Edmond – The Chamber Theatre @ The Carleton Tavern

A Night of Vicious Entertainment

The Chamber Theatre takes its audience through a labyrinth of alienation and immorality in their production of  David Mamet’s “Edmond” at the Carleton Tavern.  Bored with his wife anti-hero Edmond rejects convention soon finding himself mired in a world of depravity. Throughout his descent he argues and cries plaintively that the price is too high and the transaction misunderstood. Via seedy bars, peep shows and massage parlours, he is outplayed by card sharks and hustlers alike as slowly, deftly, the rage within this everyman is awakened.

Edmond’s struggle to take control of his destiny, unmute his life, get laid, gain the upper-hand leaves him exposed, exploited and further unbalanced. A pawn-shop transaction arms him, an ingeniously-staged subway ride infuriates him while a pimp pushes a con too far and an encounter with a hapless waitress leaves Edmond maniacally transformed shedding his meek veneer in a cascade of bigoted temper with murderous intent.

Director Donnie Laflamme in the role of Edmond Burke maintains the powerhouse performance necessary for this work. His urgent frustration, rage, and fear of foul play are never forced.  The racist, misogynistic vitriol he spouts is genuinely unhinged as he unwittingly spirals further out of control.

The production works on many level; it’s well cast, evenly paced and exploits the miniscule set to intensify the claustrophobic drama within Edmond’s mind.  Players file to the stage in a robotic automaton trance echoing detachment before revealing vibrant underworld characters.  Facing the audience rather than one another to deliver lines resolves the problems of potential blocking while augmenting the sense of isolation.   The outward facing delivery mirrors the self-conscious, self-serving nature within each character.  Minimal props are effective and suggestive in particular chain links pounded against the floor for dreadful effect.

Cast members take on multiple characters.  Bob Reynolds stands out in a series of pivotal roles; the business man steering Edmond to vice, the owner of the pawnshop that arms the protagonist, the Irish cop that sees plainly through plaintive excuses. Jennifer Vallance and Leslie Cserepy inject the play with much-needed respite clearly relishing turns as a peep show dancer, card shark and fever-pitched preacher. Only Burke’s wife (Manon Dumas) lacks clarity of character causing the piece to falter dangerously towards its conclusion. Despite this lull Edmond’s descent in to his prison hell continues apace with a captivating performance by Karl Claude alongside Laflamme drawing the production to a strikingly visceral conclusion as the virtual curtain falls.

The rather ramshackle Carleton Tavern in Hintonburg doesn’t detract from the experience as small threadbare joints seem to be where theatrical gems reside. In the spirit of theatre found Off-Broadway and away from London’s West End this is an off-kilter playhouse production that takes risks and delivers gratifyingly talented results.

223 Armstrong St, Ottawa, ON K1Y 2W5

3-6 and 11-13 April 2013

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El Pirata de Tapas – A Notting Hill Gem 4.5*

An edited version of this review has appeared in MyVillage.com
It’s the little things that make a restaurant memorable. Food is critical but gifted staff and a superior ambience are equally important as many a satisfactory meal is ruined by inept service and poor attention to detail.  El Pirata de Tapas on Westbourne Grove delivers on all fronts marrying quality ingredients to the impecabble talents of Head Chef Omar Allibhoy and his team. The elegant décontracté style alongside efficient yet upretentious professional service create a relaxed setting in which to fully savour your meal. If you’re looking for a complete dining experience read no further; simply book a table and enjoy.

The dark wood decor is warm and, without trying too hard, accessories hint at the kitchen’s modern take on traditional tapas fare. Service from the outset is accomplished and comfortable; we find ourselves ensconced amongst decently spaced tables and are welcomed with water served with mint and lime – again it’s the finer points. Nestled next to the wine rack wall we sampled the house wines, red and white, a test of overall wine standards and, without raving, both are perfectly serviceable and a snip at £15/bottle.

We started with a sample from the Christmas menu: a tender salmon carpaccio dressed in light vinaigrette with sea salt and salad.  It was a flavoursome and refreshing starter that spoke well of the Yule offering.

At our server’s suggestion we ordered the gut busting £25 Degustation Chef’s Menu which is a cut-rate culinary delight.  Legendary El Bulli protegé Executive Chef Omar Allibhoy has set the bar high and the kitchen, run by Head Chef Esperanza Mateos Jimenez, doesn’t disappoint.  Eight dishes and a trio of desserts we fairly rolled away from our table.

The octopus carpaccio, cylinder pressed overnight, is unimaginably smooth, tender even velvety in texture. This delicately flavoured dish is gently pleasing though I prefer the stronger signature of chilli to paprika.  Any shyness detected in the octopus was surmounted by the bold Blue Cheese dish.  The Valdeón foam topped with grated walnut and served with endive spears is a sensation.  I’m not one for blue cheese but intense flavour without aftertaste is a truly memorable dining experience.

Next up were scallops, cod and black risotto.  The seared scallops, beautifully presented and skilfully prepared, are wonderfully smooth. The tasty mollusc is perfectly balanced and complimented by the cauliflower puree while rehydrated chorizo provides crispness with lashings of salty goodness. The cod, served on a tiny bed of stewed potatoes, cabbage and pancetta and topped with a beautiful pepper sauce was perfectly cooked, warming, fragrant and homely.  Squid Ink risotto with aioli, a Basque country favourite, though filling lacked full-on seasoning and could definitely use more garlic to raise its game.

The three mains were pork cheeks, croquettes and wood pigeon. The glistening glazed pork cheeks are marinated in red wine for 12 hours and unbelievably tender; a pungent dish down to the carrot puree.  The croquettes –often a maltreated and poorly prepared tapas– are light, delicately crisp giving way to a rich hammy bechemal core – satisfying and flavourful.  The decadent pigeon served on fig puree blended sweet, salt and savoury to perfection.  So pleasurable was that pigeon that even full as we were we’d have managed another portion.

The trio of desserts provide a cocoa oasis for chocolate lovers. The luxurious chocolate mousse is heavenly while the dense truffle is intoxicatingly rich.  The painted scrape of saffron toffee provides a complementary taste of “burnt” sugar to lighten the dark chocolate.

This is a serious restaurant that ticks all the boxes in terms, of quality, skill, service and price even offering a 9.95 lunch budgeted for any foodies’ pocket.

A trendy local Notting Hill gem El Pirata deTapas provides outstanding food, accomplished service and unbeatable value for money.

Venue: 3.5/5 Service: 4.5/5  Food: 4.5/5 Value for Money: 5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

115 Westbourne Grove
London, W2 4UP

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Black Roses Bloom in Notting Hil

For the last month striking Gothic black roses have popped up in and around Notting Hill taped to street lamps, parking ticket machines and random bollards around the neighbourhood.

No one can tell me what the beautiful yet sombre street art represents and I’m hopeful it won’t be a pseudo-viral marketing plug.  For now we’re enjoying these curious if slightly macabre –often vandalised – blooms and would love to know the back story. Get in touch if you’ve information or additional pictures to share.

Black Rose by Colville School as seen by DVK

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Happy New Year London

An edited version of this review has appeared in London24
Here comes 2012, year of the London Olympics, and to help you kick it off in style we’ve compiled a list of the best of what’s on in London for New Years.  So take your pick and don’t miss out on any good times as you ring in the upcoming year.

NYE Fireworks Display: South Bank/London Eye, Saturday 21 December SE1 7PB 10pm-Midnight Free
The Mayor’s Fireworks display on the Thames is always a spectacular event. As it attracts almost 250 000 and the viewing area fills up 2-3hours in advance so it is recommended to arrive around 8pm.  DJ set starts at 10 pm with Fireworks at midnight.  More info here  http://www.london.gov.uk/nye

New Year’s Day Parade: Central London: Piccadilly (by Green Park), Piccadilly Circus, Lower Regent St, Waterloo Place, Pall Mall, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Big Ben: 11:45am Free
London’s 26th annual New Year’s Day parade features 15 bands, Pearly Queens and Kings, floats, acrobats, performers and more. For further details see: http://www.londonparade.co.uk/

NYE Parties

Stompin’ at The Savoy The Savoy Hotel, Champagne reception + 4 course dinner and entertainment £500-995
Possibly the most glamorous New Year’s eve party in town “Stompin’ at The Savoy” will feature performances from Paloma Faith, Beverly Knight and Tony Christie amongst others all accompanied by The Guy Barker Orchestra.  The soiree will be broadcast live on BBC 2 so get ready to jingle your finest jewellery while the champagne flows. http://www.stompinatthesavoy.co.uk/

The Golden Vault NYE Celebration
The Royal Opera Arcade5b Pall Mall, SW14UY 8pm-5am £55
Promises to be a “Glitzy” affair – or so says the dress code – with a champagne and canapé reception, midnight countdown and live DJs til 5am. http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/org/1757949103

Burlesque Cabaret at The Peacock 148 Falcon Road, Clapham Junction, SW112LW 7pm-6am £10-35
The Peacock Bar is hosting a NYE Hollywood Stars party that includes DJs, Burlesque, Cabaret and more. Tailor your night with just drinks tickets or pay only £35 for dinner, drinks and reserved seating all night – a great option for resting those sky-high heels between trips to the dance floor. bookings@the-peacock-bar.co.uk

NYE with DJ Seb Fontaine & guests at Westbourne Studios  Westbourne Studios, 242 Ackam Road W10 5JJ 9pm-4am includes a complimentary year membership £20
Westbourne Studios is to reopen as Industry Member Club in the New Year so be the last and first to cross the iconic threshold for this changeover and receive a complimentary year’s membership along with your NYE party. info@industrymembersclub.com

NYE @ Broadway House 474-476 Fulham Broadway SW6 1BY advanced tickets £10
West London’s newest members club is opening its doors to all for NYE and tickets are a bargain. With DJ and 3 stories of a beautifully interior designed building this promises to be a relaxed, fun and stylish evening.  Start the evening with a champagne reception followed by dinner for £55. www.broadway-house.co.uk

NYE The Last Party On Earth @ The Cuckoo Club Swallow St, Mayfair Drinks reception from 10:30-11:30 followed by party £50-75
The newly refurbished Cuckoo Club redesigned by Biba-founder and interiors designer Barbara Hulanicki, looks fabulous just in time for a prestigious ringing in of the new year. Prepare for the evening ahead by dinning in the clubs restaurant which offers a 4 –course gourmet European cuisine experience with champagne for £150. claire@thecuckooclub.com

NYE at Jam Tree 541 Kings Road SW6 2EB £20 +10£ for Hog roast
Enjoy the Jam-boree party on Kings Road to ring the New Year in with style.  This celebration promises dj sets, trays of drinks throughout the night and for an extra £10 enjoy a hog roast – yum!  The heated patio will be open to allow open-air fun til 2am. www.jamtree.com

NYE with Difference
Looking for an alternative to the standard ringing in of Auld Lang Syne?  Here are a couple of strange and wonderful events taking place in the capital that are sure to make the arrival of 2012 a night to remember.

The Last Tuesday Society presents: 2 parties – http://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org/
The New Year’s Eve Eve Masked Ball – St Matthew’s Church Brixton 10pm-4am 15-25£
Beat the taxi queues and drunks to celebrate the new year one night early on January 30th.  Masks are obligatory and the dress code is decadence and drama with clothes optional. The evening promises bizarre treats, tricks, feast and festivities.

The Animal Party – Hackney E2, 25£
The dress code is animals and it’s “no costume no entry” so prepare yourself for an evening with a myriad of furry creatures. It’s pretty much a drop down the proverbial rabbit hole.  Fun for all with an appetite for the alternative.

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This Week’s Nibbles

Happy almost Xmas!  London is settling in to the holiday season. The mad rush is on but soon we’ll get that peaceful lull that the seasonal exodus brings. If you’re at loose ends catch the last screening at Nomad Pop-up tonight. Or book a ticket to either of the delightful plays at The Lyric – Holly & Ivan is great for under 6’s while the Aladdin production is threatening Hackney for title of best panto as adventures in Ham-Mah-Smit  prove a riotous good time.

Still hungry, drop in to El Pirata de Tapas for some excellent tapas or Dim Sum Diner for no nonsense fare.

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Holly & Ivan’s Christmas Adventure: A Seasonal Play for the Little Ones

An edited version of this review has appeared in MyVillage.com
The Lyric Hammersmith sums up many of the great things about London. The Lyric is consistently raising its game bringing accessible, inexpensive, talented theatre to the masses in a classy comfortable setting.  Running alongside the successful Aladdin Panto is a nostalgic Christmas play for smaller children; “Ivan and Holly Christmas Adventure”.

This lovely 3-hander tells the story of Ivan & Holly two dolls lost from Santa’s sleigh that embark on adventures en-route to their intended destination.

The homely-styled stage is soft and welcoming with fairlights, shadows and good will. The story is a simple yet physical affair with song and dance numbers, a snow ball fight amid the audience and multiple “locations”.   Particularly delightful is the underwater sequence with umbrella jelly fish and fans for gills.  My littlest friend was in awe of the jungle scene where Holly, Ivan and an amiable monkey swung to and fro across the set and she loved the “toys” brave gumption as they determinedly tracked their way “home”.

It’s a delightfully memorable play and a quality hour with any small companion.

Book a ticket for Thursday 22 Dec and one adult goes free!

Until 31 December 2011

Lyric Hammersmith
Lyric Square, King Street
London, UK, W6 0QL

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Dim Sum Delicious

An edited version of this review has appeared in MyVillage.com
The cheerful Dim Sum Diner opened this month on the Queensway in Bayswater.  Just a hop from Hyde Park this venue offers typical Chinese specialties alongside a smattering of American standbys such as hotdogs, burgers, chips and breaded fish. The minimalist red and white interior includes lacquered wooden tables dressed with a selection of sauces and seasonings, benches and pretty birdcage lampshades.

A simple affair all dishes are priced at £3.80 (except for the £2.50 sides) and include a selection of “Steamed/Baked/Fried/Sweet dim sum” alongside “Small Plates” and “American-style” offerings.  Manager Dom was on hand to guide our choices and certainly didn’t steer us wrong.

A licensed restaurant they offer a small selection of wines in individual sized bottles and several beers including TsingTao, Tiger and Asahi alongside soft options, coffees and teas.

We started with the Chilli Salt Crispy Tofu.  Delightful bites that are warming and perfectly seasoned with the right balance of flavour to heat. I could snack endlessly on these and was sorely tempted to throw a second order in my handbag.

Three large Pan-Fried Peking Pork Dumplings were satisfyingly filling if slightly doughy to my tastes.  While of the two steamed dim sum we tried the XO Scallop won hands down over the still highly recommendable Pork & Prawn.  For scallop lovers these tantalizing morsels will not disappoint.

The Vietnamese Noodle Salad with spring rolls provides a refreshing contrast of tastes. Sweet cold noodles dressed with fish sauce, chilli, lime and garlic topped by two warm Vietnamese spring rolls create a lovely fragrant bowl.  I’d have preferred flavour enhancing herbs or even shredded carrot to the iceberg lettuce but, for the price, was more than satisfied.

The “small plates” turned out to be substantial sharing dishes. The Teriyaki Beef Flank Fried Rice came with two tender pieces of beef coated in a light tempura that were melt-in-your-mouth delicious.   The Baked Pork in Coconut with Turmeric Rice that we barely put a dent in was a warming if stodgy rice dish.  The latter would be a winner for a hungry appetite looking to fill their stomachs for next to nothing and was reminiscent of the dishes I’d seen young men with packs of Marlboro Reds hunkered over in Vietnamese diners back home.  The inclusion of American-diner options makes it a winning choice for eclectic palates saddled with finicky eaters.

A traditional yet contemporary Chinese diner specialising in dishes flavoured with international influences in a casual setting Dim Sum Diner is a very welcome and well-priced newcomer to London.

Venue: 3/5
Service: 3/5
Food: 3.5/5
Value for Money: 5/5
Overall: 3.5/5

Dim Sum Diner
48 Queensway
Bayswater London, W2 3RY

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This Week’s Nibbles

Nomads Abound

As ever there is a lot to nibble on in London.  We checked out The Gate’s latest production Yerma and, with the London Jazz Festival strutting in to town, The Park Lane Intercontinental’s new evening of Gin and Jazz. Nice stylings and top-drawer cocktails on the 3rd Thursday of the month in the Wellington Lounge. Over in Bayswater the Lexi re-launched the Nomad pop-up cinema.  Speaking of Nomad how odd that this was the name of Thursday’s launch and the “secret” dinner party host on Saturday. Still hungry? Check out Granger & co the Westbourne Grove newbie in the site formerly occupied by Pix while we hotly anticipate this week’s opening of Colchis.

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Nomad @Whiteleys: Cinema Pops Up in Bayswater

The independent Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise re-launched its travelling pop-up cinema Nomad in the middle of Bayswater at the beautiful, if underused, Whiteley’s.

The pop-up operates 7 days a week until 21 December in what was formerly the book shop on the 2nd floor at the top of the marble swirly staircase.  The large space has a vast open “lobby” with a bar serving beer, wine and cocktails, some snack stands and, on launch night, a photo-shoot area.  To the back of this room is the actual cinema space.  The cinema, reminiscent of films projected in school assembly halls and community centres, has a truly adhoc feel. There are rows of plastic pull-down cinema style seats, Saab-sponsored director’s chairs and, on the  floor, “Wicked Wedge” mat-cum-blow-up-backrest cushions.  Finally, for the mad folk, there is also an inflatable pool with balls where you are welcome to dive in and enjoy the screening.

The Lexi, one of only a handful of independently-owned cinema houses in London, operates as a charity staffed by volunteers and donating 100% of its profits to “The Sustainability Institute”. So feel good as you enjoy a flick while contributing between 4£-8£ towards a better community.  Want a bit more? Dine at any Whiteley’s restaurant and get free pop-up cinema passes – how can you lose!

Until December 21, 2011

Whiteley’s on the Queensway
London, UK, W2
http://www.whereisthenomad.com /

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Yerma @ The Gate Theatre

Natalie Abrahami’s direction of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Yerma is a simplified linear affair providing a riveting if rocky night at the theatre.

Spanish for “barren”, Yerma remains the grim tragedy of a deceitful childless marriage and Anthony Weigh’s version brings a starkness to the 1934 original that lends a compelling urgency.

The red brown set with corrugated siding, sand and a stark white mattress speaks of wilderness. A bitter wedding cake and a reluctant, choreography between newlyweds foreshadow the harshness that eventually strips Yerma raw.

Ty Glaser is so pale and slim, as unsubstantial as Yerma’s dovelike character, a protagonist without identity.  Whether intentional or not Glaser’s portrayal is naive to the point of mentally deficient especially countered by her calculating and distant husband Juan (Hasan Dixon) who prefers nights amongst the sheep to the marital bed.  This incongruous relationship heightened the sense that Yerma is a simpleton rather than a victim making it difficult to empathise with her circumstances.

Hasan Dixon (Juan) and Ty Glaser (Yerma)

Victor, the local butcher, so utterly masculine he leaves Yerma yearning brings some much needed passion.  She drinks from a glass touched by his lips and swoons over a remembered touch.  Even fetching meat from his abattoir is an opportunity for double-entendre as she declares “I’ll take my heart and go”.

Weigh’s homoerotic twist is at the heart of this adaptation; a suggestion giving depth, even a purpose, to Juan’s cruelty as he banishes Victor (Ross Anderson) as though eradicating sin.

Yerma’s friend Maria (Alison O’Donnell) provides welcome levity to these dismal proceedings as she champions motherhood for easing wifely duties “…carrying things, that’s what you have kids for.”  O’Donnell’s saucy portrayal from lascivious lass to worn out mother and superstitious villager revives the tempo with each appearance.

But no injection of humour can lighten this crushing tale as seasons pass in a fertile land while Yerma remains without her longed for child.  As her world closes in and truths become apparent we witness her despair and tenuous grasp on reality slipping away.

This version is however without Lorca’s sense of absolute exclusion from village life. The suffocating separateness of the original text creates a bell-jar removing any sense of Yerma’s identity leaving only an ephemeral ghost of her own imaginings. The cast is convincing and, with Abrahami’s skilful touch, the evening is entrancing but lacks the claustrophobic sense of isolation needed to deliver the full weight and power of the final tragedy.

Until December 17 2011

The Gate Theatre
11 Pembridge Road
London, UK, W11 3HQ

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