September 2021 Favourites

Glen seated on a Tube train, wearing a face mask with the blue and white Victoria Line moquette design.

Hello again, I hope you’re all continuing to enjoy yourselves safely. I’m happy to say that I’ve managed to get out to meet some friends and explore the city again at long last, as my aches and pains are continuing to ease off, now that I’ve figured out how I was over-correcting my posture problems. I’m still not cancelling my November NHS physio appointment yet, as I don’t want to tempt fate, but I’m feeling much better at the moment. So I seem to be moving in the right direction, touch wood!

That means I actually have some recent and upcoming London adventures to tell you about in this month’s post and video, as well as the usual mixture of entertainment I’ve been into. So it’s a bumper update this time. With the exception of a theatre show I’ll be mentioning, for which I’ve been kindly given a review ticket, nothing else in this post is sponsored or gifted. So I hope you enjoy!

St Paul’s & Socialising

It’s been a whole year since I’ve met any of my mates in person, so it was great to finally hook up with 2 of my closest friends recently, who were visiting London for a couple of days. We’ve been in regular contact online during the pandemic of course, as we always are in general, but this was the first time I’d seen them in person for over 20 months. So it was wonderful to catch up properly. And we felt safe being in close proximity to each other, as we’re all double jabbed and have basic common sense when it comes to hygiene.

They had never been inside St Paul’s Cathedral before, so they fancied having a look around there. I had an audio described touch tour there a couple of years ago, which would have been the best option for them as they’re also visually impaired like me. But as we were visiting on a whim and not booking in advance, which is advisable for some of their tours, that wasn’t possible.

But we did pick up an audio guide device each, and explored the ground floor using that. The screen is small and so is the text on it, and for a couple of us the app on the device randomly restarted itself a few times. But we managed, and it was really interesting to listen to information about the cathedral’s history, sections, artworks, objects, events, etc, and to be immersed in a few moments of thoughtful reflection.

From looking at their website afterwards, I was reminded that there is actually an audio described guide you can get as well, that encourages you to touch the sculptures and carvings. But that wasn’t the one we got, they just gave us the standard guide. Never mind, it was still good to listen to. And I will probably go back at a later date to try out the AD guide as well.

Queen Anne statue outside St Paul's Cathedral

Exterior of St Paul's Cathedral

Large black and gold gate with a very ornate design inside St Paul's Cathedral

We also ate well, unsurprisingly. On the first evening we went to the Italian restaurant Prezzo in Euston, on the crossroads near the railway station. I’ve been there a few times before, it’s a lovely place. For starters I had Garlic Bread with Balsamic Onions & Mozzarella, then for the main course I had Penne Alla Rusticana (Penne pasta with chicken, pancetta, crispy prosciutto and peppers in a creamy tomato sauce), and for dessert I had the Honeycomb Smash Cheesecake (Topped with crunchy honeycomb pieces coated in chocolate), and it was all very nice. Nobody had a problem with my friend’s guide dog either and, although they didn’t have a bowl for the purpose, they did find a suitable container to give the dog some water when we requested some for him.

Then on the second day, after all 3 of us had been to KFC for lunch, I went with my mate to a pub near his hotel in the evening, while his wife stayed back in their room for a rest. So we had a bit of a lad’s evening in Mabel’s Tavern, just a short walk down Euston Road from the Premier Inn, turning right down Mabledon Place. We each had a couple of Bulmers ciders and a tasty burger with chips while we chatted, which filled us up nicely. A very kind lady also brought over a bowl of water for my mate’s guide dog, without us asking for it, and when a large group of people left she offered to move us to their table so we had more room. So thank you to the staff at Mabel’s Tavern for being so friendly, and accommodating, it made the evening very pleasant – as did bumping into another friend from one of my London social groups quite by chance while we were there!

So I’m really pleased that I was finally able to start meeting people and walking around the city again after so long. And all being well, I hope to continue that during October.

AD | Theatre Preview – States Of Mind

My lengthy absence from the theatre (since I saw Magic Goes Wrong in February 2020) is also coming to an end soon, as I’ve finally started to make bookings for October and beyond. There are a lot of audio described shows coming up, so I already have a fair idea of what I want to see, and I look forward to sharing my reviews with you once again.

In particular, I wanted to highlight the very first show I’m going to see – partly because I’ve been very kindly offered a ticket to go and review it (hence marking this section as an advertisement), but also because it features performers with sight loss, has integrated audio description and does look very interesting. It’ll be good to try something different, and it’s also going to be streamed online for those who can’t attend in person.

States Of Mind is being premiered on Saturday 16th October at RADA Studios as part of the Bloomsbury Festival, and has been produced by Extant, a highly acclaimed company of visually impaired artists. Written during the Covid pandemic, it’s a contemporary reimagining of the poem Venus and Adonis, the first published work by Shakespeare. To quote from the press release:

Whilst the poem is known primarily for its erotic subject matter, it has theatre at its heart with rich detailed characterisations, vivid imagery and psychological truth. The visual language and youthful vibrancy of the poetry make it an exhilarating and accessible ride. But the romanticism of the riveting narrative conceals disturbing themes of desire, rejection, sexual power, resistance and love.

The original poem provides the inspiration for a compelling exploration of erotic power in States of Mind – Christopher Hunter’s play retains all the richness of Shakespeare’s language as it examines the poem through a 21st century lens. While the play retains Shakespeare’s poetry, it relocates the action into the clinical setting of an institutional room to explore the darker themes that lie beneath the poem’s erotic veneer. The focus of the play is its two characters, and the issues surrounding their attempts to escape a cycle of coercion, lust and love that they find themselves trapped in. By transforming the story into a highly charged contemporary setting, it reveals how this early work of Shakespeare’s could have been written for audiences today.

Christopher Hunter comments: “Venus and Adonis itself is 1196 lines in length, and the entire poem revolves around a single sexual encounter and its aftermath. I became fascinated with the detail and the psychological complexity that Shakespeare used to depict this event, which is wrapped up inside a fairly simple narrative…I found that, by discarding this narrative, a host of possibilities opened up whereby the poem’s internal narrative could be explored, and this became far more interesting.”

The lead characters are played by visually impaired performers, both of whom have extensive production credits, award nominations and theatrical university qualifications to their names. Gillian Dean played Isobel Reilly in the ITV drama Home Fires, was nominated for a 2020 Offie award for her role in Crystal Clear, and has performed in a variety of settings and styles, from the National Theatre to windy Welsh mountains. Meanwhile Robin Paley Yorke is a performer and producer for the international and award-winning Seemia Theatre group, creates work by and for visually impaired people in his Associate Artist role at Invisible Flash, and earned West End Online Commendations in 2020 for his recent roles in Extant’s Rathband and Hot Coal’s My Darling Christopher.

The show features integrated audio description, delivered through the setting of a medical observation room. And having had previous experience of Extant’s work with the show Flight Paths, I know how seamlessly they do this, so that it enhances the experience for visually impaired and sighted audience members alike. It’s quite an art in itself to be able to do that.

States Of Mind has its premiere on Saturday 16th October at 8.30pm. You can see it in person at RADA Studios, 16 Chenies Street, London, WC1E 7EX (near Goodge Street station), or you can live stream it online. Either way, you can book tickets for £10 to £12 on the Bloomsbury Festival site. The production lasts for 90 minutes and is age rated 16+.

So I’m really looking forward to checking it out and supporting visually impaired artists in the process. Do let me know if you’ll be coming along or watching too!

Disability Documentaries

Staying on the topic of disabled people, I saw a couple of interesting documentaries this month that had been recommended by a friend.

Firstly, Crip Camp on Netflix is an award winning and Oscar-nominated film released last year, that was created with the aid of executive producers Barack & Michelle Obama. It takes us on a journey with a group of disabled people in America, as they attend a special summer camp run by hippies for teenagers with disabilities in 1971. It turns out to be very joyful and liberating for them, especially as many of them had never met other handicapped people before. And they had freedom to do pretty much whatever they wanted, far more than would ever be permitted in a modern-day equivalent. So we get to see a lot of archive footage from the camp, and present day recollections from former campers. It’s fascinating to discover what they got up to there, and to learn the backstories of many of those who attended.

And as a direct result of being at that camp, several attendees were inspired to become disability activists, passionately fighting and campaigning for disability rights and awareness, and for accessibility provisions to be signed into law. It is shocking to see just how badly many disabled people were being treated by others, especially children, and it’s sad that such an uprising was necessary in the first place to demand that able-bodied people respect their basic human rights and dignity, and to include them in society instead of segregating them away. But it’s also inspiring to see just how hard they fought for those rights and the huge impact they had.

So it’s a very powerful, educational and entertaining film. It’s long, at 1 hour 45 minutes, but it’s worth it. And such is its significance that it’s also available for free on Netflix’s Youtube channel. But you’ll need to watch it on the Netflix site if you want audio description of course, and that’s really useful here, especially given the inevitable video quality of the historical footage.

And then on BBC iPlayer, Blind Ambition is about TV director Jamie O’Leary, who is on the verge of losing what little eyesight he has left as a result of upcoming eye surgery. So he sets off on a road trip with blind comedian Jamie MacDonald to meet other talented blind people, including a photographer, a rapper, a woodturner, an opera singer and an artist, to learn about how they cope and to have a go at their crafts. And as a result they help to create a music video and an art exhibition. A special song is also made about their adventure by apl.de.ap from the Black Eyed Peas, who is also visually impaired. So it’s very light-hearted and often amusing, but there are also honest discussions about the impact of sight loss and the difficulties of adjusting to it, so it’s educational as well as entertaining.

US Open Tennis

Talking of disabled people, congratulations to British players Gordon Reid & Alfie Hewitt for winning the wheelchair doubles final at the US Open, that’s well worth a mention.

But of course the big British star of the US Open wasn’t a disabled person on this occasion. It was a young lady from Bromley called Emma Raducanu, who had a spectacular victory in the women’s singles final. It was a close match against Leylah Fernandez, who also played extremely well, but Emma really deserved her win, especially after so many impressive performances throughout the whole championship. She wasn’t fazed by the intense pressure and attention she had upon her, or even a big cut on her leg at one stage, she was just completely focused on what she had to do.

And millions of people got to watch it on free-to-air TV in the UK when Channel 4 struck a deal with Amazon Prime, as this was a huge moment in British sport (44 years since we last had a women’s Grand Slam singles champion). So even I watched it, and I pretty much never watch tennis. The last time I did so was Andy Murray’s Olympic success in 2012. But it was well worth it on this occasion, it was exciting to watch Emma in action. And I love how down-to-earth she’s been about it all since, so I hope she maintains that level-headed attitude and doesn’t let her new-found fame get to her, as she has a bright future in the sport and is inspiring a lot of young people to follow in her footsteps. So I wish her all the best going forward.

Designated Survivor

My big binge-watch this month was Designated Survivor on Netflix, which had been recommended by another friend. In America, the designated survivor is a selected individual in the presidential line of succession who is kept away from major presidential events in a secret location, so that if the President and others in line are taken out of action for whatever reason, there is someone who can immediately take over and continue running the country.

This drama series therefore plays out that scenario. Tom Kirkman, played by 24 star Kiefer Sutherland, suddenly finds himself President when the Capitol building is destroyed in a huge terrorist attack during the State of the Union address, wiping out the government. So he naturally faces a lot of political hurdles as he tries to run the country and persuade the electorate that he’s a legitimate president. And as FBI agent Hannah Wells (played by Maggie Q) investigates the terror attack with her colleagues, deeper conspiracies and further terrorist plots are revealed, placing everyone in greater danger.

As a result, there’s a good mix of action and drama in the series, and some humour too, and there are plenty of twists and turns and cliffhangers along the way, as you’d expect from a show of this nature. Kiefer is great as the President, you really do feel for him, and the show does evoke thoughts of 24 sometimes, so it suits him well. He’s surrounded by a solid cast of characters as well, who support, advise and challenge him as necessary, and who have interesting subplots of their own.

And the audio description is excellent, even if I now have the phrase “his figure forms the I in Survivor” from the title sequence stuck in my head now! While I do have a reasonable level of vision, I would still have missed some important details without that extra narration, so I’m thankful for its inclusion.

It was therefore a great show to watch – for the first 2 seasons at least, which had been made for the ABC network on TV. But they cancelled it after that, and Netflix decided to pick up the baton to make a third season. And they ruined it. I decided to stick with it, as it’s just 10 episodes (less than half the length of each of the previous seasons), and I hoped that maybe it would settle down as it went along. But no, it’s just awfully dull, and goes downhill as it progresses.

For a start, the political tone changes significantly, as if the writers have been told to just pick a controversial ‘hashtag issue’ in each episode and show people arguing for and against it. They’re important issues that TV shows can raise a lot of awareness of, don’t get me wrong, but here they just feel shoehorned in for the sake of it. There’s also greater focus on relationships and romantic connections between characters, including some sex and nudity, adding a soap opera feel to it. And there’s a lot of bad language, which is very jarring when there wasn’t any in the first 2 seasons. Every major character ends up cursing during the series, even the President’s young daughter in the very first episode, and it gets stronger and more frequent as the series progresses. I’m perfectly fine with bad language in things that I watch in general, but it doesn’t feel right when you’ve got so used to the characters in a particular show not doing it, and it just smacks of lazy writing.

There is still a terrorist investigation storyline as well, which has the potential to be excitingly disruptive and make up for the other faults. But it never comes to anything and just fizzles out near the end. There is a major moment for one character along the way in that aspect of the story, but even that felt very underwhelming compared to what they deserved. Likewise, a huge twist for another character at the very end of Season 2 is just brushed aside in a couple of quick scenes in Season 3 and never comes up again. And a few other characters just vanish between Seasons 2 & 3 without explanation. Oh, and let’s not forget the scene where we see the President sitting on the toilet either!

So that final season was very disappointing, and if you’re watching the show for the first time, I would highly advise stopping at the end of Season 2. Its big cliffhanger will make you keen to watch Season 3, as any good finale should, but halfway into the first episode you’ll already feel how different the show is. And believe me, it doesn’t get any better. Sensibly Netflix cancelled the series as well – citing contractual complications as the reason, but surely the overwhelmingly negative reviews were a factor – so it’s very unlikely more will be made anyway. Shame really, it had potential to be so much better.

Other Drama

In terms of other TV drama, I’m also still watching Season 7 of The Flash, but I’ll give my final reactions to the series in my next Favourites post after it concludes. In short though, it’s certainly not as good as it used to be, so my interest is drifting a bit, but it still has some fun moments.

Then in terms of audiobooks, Richard Osman’s second crime novel has been released, called The Man Who Died Twice. It’s the sequel to his smash hit debut The Thursday Murder Club, which I’ve previously mentioned. Mum and I are currently listening to that first book again, to refresh our memories and just enjoy the story a second time. We’re doing a few chapters a day whilst we have dinner, as there’s no need to rush it. So it’ll be some time before we get through the second book, and I’ll therefore give my thoughts on it in a later post.

Comedy

As is typical for autumn, several new series have started on TV this month. Some of them only started at the very end of the month and will continue into October and November, so I won’t write much about them until my next Favourites post. Suffice to say that Taskmaster and The Last Leg on Channel 4 are always fun, the new series called Outsiders on Dave is a bit like a countryside survival version of Taskmaster, and the revival of Never Mind The Buzzcocks on Sky has started strongly with Greg Davies as the host.

I have binge-watched a couple of series in their entirety though, after the BBC put all the episodes on the iPlayer at once.

Series 2 of The Goes Wrong Show, by the Mischief Theatre cast, once again presents the comically disastrous efforts of the Cornley Drama Society to put on a differently themed play every week, as their efforts are hampered by bad acting, props, costumes, set design and so on. In fact, this series has 4 full-length plays (including the Nativity Christmas special that’s also on iPlayer), and a 2-part Drama Festival, where individual members of the Cornley cast present mini plays and workshops that they’ve each written. Plus there’s an enjoyable rivalry between director Chris Bean and actor Robert Grove throughout the run. So it’s another great variety of episodes, all of which are hilarious, and a lot of work has clearly gone into them once again.

And then The Cleaner is a new sitcom written by and starring Greg Davies. It’s not an amazing show particularly, especially relative to a lot of Greg’s other work, but it’s ok, it does have amusing moments. Greg plays a specialist who cleans up crime scenes in people’s homes after the police have finished with them. Each episode sees him visiting a different property and thus meeting different people, including a lady in a wheelchair, a young online influencer and a struggling author, to name a few examples. So there’s a good mixture of stories there. And the impressive list of guest stars includes David Mitchell, Helena Bonham Carter and Stephanie Cole, who are good in their roles. So it is worth a look, but it’s not something I’d go back to personally.

And apart from all that:

Music

It seems hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since we last heard anything new from them, but ABBA are back, and it sounds like they’ve never been away. They’ve released 2 songs already – the beautiful ballad I Still Have Faith In You and the catchy Don’t Shut Me Down – both of which will be on their upcoming new album Voyage when it’s released on 5 November. And it all coincides with the announcement of ABBA Voyage, a special concert experience featuring digitised versions of the group members performing their greatest hits, accompanied by a 10-piece live band, at a special arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. It’s due to run from May to September in 2022. So that could be interesting to check out.

The Horne Section, featuring Alex Horne from Taskmaster, have released a new album called Ultrabulk, featuring all the silly songs from Series 6 & 7 of their podcast (which I’m not a regular listener of, as I never find the time, but I’ve heard some of it occasionally). So that’s an amusing selection as always.

And as for Queen, Happy 75th Birthday to Freddie Mercury! To mark the occasion I listened to a couple of special shows that were on BBC Radio 2. There was a repeat of a 2017 edition of Friday Night Is Music Night, featuring the band’s songs performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra with a rock band and 4 stars of the We Will Rock You musical. So, as you can imagine, that sounded very cool. But also, during the interval, Anneka Rice met some school students who had been learning to perform the music of Queen, and it was great to hear their admiration and appreciation for the band, having studied their songs so closely in order to sing and play them. It’s always wonderful when their music is introduced to, and enjoyed by, a new generation.

And then there was a new edition of Sounds Of The 70s, where Johnnie Walker played some of Queen’s biggest hits from the decade and spoke to Brian May about them. There were no major revelations for an avid Queen fan like me of course, but it’s always nice to hear him reminiscing nonetheless. And he was able to plug his new solo reissue of Back To The Light as well.

And talking of his reissued album, Brian has released a new video for the title track Back to The Light, called The Time Traveller, where present-day Brian performs with the 1992 version of himself. It’s very cleverly done, and he promoted it by doing a special screening and Q&A, which were interesting to watch online as part of his day of live streams. The track is also being released as a single in October coupled with Nothin’ But Blue, and the digital release includes a karaoke version of Back To The Light as a bonus.

Roger Taylor has also released another new track called The Clapping Song, from his new album Outsider that came out at the beginning of October. It’s an upbeat track, and it’s the only cover song on the album, having originally been performed by Shirley Ellis, and sampled by various artists since. I’ll review the album itself in next month’s Favourites post.

And Queen have also launched a new pop-up store in Carnaby, which will be open until January, along with a selected range of items to buy online. So I’ll definitely be paying that a visit at some point, as I really enjoyed my visit to their previous pop-up store a few years ago.

Conclusion

And that’s it for a bumper roundup, hopefully one that marks the start of my gradual return to normality, with more socialising, explorations, theatre shows and more on the horizon. We’ll see how things go of course, but I’m feeling positive at the moment. So thank you for reading if you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you for more updates very soon!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger & Youtuber with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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