bigger disappointment. If we pay more – we expect more. And Yes – Bus Stop delivered more – more tumbling, more special effects, more surprising bits and pieces – but still the lack of directed story line was so distracting that it took away from the whole.

Too often I was left wondering – why did that actor just do that? Why does that one seem so angry, that one so bored. We know from the start that there has been a tragedy – but we don’t know until the end exactly what happened – altough there is plenty of opportunity to guess.

And then there were the cute bits of switching clothing. Neatly done and very interesting – but how does dancing with shirts contribute to the story line? Are we to understand that each person is representing several other people? Ok – I get that. But did they have to dance with the shirts to prove it? Weird.

The set of course is another story. It’s a bus that has been bombed – and the frame work provides the actors with places to swing, hang, fold, fall, and pose. As time goes by – parts of the bus are dismantled – I’m guessing to show how the story is unfolding. Neat stuff – but just not quite enough to make up for the lack of a clearly developed and fully realized story.

Ah – but then we have Zastrozzi. Stunning, fabulous, intriguing, stimulating, challenging, exciting, fun, entralling, exciting, and well worth paying to see. As you probably guessed – I loved Zastrozzi.

It is primarly a fight fest – the 5 actors (3 men, 2 women) fight with everything on stage – bottles, fists, palms, whips, rapiers, and knives. There’s sexual tension – including a ‘rape’ scene where the two participants are sitting near each other – but never touch. There are several extended sword duels – with plenty of dramatic flourishes to keep the result of the duels in questions.

The set itself is almost completely empty – a trunk is dragged from side to side to represent various pieces of furniture – but that is all the set there is. And yet the lack of a set is not a problem. It doesn’t distract from the play – it actually contributes to the feeling of emptiness that all the actors suffer from.

And yes – there is a story. It’s not an easy simple story, and I’m not going to even attempt to summarize it. Enough to say that all the fights make sense within the larger pictures. And isn’t that what we want – things to make sense when seen as a whole.

Zastrozzi is not a new play – it was first performed in 1977 – so I suspect that it is likely to end up being staged elsewhere. But for now it’s on at the Mainline until March 20th, 2016. If you miss it – you will be missing something grand.

Signing off to see even more theatre – The Soup Lady.

Complete Unknown – Sundance 2016


Imagine walking into a dinner party and coming face to face with someone from your past – but being told they have a completely different name, different history, different life.

Complete Unknown puts Tom (Michael Shannon) into this exact position – and forces him and the audience along with him to examine not only their current happiness – but what it means to ‘be someone’.

Alice (aka Jennifer, aka 8 other people) is played with convincing sincerity by the lovely Rachael Weisz. An over-the-top brilliant young woman with incredible talents – she has come to realize that life can be boring – and one way to eliminate the boredom is to become someone else.

Which leaves the audience to wonder – would I be happier/more fullfilled/less regretful if I just re-invented myself. Is it even possible to just suddenly decide to be a nurse, or a doctor, or a research technician – and after carefully doing the required research – pass yourself off as same to an unwary world?

Would we – the unwary world in which Alice swims – even recognize the foolery – or do we make decisions about folks without doing the hard double checking? Do you really know who were the guests at your last dinner party? How would you re-act to a new person coming to dinner – would you accept them at face value – or wonder if they really were who and what they said they were.

Talented director Joshua Marston sets out to ask us to reconsider the enigma of humanity – and in doing so creates a completely engrossing and challenging film.

It seems easy to think that we’d be smarter than Tom’s family and friends – but I’m not so sure. I think I for one could be easily fooled – and if the ‘fooler’ was determined to carry on the charade – I’d probably go along for the ride.

And here’s a stunning thought – is being a re-enactor so very different from what Alice is doing? When I introduce myself as M. le Docteur Jean Vivant do Clairmont – am I not inventing a past and a career that of course has nothing to do with reality.

Something to think about surely!

Our plan – when the film comes out on DVD – as it surely will – we’ll organize a dinner party – and challenge our guests on the topic. When are you sure you really know someone – and when do you get surprised?

Signing off to see even more movies… The Soup Lady