After the madness of March, which had a lot going on, it was nice to have a relatively relaxing time in April. I still had plenty to do of course, including blog posts about March and being very busy at work, but it wasn’t as hectic and eventful.
So there isn’t quite so much to report on this time, but I did enjoy some tours, exhibitions, walks and entertainment that I want to tell you about. And as usual, I’m not endorsed or sponsored by anybody mentioned here, these are all my own opinions. So I hope you like this month’s post and video about my latest adventures.
National Theatre Backstage Tour
I didn’t go to any theatre shows in April – although going to three in March makes up for that to be fair. However, I did go to the National Theatre for one of their Backstage Tours, with London Vision South East. The tour was led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable lady called Jess, along with her friendly colleague Sarah. And it was very interesting, with very descriptive commentary as well. They’ve led tours for visually impaired people before, so they know what they’re doing.
We started off with some of the history of the building and how it was constructed. The initial structure was actually made out of special wood panels, but concrete was poured between them, and the wood was then removed, to leave the concrete building we know today. The walls have an interesting texture to them as a result of this process. We were also able to see one of the huge wooden sections that were used.
We were then taken into their big auditorium, to the highest level at the back, so we could see down towards the stage. We couldn’t actually go on the stage, but we could see it being prepared for their current show. We were also able to feel a model of one of the sets from a previous show in their exhibition area.
We also saw a video illustrating the special revolving floor on their big stage. While other theatres also have a revolving stage, the National Theatre’s is unique in that it’s effectively a cylinder with more than one level, which can be raised up and down as well as rotated.
Seeing this reminded me that Mum and I had been to the venue during my childhood to see Wind In The Willows, because the stage would revolve and lift up to reveal a set for the characters that lived underground. It was very clever, and you can see it happening in this video that I’ve found. Our tour guide Jess said that a lot of visitors recall that show very fondly.
Anyway, back to the tour, and we were next given the chance to handle various costumes, props and special effects. Among the variety of items was a big black angel-like costume with wings on the back (which a few people tried on), a very large polar bear head (and the rougher rehearsal version for actors to practice with), some wigs, fake seaweed, a severed hand, and a burns suit with fake blood on it. It was wonderful to get a close look at it all, and appreciate some of the incredible work that goes on behind the scenes.
Then we were taken to the carpentry department, where we were told how some of their sets and models were built. And we saw how things like brickwork and ornate wall decorations were made to look real, even though they were only made out of wood or plastic.
And finally we were shown a large model of one of the horses from War Horse, which a couple of actors can get into. They can also control the head from inside to make it look alive. So that was a very cool way to finish the tour, being able to get up close and feel such an iconic prop.
So I can recommend going on a tour of the theatre, it’s really good. You can see more photos from the day in my Instagram post. They do a variety of tours in fact, so I’d be happy to go back and see even more of the place. And it’s also good to note that they do access performances for their shows, including audio description, which is brilliant.
Hauser & Wirth Gallery Tour
Later on in the day after the theatre visit, I went along to the Hauser & Wirth Gallery in Savile Row. I had never heard of this place before, but was invited along by Caroline Dawson, to join an audio described tour she was doing for their 2 current modern art exhibitions.
The first room was one large artwork entitled Hyper-Palimpsest by Stefan Brüggemann. Initially it just appears to be an empty room with black walls, but you quickly realise that the walls are messily painted in varying shades of black, and are covered in lists of different words and phrases, which are difficult to see until you step closer to them. The text covers a variety of themes, incorporating political, social and cultural elements, and it does make you think a bit.
What makes this work particularly interesting, however, is the fact that the entire text is spoken on a 16-minute recording that plays once an hour, and it’s read by musician Iggy Pop! Stefan Brüggemann had recorded him some years ago, before this artwork had even been thought of, and it works wonderfully. Iggy has a great speaking voice that really grabs your attention, and there’s a lot of variety in his delivery, ranging from very quiet and thoughtful to loud and powerful. He puts real emotion and energy into it, and he even made us laugh sometimes. So it was rather fascinating and absorbing to listen to him as we examined the walls. It certainly brought the artwork to life.
The other exhibition was The Power Of The Line by Geta Brătescu. This was more like a traditional gallery, with lots of framed artworks on display. There were also a couple of videos of the artist – one where she talks about her work, and the other showing a close-up of her drawing technique.
Her work consists of well defined lines, shapes and colours, and while it may appear random, you can tell that she’s drawn them very deliberately. The video footage helps to emphasise this too, showing how she channels herself through the pen as she draws. And she occasionally uses other materials as well, including stationery like post-it notes.
One artwork, for example, was a grid featuring lots of different drawings on notebook pages, with various shapes all created in the same few colours. And another featured a concertina-style book that was unfolded, with a photo of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet at one end, and then a very fluid, jazzy artwork stretching across all the other pages. Overall, I didn’t take any deep meanings from the pieces on a personal level, but it was still enjoyable to look at it all, as it did feel like she had a unique style.
Caroline Dawson was also great at describing things in both gallery spaces, clarifying elements and pointing out things I would otherwise have missed, as well as giving us interesting information about the artists themselves to put everything into context. So I’m glad I went along, it was an interesting evening. Check out my Instagram post for more photos.
Smoke & Mirrors Exhibition
The other exhibition I went to in April was Smoke & Mirrors: The Psychology Of Magic at the Wellcome Collection. I went with my girlfriend Claire, and we used the large print guide to help us understand what we were looking at. And it was very interesting, starting off with mediums conducting séances and how conjurors were able to expose their fraudulent methods. There were also objects used by entertainers like Harry Houdini, Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels and Derren Brown. I grew up enjoying Paul Daniels on TV, I’ve seen plenty of clips of Tommy Cooper in the past, and I’m a big fan of Derren Brown these days, so it was great to see them all represented.
We also learned about various psychological experiments, demonstrating how people can be misdirected and manipulated. It’s surprising and thought-provoking to be reminded how easily we can all be influenced in a variety of ways. No matter how resilient we think we might be to such techniques, we are all affected in some way throughout our daily lives, even if we don’t realise it. There are many subtle and clever tactics out there, including some used by businesses to market their products and services. So in one way or another, we experience some form of magic or illusion regularly, when you think about it like that.
So the exhibition is well worth a visit and, judging by the queue on the day we were there, it’s very popular! It’s open until mid-September, so there’s still plenty of time to check it out.
Riverside & Park Walks
The weather has been rather varied lately, it’s fair to say. But the Easter Bank Holiday was glorious, with lovely warm sunshine that made it feel rather like summer! So of course I had to go out and make the most of it, while I had a few free days that weekend.
Because there are still many parts of East London that I haven’t checked out yet, coupled with the fact that travel into Central London was difficult due to Tube engineering works over Easter, I decided to go for some long walks to explore my local area some more. After all, when you live in a city like London, with so many places you can get to so easily, it’s easy to overlook what’s on your doorstep. So I went for a few long strolls over 3 days, and according to my phone I ended up covering about 34.5 miles in total, which I’m very pleased with!
On Good Friday I went for a walk in the Lee Valley area, by the River Lea, taking me to Bow Creek Ecology Park & East India Dock Basin, and then on past Poplar Dock Marina as I made my way to Canary Wharf. So I got a nice variety of photos there.
On Saturday I was out meeting my girlfriend, so my next walk was on Easter Sunday instead. And this time I went looking for various parks in the Beckton area, of which there are quite a few. I ended up walking through Brampton Park, King George V Park, Cundy Park, Beckton District Park and New Beckton Park, as well as going along tree-lined routes like Jake Russell Walk and the Beckton Corridor. It’s great that there are so many green spaces in close proximity to each other. Although it’s easy to think of the big parks in London, there are loads of smaller ones all over the city that are worth finding. So I got more nice photos that day.
Then finally on Easter Monday I spent some time in Little Ilford Park, which is actually quite big despite the name, especially as it has a very large, grassy meadow area tucked away at one end. So you can discover various plants in that area, and you feel like you have that whole section to yourself as there’s almost nobody else there. And if you go right to the far side that’s next to the motorway, and walk along the path secluded behind the hedges there, you can walk right by the base of an electricity pylon, a rare chance to see just how tall they are close-up. So I had a lovely walk around the park that afternoon, and again I took plenty of photos.
So I got a nice bit of exercise that weekend, it was good to enjoy the great weather while it lasted. And while we’re on the subject of outdoor photos, I also got some snaps of the statues at Euston station during the month. That has no relevance to anything else in this post, but it was interesting to find them, as they’re easy to ignore when you’re going by in a rush. So it’s worth mentioning. Indeed, much like parks, there are tons of statues all over the city that people don’t realise are there, yet they often have interesting stories behind them.
Derren Brown – Sacrifice
After viewing the Smoke & Mirrors exhibition, I discovered that there were a couple of Derren Brown shows on Netflix I hadn’t seen yet. I’ve been a little bit neglectful of Netflix over the past couple of years, only watching occasional things via the website on my computer. But now I can get it on our new Smart TV, I am getting into it more, as it feels more natural and comfortable watching it there. When I want to watch shows and films, it’s great to be able to get away from the computer, relax in an armchair and put things on a nice large TV screen. It just feels better, the picture quality’s great, and it sounds better through my soundbar too.
So in March I watched Derren Brown: Sacrifice, where he attempts to get a man with strong anti-immigration views to put his life on the line for a person of another race – without the man realising that’s the intent, of course. As always, Derren’s manipulative techniques are very clever, and a lot of effort is put into it. It’s fascinating to watch and learn about the psychology of it all, especially as there are inevitable parallels with the state of the world today, and that’s a big reason why this was made.
There is also genuine tension as to whether it will succeed or not. It’s easy to assume that Derren will just be able to pull it off without issue, but things don’t go to plan early on in this case, which adds much uncertainty to the rest of the experiment. I won’t give away how it ends, but I really enjoyed the whole thing, it was a very good show.
Bohemian Rhapsody – Blu-ray
In April I also watched Bohemian Rhapsody on Blu-ray, the film about Freddie Mercury and Queen that came out last year, with Rami Malek playing the iconic frontman. I’ve reviewed the film before, after seeing it in the cinema, so I won’t repeat myself on that aspect, suffice to say it’s amazing. Given all the issues during its production, I was very unsure if it would be any good, as were many other Queen fans I think, but Rami is superb, as is everyone else. It works really well, and I loved watching it again on Blu-ray.
I’m delighted to say that this release has audio description as well, which you don’t often get with DVDs and Blu-rays. So I decided to turn that on for this viewing, and I”m very glad I did. Although I have fairly good vision, the description was pointing out numerous details that I was unaware of or uncertain about. I hadn’t realised, for instance, that a large portrait in Freddie’s home was Marlene Dietrich, or that U2 were passing Freddie as he was going on stage at Live Aid. And it was very useful to get descriptions of facial expressions and other small details that I might have overlooked. It also describes the photos and reads out the text that appears at the end of the film before the credits roll. So it was really useful to have that turned on.
Altogether, the audio is available in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, English Audio Described 5.1, English Dolby Digital 2.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and French Dolby Digital 5.1. I don’t have surround sound equipment, so I can’t test the 7.1 track, or the full impact of the 5.1 audio described track. Nevertheless, it sounded awesome through my Sonos soundbar, so I’m very happy. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.
Among the extras are 3 behind the scenes features about how the film was made, which are all interesting to watch – Rami Malek: Becoming Freddie, The Look & Sound Of Queen, and Recreating Live Aid. Plus there are a few theatrical trailers for the film.
But the highlight by far is the complete recreation of the Live Aid performance. It’s cut down for the film, so to see the full version is fantastic. To try and imitate Queen in any form is a huge and seemingly impossible task, but to try and match arguably their greatest ever live performance is phenomenal. It’s even more impressive considering it was one of the earliest things they filmed for the movie.
Yet they manage it, it really does work. Having seen Queen’s original performance many times (because I own their Rock At Montreal DVD which has it as a bonus, plus the official Live Aid box set), I can safely say that the level of detail they’ve gone to for this film is extraordinary. And the additional special effects camerawork that brings you into the heart of the performance enhances it even further. It’s just perfection.
Beyond that, I’ve been watching much the same things as usual. I finished watching All The Stations – Ireland on Youtube, and have continued working my way through the QI DVD box sets, both of which I discussed last month. I’m also delighted that Not Going Out returned for its 10th series on BBC1 during April, that’s been fun to watch.
And I’m still watching The Flash, The Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon and Family Guy, all of which are coming to the end of their current runs very soon. Indeed, The Big Bang Theory will be over for good shortly, which is sad, but I think it’s the right time. It’s best to end on a high, and I’ve been enjoying this final series. So hopefully they’ll do it justice at the end and wrap it up nicely, leaving the door open for a future reunion of course. I’m not sure I’ll bother watching Young Sheldon if it comes back for a third series though. It’s ok, but it’s not really held my interest as much as The Big Bang Theory has, even though I’ve given a good chance for 2 seasons. Anyway, I’ll let you know what I think of the Big Bang finale in my May Favourites post.
So there you have it, those are my April highlights. Not as much as last month, but still pretty eventful. May is going to be much the same overall, it’s not too busy. That said, however, the first week of May was very exciting given a special project I was taking part in, and I’ll hopefully be able to share that with you very soon.
I’m also preparing for the Aniridia Network Conference, taking place on June 1st in Birmingham, at which I’ll be speaking. You have until May 19th to book if you’re affected by aniridia and want to come along. And June is going to be an exciting month for other reasons too. So there’s quite a bit to look forward to.
But in the meantime, thank you for reading as always, I hope you enjoyed my latest roundup. See you next time!