Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Review: Another Country

Man, I am so behind on my blogging. Sorrynotsorry about that. Expect a flurry in the next few days. Sorrynotsorry about that too I suppose.

Anyway, one of the reasons I've slipped a bit is I've actually been doing some exciting things. For a change. One of those was venturing to deepest darkest Whitehall to check out the Trafalgar Studios' production (a Chichester Festival transfer) of Another Country.

I'd like to think that my blog readership is sufficiently sophisticated to know a bit about Another Country. In case I'm wrong, the plot follows a group of public school boys - idealistic (trans: annoying) Judd and ambitious romantic Bennett - through a summer term in the 1930s. Both Judd (Marxist) and Bennett (gay) are outsiders and when a fellow pupil commits suicide after being caught in flagrante (LOVE that phrase) the ensuing scandal forces both of them to face up to their beliefs and make choices about their future. Or to put it more succinctly, it's a play about how The Cambridge Spies became The Cambridge Spies.

The play - and its film version - is probably most famous for the careers it helped to launch: Kenneth Branagh and Rupert Everett got their big breaks as Judd and Bennett respectively in the original play, Colin Firth took over Branagh's role in the subsequent film. 

The young cast in this production do a very respectable job of filling those colossal shoes. Will Attenborough (Richard's grandson, if you were wondering) is good as a character who I find one of the least sympathetic in any play ever written. His Judd is suitably annoyingly earnest and stubborn, and he plays the rare softer moments well. For me, Rob Callender's Bennett steals the show. He's by turns very funny, touchingly in love and genuinely outraged. The moment when he's told that his membership of the elite '22' group of prefects has been given to a less rebellious, 'insider' classmate is particularly effective. His anger at his treatment is pitch perfect and you can really start to see how boys like him betrayed their country and became spies. 

This is when the play is at its strongest too - really dealing with the issues of betrayal and 'outsiderness' which it explores explicitly but with subtlety - rather than poking fun at public school banter. The latter is done amusingly, but is just less interesting. The pacing of this production predominantly leaves the exploration of its theme until the second act making the production feel a bit, well, wonky for want of a better word. Otherwise it's very well done - the scenery is clever in its minimalism, the lighting and sound are both very effective and the direction, pacing issue aside, is very well done. 

Definitely worth a watch then, with one health warning. The Trafalgar Studios is a small space that puts on some really interesting stuff but sweet Jesus is it uncomfortable. Seriously guys, arm rests! A bit more legroom! It's not difficult. But, yeah, go and see Another Country anyway. 

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester

I'm a simple person with simple pleasures.


Lolz, just kidding. My dad likes to say of me that I should've been born rich. I try - try - to keep my wannabe rich kid under wraps most of the time (because, y'know, huge debt is bad) but I need to let it out every now and then to relieve the pressure.

My birthday was one such occasion. Now, anyone who knows me/has watched over my shoulder whilst I unlock my iPhone on public transport will know that the current major weird obsession object of my affection - the Anton du jour, if you will - is Great British Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood. Seriously, dude is hot. And has insane sex eyes. And bakes bread. Ergo, he is perfect.

He also used to be Head Baker at The Dorchester hotel in London. Swanky right? On an episode of his most recent tv series he was filmed going back there to check out the kitchen and have afternoon tea. It looked amazing and I pretty much instantly decided I wanted to do the same for my birthday. Monkey see, monkey do.

As impetuous, fangirling based decisions go it was definitely one of the best.

You all know the deal with afternoon tea right? A three tier cake stand with a handful of sandwiches, a scone and a few teeny tiny cakes. Not so in The Dorchester's Promenade restaurant. Everything - and I mean everything - was unlimited and the quality was just superb.


First up a round of really substantial 'finger' sandwiches. All the classics were in attendance: egg and cress, smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, ham and mustard and gorgeous creamy chicken. I know that doesn't sound exciting but, man, they were amazing sandwiches.

After an amuse bouche of chocolate cup filled with chocolate and mint mousse came the scones: plain and fruit with strawberry and rhubarb jams and Cornish clotted cream. Frankly, we'd all overdone it on the sandwiches by this point but the scones were similarly amazing; perfectly baked and not too heavy. The jams and cream were as lush as they sound.

Finally the adorable cake selection. I forget what they all were exactly, but the highlight for me was the delicious passionfruit and mango mousse - light, fruity and perfectly sweet.

All of this was washed down with lashings of the delicious house blend tea and absolutely faultless service. And for me, the added bonus of a birthday cake - coconut crusted chocolate sponge with chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache and white chocolate decoration - with the poshest doggy bag I've ever seen to take it away in.

And which provided my breakfast the next day...

Overall it was a fantastic experience that I genuinely can't recommend enough. Yes it's expensive (£45 per head plus tip) but the food (quality and quantity), the service and the experience of being somewhere as beautiful and historic as The Dorchester makes it worth every penny. Find an excuse and just go.


Saturday, 19 April 2014

Weekend Wishlist

love a leather jacket. I wear mine (which is 'leather' rather than leather because I'm poor) basically all year round and am constantly on the hunt for the perfect one.

Well, I've found it. Now if only I could afford to buy it...

Sophie Hulme leather biker jacket

I've long been a fan of Sophie Hulme's beautiful, minimalist handbags so I'm thrilled that she's branching out. This stunning blue/black biker jacket with just-the-right-amount-of-bling gold metalwork is a thing of real beauty. I love the contrast Breton stripe lining too, just to add a bit of interest. And don't even get me started on the frog zip charm!

If you're as taken as me, I spotted this beauty on Net-A-Porter for £1225. If only...


Friday, 4 April 2014

Review: Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is one of the directors whose work I enjoy most for one very simple reason: when he makes a film I know that I'm going to enjoy it. 

A lot is written about the aesthetic of Anderson's work, about their quirky themes and messages. Me? I just like them because they're fun. 

Fantastic Mr Fox with George Clooney providing a voice-over? Fun. The Life Aquatic... with Bill Murray on genius form? Fun.  His latest work, Grand Budapest Hotel? Fun.

Grand Budapest Hotel is essentially a crime caper (love that word) that tells the story of how penniless immigrant lobby boy Zero (a charming performance from newbie Tony Revolori) becomes hotel-owning millionaire Mr Mustafa (a pleasingly world weary F Murray Abraham) with the help of the suave and sexually ambiguous M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes on excellent, campy form), his bevvy of adoring OAPs (including Tilda Swinton in some unusually convincing prosthetics as the unfortunate Madam D) and a stolen painting. Along the way they must thwart the machinations of Madam D's deranged family (Adrian Brody and Willem Defoe, suitably evil), break Gustave out of jail and escape the advance of war.

I hesitate to use the word as it's so twee, but Grand Budapest Hotel is such a charming film. It's entertaining and funny throughout, the plot is beautifully constructed and paced and it looks and sounds gorgeous. The script is Anderson at his whimsical-but-slightly-acerbic best ("You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that's what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... oh, fuck it.") and the phenomenal ensemble cast - which also includes Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, Edward Norton, Lea Seydoux and Harvey Keitel amongst others - plays it perfectly. 

I'm a bit in love with Ralph Fiennes' M. Gustave which is a shame because a) I'm far too young and too poor for him to ever reciprocate and b) he's fictional. The relationship that develops between Gustave and Zero throughout the film is genuinely heartwarming and deftly played by Fiennes and Revolori. 

Here's an increasingly rare thing too - it's not any longer than it needs to be! A huge bugbear of mine these days is the apparent lack of any decent editing on Hollywood films, but this one flies along at a good pace for just 100 excellent and entertaining minutes. I've mentioned the sound already, but the use of music is fantastic - it really adds to the atmosphere without ever becoming a distraction.

All in all Grand Budapest Hotel is a fun, quirky (as if we'd got this far in a review of a Wes Anderson film without using the Q word!) and entertaining film and well worth a watch. Go see.