Back to the Future on Fortune Green

This Saturday, the Friends of Fortune Green will pick up where they left off last summer with the first outdoor film screening of the year. Powered by bike (not DeLorean).

If you didn’t come to these last year, they were a great success. The premise is simple: a large screen is put up on Fortune Green and everyone bring a picnic, settles out on the grass from about 6.30 in the evening and then as the sun sets the film starts. With people cycling on fixed bikes to generate the power. Volunteers are needed to do a bit of the cycling (10 minute spells are fine) and a few bikes are also needed. Please contact FoFG if you can lend a bike for the evening.

The first film this year is 1980s cult classic Back to the Future with Michael “never gets older” J Fox and Christopher Lloyd. Sure, you’ve seen it before, but films like this always merit watching again.

The forecast is reasonably good for the week, so the FoFG are optimistic that it will go ahead. The film is PG, and it’s free thanks to sponsorship from Benham & Reeves estate agents.

The one lesson from last year: bring some bug spray.

See you there.

Godzilla in Hampstead

If you’ve been to Camden Arts Centre over the past few weeks then you’ll have seen the rather amazing T-Rex/Godzilla sculpture by Serena Korda. If you’ve looked more closely you’ll have spotted a couple of harnesses inside it – yes, it’s designed to move!

This Saturday, the 9ft-tall latex beast will embark on a procession from the Arts Centre on the corner of Arkwright Road and Finchley Road up to Hampstead Heath where the performance will culminate with a re-enactment of The Battle of the River Plate in Whitestone Pond, where the monster will be waiting. This one took a while to get council approval but it promise to be one of the local events of the spring.

The excitement kicks off at 3pm at the Arts Centre and they’d like you to let them know if you plan to participate.

Korda’s beast in Blackpool

NW6 Film Club: The Look of Love

In April the film club saw Trance, which was enjoyed by almost everyone.

Our next movie is also London-based and also the work of an original and eclectic British director; in this case Michael Winterbottom. His latest film, The Look of Love, reunites Winterbottom with Steve Coogan (they worked together on 24 Hour Party People and the recent TV series The Trip) to tell the life story of strip club entrepreneur Paul Raymond.

Winterbottom certainly has a thing about sex and movies – his Nine Songs is supposedly the most explicit film to get a general release in the UK. He’s also a highly political director (Road to Guantanamo and The Shock Doctrine). So will this be a thoughtful examination of the politics of pornography and exploitation or a sexy romp through Soho? Come along on May 5th and find out.

The film is screening at The Tricycle at 8pm on Sunday 5th May and tickets are already available.

How do I book?
Through the Tricycle Box Office on 020 7328 1000. We have a block of seats reserved right in the middle of the cinema so mention “NW6 film club” if you want to sit with us (or don’t if you don’t!). It’s unlikely to be booked out so feel free to turn up on the night as well.

How do I find you?
We’ll meet up in the bar area at the Tricycle from 7.15pm, so collect your ticket and come and say hi. You’ll spot the crowd! There’s no need to tell us you’re coming – though a tweet is always welcome.

After the film we’ll go to the Black Lion opposite the cinema for a drink and chat. It’s a bank holiday weekend (hurrah) so do come along for a post movie meetup.

It’s going to be a great night, I hope you can join us. As always, follow @NxNW6 for updates or the #nw6filmclub hashtag.

NW6 Film Club: Trance on April 7

It’s nearly time for the third instalment of the monthly NW6 Film Club, and this month’s offering is a great pick!

Trance is Danny Boyle’s (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later) first film since his legendary Olympic opening ceremony last summer and looks set to be another rollercoaster ride.

Simon (James McAvoy), a fine art auctioneer, teams up with a criminal gang to steal a Goya painting worth millions of dollars but after suffering a blow to the head during the heist he awakens to discover he has no memory of where he hid the painting. When physical threats and torture fail to produce answers, the gang’s leader Frank (Vincent Cassel) hires hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to delve into the darkest recesses of Simon’s psyche. As Elizabeth begins to unravel Simon’s broken subconscious, the lines between truth, suggestion, and deceit begin to blur.

The film is screening at The Tricycle at 20:00 on Sunday 7th April and tickets are already available.

How do I book?
Through the Tricycle Box Office on 020 7328 1000- we have a block of seats reserved right in the middle of the cinema so mention “NW6 film club” if you want to sit with us (or don’t if you don’t!). It’s unlikely to be booked out so feel free to turn up on the night as well.

How do I find you?
We’ll meet up in the bar area at the Tricycle from 19:15, so collect your ticket and come and say hi. You’ll spot the crowd! There’s no need to tell us you’re coming – though a tweet is always welcome.

After the film we’ll go to the Black Lion opposite the cinema for a drink and a chat. The film is only 100-something minutes long so there should be time for a good post-movie discussion.

It;s going to be a great night, I hope you can join us. As always, follow @NxNW6 for updates or the #nw6filmclub hashtag.

Mark (@NxNW6) and Nathan (@nathankw)

Big Bamboozle promises great afternoon out

Looking for something different to do on Saturday? Want to keep the kids entertained or try out some great food? Don’t want to stray too far from home? The Camden Arts Centre’s special open day may be the place to go. The Big Bamboozle runs from 2-5pm and there’s an amazing range of things to do, see and eat.

In case you’ve not been paying attention of late, the Camden Arts Centre isn’t in Camden Town it’s right here in our own bit of north-west London on the corner of Finchley Road and Arkwright Road. It’s a five minute walk from Tesco in fact.

The day is built around the “overlooked” artist Finchley Arkwright-Keslake-Esssendine (work with me here people), and the centre is going to be transformed into her home while the garden (weather permitting) will be where Street Feast traders will set up stall. Although there is a fundraising element to the day, it also offers a great opportunity to see the centre and perhaps get involved in activities – almost all of which are free and many are open to all ages. So if you want to decorate a clock, learn about the art and craft of diary keeping or immortalise your index finger in plaster you know where to come.

The galleries themselves will also be open if you want to look at the latest exhibitions.

There’s also a special evening event, which is not free. Tickets are £99 each for that, which gets you more food, and all manner of entertainment.

NW6 Film Club: Stoker on March 3rd

It’s nearly time for the second installment of the monthly NW6 Film Club, and this Sunday’s offering should be a nice contrast to Zero Dark Thirty, which we saw last time.

The film this time is Stoker – a film with a heritage as intriguing as its plot.

An American production by a Korean director, inspired by Hitchcock and Bram Stoker – it’s part horror, part romance, part family drama. It has an amazing cast including Nicole Kidman, and is getting great reviews. It sounds like it should have something for everyone!

The film is on at The Tricycle at 8pm on Sunday 3rd March.

We’ll meet up in the Bar Area at the Tricycle from 7:15 once you’ve got your ticket. There’s no need to tell us you’re coming – though a tweet is always welcome.

You can book through the Tricycle Box Office – we have a reserved block right in the centre of the cinema so mention “nw6 film club” if you want to sit with us (or don’t if you don’t!). It’s unlikely to be booked out so feel free to come along on the night as well.

After the film we’ll go to the Black Lion opposite the cinema for a drink and a chat. We’ll wait at the top of the stairs for a few minutes after the film finishes and head over together but if you miss us there then just head over.

The film is only 90-something minutes long so there should be time for a good post-movie discussion. If you can’t make it to the pub, please tweet your mini-review with the tag #nw6filmclub and we’ll compile them into an online meta-review.

As always, follow @NxNW6 for updates or the #nw6filmclub hashtag, and hopefully see you on Sunday.

Nathan (@nathankw) and Mark (@NxNW6)

WhampArt: Guided tour at Camden Arts Centre

STOP PRESS: This event is now full. If you’d like to go on the waiting list then by all means contact me, and leave a mobile number.

We’re a cultured bunch in West Hampstead, right? We know our Matisse from our Magritte, our Monet from our Manet, and even our Munch from our Munk if we’re very cutting edge.

So it’s time to push the boat out a little. Time to expand those artistic horizons. All you need to do is come along to #whampart at the Camden Arts Centre on the evening of Wednesday, February 6th.

This is our first collaboration with the Camden Arts Centre (but hopefully not last, so behave yourselves!). We’re getting a special guided tour of the Film in Space exhibition, and then we can retire to the rather nice café/bar for some wine and incredibly intellectual discussions about what we’ve seen. Or we might talk about the weather or kittens or US foreign policy in Obama’s second term.

Here’s a bit about the exhibition from the Camden Arts Centre’s website:

Film in Space is a group exhibition selected by British artist-filmmaker Guy Sherwin. The exhibition focuses on expanded cinema, a film movement which came to prominence in Britain in the early 1970s, at the time Sherwin started making films. The movement was closely associated with the London Filmmakers’ Co-operative, an organisation set up in 1966 by artist-filmmakers to exhibit and produce experimental film work which challenged mainstream cinema. Sherwin worked at the LFMC in its early years and was highly influenced by his experience. For Camden Arts Centre he has selected a number of key works from this period and is showing them along with works by younger artists who are continuing to experiment with the versatility of analogue media, as well as others who have started to take on board the advent of digital technologies. Throughout the exhibition there is an emphasis on film, light, and sound as material to be constantly re-worked, manipulated and experimented with.

I’ve seen the exhibition and it’s interesting but I think having the guided tour will really make it much more accessible. So even if you’re not sure that 1970s expanded cinema is your sort of thing, why not come along and learn a bit more about it. The Camden Arts Centre is such a great local resource but it’s underused by locals; here’s an opportunity to get to know it.

Sounds great! What do I do now?
We’ll need to meet in the reception area at 7.30pm promptly on Wednesday February 6th. The tour will be about 30 minutes and then we’ll head to the bar, which stays open until about 9pm.

We have 15 places and you’ll need to reserve your spot. It’s going to be first-come/first-served. As always, if you sign up then please don’t pull out at the last minute. It might be hard to get late replacements, and it’s not fair on the Arts Centre staff who are doing this especially for us.

To book your place you must with your name and mobile number. Max 2 places per person.

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NW6 Film Club launches

This month we’re launching the imaginatively named NW6 Film Club – an informal meetup of local film buffs. It’s basically like a book club only with a screen instead of pages! Or is that what book clubs will be like anyway in a couple of years?

Enough biting satirical commentary. You need details:

The first Film Club will be on Sunday 27th Jan (the plan is to do it on the last Sunday of every month). The exact time will depend on the film time but we’ll usually meet 45 minutes before the Sunday evening showing. This Sunday, that means meeting at 6.45pm.

Our first and usual venue will be the Tricycle Cinema on Kilburn High Road. If you don’t know it, this lovely cinema has a good screen, comfortable seats and usually shows excellent films.

It’s also good value compared to most London cinemas. Standard tickets are £9.50 and if you plan to go regularly then become a Tricycle member and get £1.50 off.

What films will we see?
Generally whatever is showing at the Tricycle; they usually show interesting films – not too blockbuster but not too “art-house” either.

The first film is Zero Dark Thirty – Kathryn Bigelow’s dramatisation of the capture of Osama bin Laden.

How does it work?
Just buy a ticket for 7.30pm showing on the 27th, and come and join us at the Tricycle Bar before the film. We’ll be there from 6.45.

After the film we’ll head across the road to the Black Lion to drink and chat about the film for as long as we want (or until we get thrown out).

We’re not arranging tickets – it’s much easier if you just buy your own. You can usually buy tickets on the night, but to be sure you might want to book in advance (online or at the box office). If it looks like its really filling up we’ll let you know via twitter.

The Tricycle has allocated us some seats so if you want to sit together with the group just mention the Film Club when you book over the phone. If you have your own favourite seat you’re welcome to sit there – we won’t be offended!

How to find out more?
The best way is to follow @NxNW6 on twitter and/or read this website. If you want to get in touch with us tweet @NxNW6 or @nathankw or if you’re not a tweeter you can email .

It would be great to get a rough idea of numbers so if you can let us know if you’ll be coming that would be a real help.

Hope to see you there!

Mark, Nathan and Jonathan

Bookshop event January 22nd

Whampbooks is back on January 22nd.

If you’re not familiar with this particular event, it’s really very simple. The lovely people at West End Lane Books open their doors for the evening for a night of bargains, booze and books. There’s 20% off all stock, (free) wine for all, and a chance to meet and chat with some lovely locals.

The fun kicks off at 7.30pm, but it’s all very informal. Come along when you can, there’s no ticketing or pre-booking or anything. I think this will be our fourth book event, and they’ve all been great fun. See you there!

Books galore – just needs you!

NxNW6 Film Review of 2012

I have been writing this column for eight months and have been blown away by the local appreciation and passion for film. North-west London is a genuine oddity in cinema terms. How many other neighbourhoods (outside of the West End)  can boast seven cinemas (five independent) all within walking distance of each other?

I also wanted to take the opportunity to thank the 60 of you who came to our first #whampfilm events for Skyfall and The Dark Knight Rises. It was very much appreciated and we plan to run similar events in early 2013. We’re also starting a monthly film club night at the Tricycle. However, as you all know, the first rule of film club is that you can’t talk about film club, so I’ll stop talking. More on that later!

There is a slight change in format for this week’s listings. Along with the Film of the Week, US musical comedy Pitch Perfect is the only other new release in the area, so I’ve taken the opportunity to compile my personal list of the films that I thought were outstanding in 2012 – please let me know your favourites as well (either in the comments below or via Twitter @NxNW6).

Have a great Christmas one and all and keep loving cinema.

Film of the Week

Life of Pi
(2012, adventure drama, 127 mins, PG)
The first Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger) film for three years tackles the much loved Yann Martel novel. The 3D rendering is apparently excellent and this is very likely to become a staple of the awards season.
  • Everyman Maida Vale 2D
  • Everyman Hampstead 3D
  • Finchley Road Vue 2D & 3D
  • Swiss Cottage Odeon 3D

Films of the Year
(in no particular order)

Films that just missed the cut: Damsels in Distress, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Shame, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Dredd.

And, for balance, here are my worst five: Battleship, John Carter, Rock of Ages, Wrath of the Titans and The Lorax.

Listings back to normal next week!

Dec 26 – Jack Reacher, Midnight’s Children, Safety not Guaranteed.
Jan 1 – The Impossible, Quartet, Playing for Keeps, Texas Chainsaw 3D
Jan 11 – Les Miserables, Gangster Squad, Jiro Dreams of Sushi
All times correct at time of publication.
*new release.

Contact Mark via Twitter or .

Opening night Skyfall tickets – Bond is back

It’s the most successful film franchise of all time (probably, I have no idea – but it’s got to be a frontrunner, right?). Now Bond is back with Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007.

Skyfall opens in the UK on October 26th and you can get to the 19.30 Imax screening that very night at the Swiss Cottage Odeon with our second #whamppremiere event.

Tickets are £22, which gets you a premier seat (all sold out for this first night screening – so this is your only chance), and a free specially designed “M” vodka cocktail just for us (house wine/bottled beer available).

We have just 30 tickets available. Those of you who came to the Dark Knight screening will be pleased to know we’ve ironed out the kinks in the process. Now you pay us directly, so you don’t have to collect your tickets in advance or pay separately at the bar.

To reserve your space, asap. It’s first come/first served. Maximum 2 tickets per person (do say whether you want 1 or 2). I’ll send you payment details.

Cancellation policy: please don’t cancel.

Kilburn Grand Tour in October

October is “Kilburn month” at the Kingsgate Workshops.

As part of a collaboration between the front-of-house volunteers at Camden Arts Centre and the Kingsgate Workshops Trust, Kingsgate Gallery’s exhibition project is focused on the artistic exploration of the Kilburn area and its history, and especially the engagement with the local community.

What’s on? Let me hand over to the organisers to whet your appetite. You can also check out the latest news regarding the exhibition.

As well as the specific events listed below, Asako Taki’s blog project, which started in May 2012, reflects her encounters with the people of Kilburn. Throughout October, Deborah Farr installs a glow-in-the-dark mural in the Iverson Road arches, while the collective Kilburn-Mapping-Project of Cornelia Marland continues to grow within the gallery, through the help of our visitors. Also inside Kingsgate, Suits Meso’s flag-and-sound installation is displayed alongside a performance-wall drawing by Evy Jokhova. Jokhova is also making a short film that follows one day in Kilburn for 50 years using archival documents and footage filmed by herself.

So drop into the gallery Thursday–Sunday from midday to 6pm (it’s free), or come to one of the events.

October 4: Kilburn Grand Tour Opening Night 6pm-9pm

Join us for the opening night of our one month-long creative and artistic exploration of Kilburn. As with any Grand Tour we know our destination, but the journey is not set… From hidden rivers, imagined maps, and constantly-evolving art we need your help to inspire our voyage.

As the project evolves, the gallery space will change, so don’t miss your chance to see what might not be visible a week later. Help us give our project the best possible start and join us for the official kick-off of The Kilburn Grand Tour at the Kingsgate Trust Gallery.

October 6: Blue Flower River Project – Gardening Event 2pm-4pm [Ed: I think this sounds like a brilliant idea]

Join in this celebration and remembrance of the River Westbourne with a gardening twist! Guided by Helene Latey, walk the river path and see the Blue-Flower-River project along the way.

Come back to Kingsgate gallery for refreshments and a short presentation on Green living given by the Camden council Sustainability Team. Also at the gallery, pick up a river map and wildflower seeds and get involved in some guerrilla gardening of your own as you continue the river walk through the Kilburn streets.

October 13: Suit Meso’s Flag Making Workshop 1pm-4pm

Come along and get creative at this flag making workshop. Learn about flags from around the world, draw on your cultural influences and merge symbols and signs to design and make your own personal flag.

Led by artist Suits Meso and tying in to his artistic practice, this workshop will result in the creation of a large scale “Kilburn Flag” constructed from the individual flags produced on the day and to be displayed as part of the Kilburn Grand Tour exhibition.

October 14: River Talk: “The River Westbourne – Kilburn’s Hidden River” 6pm-8pm

Could there be a river running beneath your feet, or even beneath your house? Now’s the time to find out as river historian Stephan Myers, author of Walking on Water, London’s Hidden Rivers Revealed, will reveal Kilburn’s own hidden river in his presentation on the River Westbourne.

Learn the fascinating history of this now underground river, map its location beneath the Kilburn streets and follow its influence and role within the Kilburn landscape all within the art filled atmosphere of the Kingsgate Gallery.

October 19: Evy Jokhova: Kilburn Grand Tour 5pm-6.30pm

Jokhova’s Kilburn Grand Tour opens to the public with a screening of a film compiled from newspaper clippings, personal and borrowed film footage that follows Kilburn on one day in October for the past 50 years. The screening of Kilburn Grand Tour will be accompanied by a public panel discussion between artist Nicola Lane, Kilburn historian Dick Weindling and local residents on what makes Kilburn a ‘home’.

Following on from this Jokhova will create a week-long performance drawing in the gallery space inspired by the contents of the discussion.

October 19: Artist Talk and Walk 7pm-9pm

Live in Kilburn? Long to live in Kilburn? Or just want to get to know Kilburn a bit better? What better way than to come along for our special Artist Talk, and let our artists illuminate (literally) this wonderful area of North-West London for you!

Following the overground trail of the hidden River Westbourne, artists Helene Latey, Deborah Farr and Lara Smithson will take you on an hour-long walk through Kilburn, presenting their artworks along the way; an experience which will make you see your surroundings and community in a whole new light. The walk will end up at Kingsgate Trust Gallery where there will be refreshments, more art and the chance for everyone to contribute to our very own Kilburn-map.

October 26: Closing Party 6pm-9pm

The Kilburn Grand Tour’s closing party will take place on the final Friday of October. Come along for the final chance to see our artists’ completed work, catch-up with our process and celebrate the creative and artistic life and spirit of Kilburn.

If you’re not familiar with the Kingsgate Workshops Trust, it supports a wide range of arts and crafts in studio spaces of variable sizes. The workshops are a converted 19th century warehouse which provides studio space for more than 50 artists and crafts people as well hosting up to 12 public exhibitions a year.

Stand By Me on Fortune Green

Short notice, yes, but I just got confirmation that the second Friends of Fortune Green outdoor film screening will happen this Saturday evening. It’s Stand By Me.

If you came along to Breaking Away earlier in the summer you’ll know how this works. Basically, the film is powered by bicycle. Now, Breaking Away is a film ABOUT cycling, which probably inspired people. Stand By Me isn’t (although I do seem to recall a couple of scenes on bikes?), but people still need to be willing to do a 5-10 minute stint on a bike. It all worked fine last time, and there’s no obligation at all to get on your bike and ride.

The film, if you don’t know it, is a 1980s coming-of-age classic, starrring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman (Richard Dreyfus and Kiefer Sutherland are also in it). It’s based on a Stephen King novel and was directed by Rob Reiner. So, basically, it’s a good film. If you’ve already seen it you’ll know it’s well worth watching again and if you haven’t then now’s the perfect time to rectify that.

The screening starts at sundown – which is 7pm, though if you want a good spot I’d get there quite a bit earlier as the bikes do slightly limit the viewing angle. Last time there must have been at least 200 people there, so hopefully there’s a similar turnout this time – and hopefully it’s too cold for the mosquitoes that plagued us all. Bring a picnic blanket, bring a picnic (Nautilus should be open for a sustaining fish & chips takeaway), and bring some friends.

The event is free, but FoFG will be asking for donations to help cover similar future events, so be nice and give a little something for this great community event.

Kilburn: All within 100 yards

As the literary world turns its gaze on Kilburn in the light of Zadie Smith’s new book, Kilburn is also the focus of a short film by Mark James.

Give it 10 minutes of your time.

For a different cultural take on Kilburn, watch this music video from Jonny Granville, supported by Camden Calling (a social enterprise run collectively with homeless and ex-homeless people with the broad aim of improving the access homeless and vulnerable groups of people have to mainstream music / arts and popular culture).

Outdoor film bonanza in NW6

An extra post for you from @NxNW6 (aka Mark, the Tommy Lee Jones of NW6)

There are an unprecedented five outdoor screenings scheduled locally in September. I thought it would be worth quickly looking at all of them, and where and when you can catch them.

The Kilburn Grange Pop-Up Cinema Weekender Sep 7-9

Located 2 minutes walk from Kilburn tube (entrance next to The Black Lion). There will be a bar on site and hot food will be available as well as popcorn.
Doors open at 7pm and the films start at 8:30pm.
Friday: Dazed & Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993, 102 mins)
Ensemble slacker comedy that kick-started the careers of Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Renee Zellweger and Ben Affleck among others. Set on the last day of school in mid-70s America.
Saturday: Grosse Point Blank (George Armitage, 1997, 107 mins)
High school reunion film with a twist – John Cusack plays a freelance hitman (a growth industry). Notable for the killer soundtrack and the last time Dan Ackroyd was funny.
Sunday: Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986, 110 mins)
We lost the great man the other week. This is a small but fitting tribute.
Single film £8, weekend ticket £20.

The Nomad Cinema comes to Queens Park

Located physically in Queens Park itself. Access from Harvist Road
Saturday Sep 8: The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967, 106 mins)
“I’ve got one word for you Benjamin – plastics”. Incredibly, now 45 years old, The Graduate more than stands the test of time. Worth it for the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack alone.
Saturday Sep 22: The Big Lebowski (The Coen Brothers, 1998, 117 mins)
Was not considered a massive success when it first came out, but has grown in stature over the 15 years since its release. ‘The Dude’ is surely one of the best onscreen characters of recent times and with a supporting cast including Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman, you’re on to a winner. Great subtle Kraftwerk joke as well.
Tickets are £12.50 (£8.50 concessions). Doors at 6:30pm, films start at 8pm (The Graduate) and 7:30pm (Lebowski).
The films will be enhanced by musical and theatrical surprises themed around the eras that they were made (60s, 90s). There will be food and drink available in the form of tapas, popcorn and ice cream.

Now we just need to hope for some sunshine…

Books, booze and bargains

Next Thursday, the 16th, is the third of our occasional #whampbooks events with the marvellous West End Lane Books.

The premise is simple: you come to the bookshop from 7.30pm. You can chat to some lovely locals, you can drink some (free) wine, browse the shelves, and if you want to buy anything then you’ll get a 20% discount. Yes, free wine AND 20% off books. Come on.

No tickets, no pre-booking, just turn up. The event usually winds up aroud 9 – 9.30pm.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Large crowd for Fortune Green film

As the sun went down on Tuesday, a crowd began to assemble on Fortune Green. The screen was slightly smaller than some had anticipated; the bikes that would be used to power the equipment blocked the wider viewing angle; there were a couple of technical hitches and everyone was bitten to shreds by mosquitoes.

And it was great.

Photo via @chipstoph

This felt like a real community event. People brought picnic rugs and bottles of wine, volunteers got on the bikes to ride for as long as they could; there was free popcorn courtesy of the Mayor of London’s Showtime funding; and the film was the charming Oscar-winning 1979 coming-of-age cycling film Breaking Away.

The Friends of Fortune Green, who put on the event, are already making plans for a second screening – most likely at the end of September. Keep your eyes peeled.

Klooks Kleek and Decca: help needed

Local historians Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms are writing a book about the history of Klooks Kleek, a jazz and blues club which ran at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, from 1961 to 1970. The book will also look at the history of Decca Studios which was in Broadhurst Gardens until 1980.

If you worked at Decca, or have any memories or stories about KK which they could use in book please email Dick at,

In the meantime, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, do read my quick rundown of West Hampstead’s musical heritage.

Free outdoor film back on

Back in May, the Friends of Fortune Green planned an outside film screening on the green. For free! It rained. Obviously.But as the weather seems to be improving, the screening has been rescheduled for this Tuesday July 24th and has now received a small grant from City Hall as part of the Mayor’s Showtime scheme.

And now you can unleash your inner Bradley Wiggins (he’s from Kilburn y’know), because this screening will be bike-powered. If you can lend a bike (and ideally your legs) on the night then please e-mail

Each shift on the bike will be about 20 minutes, but you can be inspired by the choice of film. Breaking Away is a 1979 classic film starring Dennis Quaid. I’m not going to recap the plot here, come and watch the film dammit. But I will tell you that the film won the 1979 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and nominations for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Picture. It’s also number 8 on the American Film Institute’s 2006 list of America’s 100 most inspiring movies (which is actually a pretty good list of films worth watching).

The film will start at around 9.30pm on Fortune Green, but I’d suggest turning up from about 8.30pm with a picnic.

Kingsgate Open Studios weekend

If you’ve ever cut through the back streets to get to Kilburn, you may well have walked past the Kingsgate artist studios and wondered what exactly they were. They are actually a converted 19th century warehouse that now provides workshop facilities for more than 60 artists and craftspeople. And now’s your chance to look inside. This weekend is the studio’s open days, from 12-6pm on Saturday and Sunday, and there’s a preview on Friday night from 6-9pm.

The Open Studios event will include the Kingsgate Mini Olympics housed in our education building, where children and families will be ableto participate in a variety of arts/sport workshops, such as ‘Athlete Splatlete’. Do have a look at all the details of the weekend.Creative workshops and activities will run throughout the weekend. Refreshments are also available, and entry is free.

Special offer: Dark Knight Rises local premiere

Don your cape, check your batarangs, get into your batmobile and speed through the mean streets of Gotham to get to the Swiss Cottage Odeon on July 20th for opening night of the Dark Knight Rises.


Photo via @tomrye (edited by @LollyGee)

Thanks to the nice people at the Odeon, we’ve got special priority booking for the IMAX screening on the film’s opening night. For £20 you’ll get a top-end “club” seat and a free glass of wine from the Ambar’s rather good (that’s me saying that, not them) selection. This screening will sell out once it goes on general release, so here’s a chance to bag yourself a prime spot for the third and final film in the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale version of the caped crusader story. Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hardy also star in this dark tale of the Dark Knight, along with Anne Hathaway in a leather catsuit. Ahem.

It’s also our first crack at a film-oriented get together, in line with the new local film listings page that appears every week written by West Hampstead’s answer to Mark Kermode, @NxNW6. So come and mingle before the film starts over a glass of something, then settle into your extremley comfortable seat as the Bat does his thing on the big screen.

There are just 17 spots available  27 spots available. To register you need to , the cinema will then get in touch with you directly to arrange payment. This is first-come first served, and there’s a max of 2 tickets per person.

I think this should be a great event, and as a fan of these latest Batman films I’m pretty excited. I hope lots of you feel the same. If you’re not sure.. here are not one but TWO trailers to convince you!

North by Northwest (Six)

Welcome to a new weekly section providing a roundup of film screenings in and around West Hampstead, brought to you by Mark – NW6’s very own Cary Grant (tweeting at @NxNW6).

For this inaugural edition, Mark’s also provided a quick rundown of the cinemas we’ll generally be covering – the aim is to focus on smaller cinemas and special screenings, with a round-up of what’s on at the multiplexes.

A quick reminder before the listings about the event on Fortune Green on May 18. The Friends of Fortune Green are putting on a FREE screening of  the 70s classic cycling movie ‘Breaking Away’. The event is scheduled to start at 20:00 and is well worth a look (weather permitting).

Film Listings for May 11May 17

A typically busy and varied week with hopefully something for everyone, and a UK premiere for good measure.

The Everyman Cinemas
This small chain is devoted to North London with cinemas in Maida Vale (Sutherland Avenue), Belsize Park (Haverstock Hill) and Hampstead (Holly Bush Vale).

Luxurious and small (usually two screens, only one at Belsize), service at your seat and comfortable sofas are the norm. Prices vary for all three cinemas, but expect to pay around £13 for an adult ticket and £10 for a concession. Booking advised.

Belsize Park
Jeff who Lives at Home* (2011, Comedy, 83 mins).
Well regarded US indie comedy starring Jason “Muppets” Segal.
Fri–Thu 16:15, 18:30, 20:45 (apart from Sun when 15:50, 17:55, 20:00, Mon –16:15 only).
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011, Romantic comedy, 107 mins).
Successful Middle England romantic comedy with Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor and a film-stealing Kristin Scott Thomas.
Daily screening at 13:50 (except Sat 13:45 and Sun 13:15).

Dark Shadows*
Fri, Sat, Mon, Tues, Thu  15:30, 18:20, 21:15 (Sat 12:55)
Sun 12:00, 14:30, 17:20, 20:15.
Wed 15:20, 18:00, 20:40.
Monsiuer Lazhur (2011, Comedy drama, 94 mins).
French-Canadian film nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards.
Fri-Tue 15:15, 18:00, 20:50 (Sat 12:40).
Sun 11:40, 14:15, 17:00, 19:50.
The Dictator (2012, Comedy, 90 mins approx).
New character comedy from Sacha Baron Cohen released May 16.
Wed 16:35, 18:40, 21:05.
Thu 17:10, 19:15, 21:25

Maida Vale
Dark Shadows* (2012, Fantasy comedy, 113 mins).
New Tim Burton film based on the 60’s US TV show.
Fri, Mon–Thurs  15:40, 18:20, 21:00 (Sat 13:00)
Sun 12:30, 15:10, 17:50, 20:30.
American  Reunion (2012, Comedy, 113 mins).
Fourth cinema outing for The American Pie team
Fri–Thu 15:20, 18:00, 20:40. (apart from Sun when 14:50, 17:30, 20:10, extra screening Wed 12:40).

The Tricycle Cinema
Stylish grand theatre at 269 Kilburn High Road that specialises in alternative programming at very reasonable prices. (£9.50 adult, £8.50 concessions, Mon £6 adult, £4.50 Brent resident).

Click for interview with Vanessa Paradis

Café de Flore* (2011, Romantic drama, 120 mins).
A French new release with Vanessa Paradis. Set in both present day Montreal and 1960s Paris.
Fri –Wed 18:15, 20:40 (extra screening Fri 14:15, Thu 18:00 only)
Marley (2012, Music documentary, 144 mins).
A well reviewed documentary on the life, loves and legacy of Bob Marley directed by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void).
Sat 15:15, Thu 14:30.
Surviving Progress* (2011, Documentary, 86 mins) UK PREMIERE + panel discussion
Scorsese-produced Canadian film that examines where we are as a global society. Talking heads include Margaret Atwood and Stephen Hawking. Panellists are Dr Jonathan Aldred (Economics) and Dr Marcus Kwint (Visual Culture).
Thu 20:30.

Hampstead Film Society
Fortnightly screenings (usually of foreign films) in Hampstead Town Hall at 213 Haverstock Hill. Projected onto a 15′-wide screen, screenings are usually well attended so arrive early. Seating isn’t raked, so you might want to sit nearer the front. Membership is £15 (£10 conc.), and tickets are then £4 per screening (£6 for guests). Alternatively, day membership is £7. Wine and beer available too, and all profits to charity.

Colonel Redl (1985, Historical drama, 144 mins)
Mittel-European fact-based drama based on the 1913 suicide of a colonel in the Austro-Hungarian army directed by Oscar winner Istvan Szabo (Mephisto).
Tue 19:00


Finchley Road Vue
8-screen multiplex at the top of the O2 shopping centre. Tickets are £11.25 for an adult and £8.40 concessions. Before 17:00 on a Mon, Tue or Thu, adult tickets are £8.00. All screens are in the standard multiplex set up, some screens smaller than others.

Dark Shadows*
Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
(2D and 3D)
The Dictator (from May 16)
Pirahna 3DD*
The Lucky One
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
American Reunion
Beauty and the Beast 3D
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
The Hunger Games

Other films show in Kids Club slots at weekend.

Swiss Cottage Odeon
Recently refurbished cinema just outside Swiss Cottage tube station with an IMAX screen and a large bar (AMBAR). Screens vary between standard multiplex and premium ‘club’ cinemas (think Everyman experience). Adult standard price is £10.75 ,children £8.75 (£2 extra for 3D, £4 for IMAX). An adult seat in a club cinema is £16.00, a child’s £12.50.

Dark Shadows* (normal + IMAX)
Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (3D and 3D IMAX)
The Dictator (from May 16) TBC
American Reunion
Café de Flore
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

All times correct at time of publication.
*new release.

Contact Mark via Twitter or .

More Sundance, less raindance

On Friday May 18th, the Friends of Fortune Green are going to do something I think sounds great. An outside film screening on the green. For free!

STOP PRESS: Unfortunately, due to the high chance of rain, this event has been postponed until June 22nd or 23rd

This is a great example of the sort of community event West Hampstead needs more of – something with broad appeal, irrespective of age or income.

It’s Olympic year (I expect some of you knew this), so the FoFG have opted for a film with a sporting bent. Breaking Away is a 1979 classic film starring Dennis Quaid. I’m not going to recap the plot here, come and watch the film dammit. But I will tell you that the film won the 1979 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and nominations for Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Picture. It’s also number 8 on the American Film Institute’s 2006 list of America’s 100 most inspiring movies (which is actually a pretty good list of films worth watching).

The screening will start about 8pm, and there’ll be popcorn for sale courtesy of The Kitchen Table to raise funds for the community group. You may also want to bring a picnic (and maybe a blanket unless the weather picks up).

Those of you on Twitter, keep an eye out for the hashtag #whampfilm for updates. We’re hoping for upwards of 200 people on the night, so should be a great event.

Locally Sourced

No, not a post about foraging for wild mushrooms down Bill Fury Way, but rather about Locally Sourced Productions. Let me let Paula take up the story:

“It sprouted out of a casual conversation at David’s Deli one summer’s day, and over the past 15 months has gingerly settled into an unpredictable routine of literary and musical events. We started with a poetry reading at the Deli. Since then, around every six weeks, we’ve presented story-telling, travel writing, writers reading from their first novels, composers, jazz musicians, singers, short stories, and most recently a rousing night of sea shanties. The point of the evenings is two-fold: to bring together our community for a bit of free fun and camaraderie and to have an opportunity to enjoy and discover our local artists who so kindly give of their time and talent.

While I have your attention, I just want to publicly thank a few local stars: Elias at David’s Deli who packed the audience in for many months and continues to support this endeavour down at La Brioche, where we moved three events ago; photographer and neighbour Dominic Lee who so generously prints the posters I hope you see in the window at La Brioche advertising the events; Roger Evans, our delightful host at La Brioche, and you, who come out on the occasional Monday night to meet up, support the talent, and make West Hampstead an especially wonderful place to live. If you have any ideas for events or want to participate yourself, let me know.”

Here are the details for this Monday’s event (and the evening of December 2nd, Roger’s own band will be playing in Brioche)

Odeon Swiss Cottage reopens with Imax

After a £3m redevelopment, the Odeon at Swiss Cottage is reopening its doors on Friday 16th September. New features to the 5-screen, Art Deco venue include north London’s first IMAX screen and, at the top of the building, a large bar area called ‘Ambar’.

The first thing that strikes you is how bright and welcoming the cinema now is, it has benefitted from the lick of paint and feels modern and fresh. Reassuringly, it is still the labyrinth of old, with the narrow staircases and never-ending corridors, but unfortunately the large “retail” area that dominates your eye line on entry is still American in both look and feel.

The new bar area upstairs is a very welcome addition.It’s spacious and comfortable and works as a meeting place. Odeon is offering 30 different types of wine as well as a selection of appetisers and desserts here. If you were being cynical you could say it is a blatant attempt to take a larger share of their customers’ wallets, but I would rather spend my extra dime here, than on some popcorn and a drink downstairs.

The other major change is in the nature of the cinema’s five screens. They have been split into three distinct groups. The Imax is an impressive state-of-the-art facility that will show modern classics (Dark Knight, Inception) and Imax events. Two of the other cinemas are standard multiplex screens with 100 or so seats. The third and most interesting category comprises the two ‘club’ cinemas, which will house 60 guests and offer a premium experience (think Everyman in Hampstead).

I was impressed overall and will return, however I did have an issue concerning the film rota strategy and pricing.

In a normal week, the four non-Imax screens will share only three films. One each for the first multiplex and club screens, and then a third will show in a standard multiplex screen and in the second club screen.

This, coupled with the pricing strategy (10.75 Adult std vs. £16 Adult club) looks slightly misguided and overpriced. A comparable club ticket at the Everyman in Hampstead or Belsize Park is £13.

So, overall, the Odeon Swiss Cottage has made a welcome return to the neighbourhood and is a great place to watch film. However if you’re pushing the boat out for a premium experience there are cheaper options available.

Loyalty at Hampstead Theatre – review

Loyalty, written by Sarah Helm, is set during the run-up to the Iraq war, and around the period of the inquiry into it. She brings a unique insight into the machinations of government at this time – she is the wife of Tony Blair’s chief of staff Jonathan Powell. She is also an experienced Middle East correspondent.

The play, described as a “fictionalised memoir“, stars Maxine Peake as Laura a staunchly anti-war journalist with experience in the Middle East who is married to Nick (Lloyd Owen), who happens to be chief of staff to a prime minister called Tony (Patrick Capaldi). As you can see,
the fictionalization only goes so far.

It’s a compelling play with some chilling moments and a genuine sense of internal conflict. Peake starts off perhaps too shrill, but settles into a more believable character that balances excitability with a sense of conscience and inquiry. Owen, understated throughout, is a convincing foil. Capaldi musters up a rather enjoyable Tony Blair, cutting something of a tragicomic figure throughout.

There are some poignant scenes that resonate very strongly today – Murdoch pops up at one stage telling Tony that war is the right decision. This leads to some lines getting laugh where perhaps laughs weren’t intended (unless such scenes have been hastily added in light of recent events).

Edward Hall’s production is pacey, especially the second half, with good sets and a strong supporting cast. I recommend it.

Loyalty runs until August 13th at Hampstead Theatre.

Cock Theatre closes for good

Earlier this week, the popular and very highly regarded Cock Tavern Theatre in Kilburn was forced to close temporarily when it was discovered that the pub above which it operates didn’t have a licence for “upstairs entertainment”.

It was hoped that this could be resolved quickly using a series of Temporary Event Licences while a permanent licence was sorted out. But Adam Spreadbury-Maher, the artistic director, announced today that the theatre would have to look for new premises after discovering that complying with Brent Council’s Health & Safety requirements regarding the fire exits would be prohibitively expensive. Quite whether the risk was really that great is no doubt moot. At my recent visit, I can’t say that I noticed the stairs were especially steep or narrow. UPDATE: The Independent has more detail on this story.

All performances have thus been cancelled and the theatre is in the process of trying to reimburse people while it moves to new premises.

It does seem hard to believe some sort of compromise could not have been reached, and instead Kilburn loses another high-quality arts venue.

74 Georgia Avenue at New End Theatre

Academy-award nominated Murray Schisgal’s play is something of an oddity. For a start it’s only 40 minutes long. Daniel Dresner is Marty, a man returning to the home of his Brooklyn youth. Nathan Clough is Joseph, the current tenant of 74 Georgia Avenue and the son of the janitor of the neighbourhood’s old synagogue that Marty’s family used to attend. Over the course of one evening the two men find some common ground through Joseph’s mysterious transformations.

The underlying idea of the play was interesting but the execution and its brevity made it hard to connect with the characters. Dresner, slightly overdoing the De Niro-esque hand wringing, was never entirely convincing until a lengthy speech towards the end. Clough was more believable but as he morphed into ghostly figures from Marty’s past it was hard to suspend disbelief entirely. Some strange lighting changes didn’t help the cause.

While the storyline may appeal to the Jewish community, it proved a little inaccessible for me and the narrative wasn’t given time to evolve and compel me to care about the characters. It would probably work better as a short story but would always be a challenging play to stage.

74 Georgia Avenue is on at the New End Theatre until March 19th

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Still Life at Pentameters Theatre: review

Pentameters Theatre (the little one above The Horseshoe pub in Hampstead) has a Noël Coward double-bill on at the moment. In 1935, Coward penned a series of short plays in a series called “Tonight at 8.30” and two of them – Red Peppers and the more famous Still Life – are directed by Aline Lewis in the intimate theatre.

Red Peppers, the first and shorter of the two, combines music hall revue tunes with backstage carping as the married couple who are the Red Peppers bicker with each other, the musical director and the theatre manager in an entertaining half hour of banter. It’s a very light piece, but enjoyably funny – if perhaps a bit shouty in this production, especially given the proximity of the audience.

After a short interval (aka pop back to the pub), we are treated to Still Life. This one-act play is better known these days as Brief Encounter – David Lean’s film for which Coward wrote the screenplay, extending this original work. The story is simple enough – we see the growing complicated romantic affair between housewife Laura and local married doctor Alec, which is contrasted with the straightforward flirting between Albert and Myrtle who both work at the train station where all the action is set.

The play works well on this small stage. The two lead actresses, Fiona Graham (Laura) and Déirdra Whelan (Myrtle), are especially good. The play suffers from Alec’s dialogue becoming a little stilted as the play progresses and this felt even more awkward in the hands of Elliot James. He simply looks too young for the role and, while Fiona Graham’s portrayal of Laura exuded the mix of guilt and passion it needed, the chemistry between her and James was lacking – his performance never quite finding the balance between repressed emotion nor unadulterated lust. He is, fittingly, at his best in the poignant final scene, which captures the transient nature of the whole affair rather well. The play would also benefit from more sense of how time moves on from one scene to the next, which would also help reinforce the depth of feeling the two protagonists have for each other.

After my last negative review of a Pentameters’ production, I’m delighted to say that this was an evening well spent. It’s not challenging or demanding theatre – it’s Noël Coward after all – but a very enjoyable local night out that will have you tucked up well before bedtime dreaming of bath buns, milky tea, and the vagaries of love.

Red Peppers & Still Life runs until March 13th at Pentameters Theatre.
Ring the box office on 020 7435 3648
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

small hours at Hampstead Theatre – review

small hours is different. It would be as at home at Tate Modern as it is in the Hampstead Theatre’s Michael Frayn space. Indeed as the small audience (restricted to just 25 per performance) assembled in a hallway, we were told this was an “installation”. We were then asked to remove our shoes.

The play, directed by the sometimes divisve Katie Mitchell, takes place in a closed off large living room. The audience sits around the sides of the room on furniture; the atmosphere is intensely claustrophobic. Over the course of the hour there is almost no dialogue, but the play is far from silent. There is a palpable sense of the uncomfortable as actress Sandy McDade paces around the room confronting her inner demons. The interruptions come at first from the radio and then a phone ringing that makes everyone jump. Then we hear a baby crying.

As we move through the small hours of the night, the room becomes filled with noise to drown out the crying child. Nigella’s perfect life blares from the TV, the vacuum cleaner hums and, finally, music is cranked up high as the woman seems to force herself into a series of trance-like states. She checks on the child once or twice; then the dawn chorus begins and a new day begins.

This work by Lucy Kirkwood Ed Hime is a play wthout drama – it creates a mood but does little with it. There are references to all the (en)trappings of many women’s lives: children, husbands, mothers, cleaning, cooking, make-up. But empathy is hard to come by with such a stark production and a performance that switches strangely from the naturalistic to the stylised.

I’m glad I saw small hours, but wouldn’t choose to see it again and would recommend it only to people who are prepared for something a little unconventional and deliberately lacking in exposition. I found it intellectually interesting but not especially stimulating.

small hours is now playing at Hampstead Theatre until Feb 19th
Book tickets

Review: The Nutcracker at Pentameters Theatre

This was my first time at Hampstead’s smallest theatre. Pentameters is a tiny space with about 50 seats, accessed from some narrow stairs behind The Horseshoe pub on Heath Street. The stage is surprisingly big and, for this adaptation of The Nutcracker, creatively adorned.

Purists expecting a faithful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ballet are in for a shock. Theatre company Butterfly Wheels has developed a slightly sinister adaptation of the classic story in which a child’s Christmas reality and fantasy collide. Unfortunately, the execution does not live up to the creative ambition.

Aside from the instantly recognisable Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (who is portrayed as some gilded homage to the Maschinenmensch in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis), the music veers to the contemporary. At times this lends the whole production the feel of a German high school’s attempt at rock opera. And not entirely in a good way.

The story itself is told in a rather staccato fashion, and at times the libretto feels as wooden as the Nutcracker himself although there are some nice multimedia elements. The only male actor in the production, Tim C J Chew, is quite good as the Prince and the dolls that come to life are entertaining in a pantomime sort of way but one leaves the theatre feeling more bewildered than enchanted.

At £12 for adults (£10 concessions, £5 for under 5s, but seriously don’t take your under-5) it’s quite expensive, especially when you consider that for £15 you can see the outstanding Midsummer at the Tricycle. However, if you’re flush with cash this Christmas holiday season and like a healthy dash of alternative with your festivities then maybe wend your way up to Pentameters for something a little different. Take your 9-year-old – they’ll probably love it.

The Nutcracker runs until January 6th at Pentameters Theatre.
Ring the box office on 020 7435 3648
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Midsummer [a play with songs] at The Tricycle Theatre: review

Midsummer was a hit at Edinburgh. It is actually set in Edinburgh at midsummer and is simply a story of boy meets girl, or rather girl meets boy. The girl is a divorce lawyer, the boy a petty criminal. Over the course of the play they let us look into their lives as 35 year-olds. They don’t especially like what they see, but we love them. We cannot help but love them.

It is an astonishingly good play. David Greig’s script (he also directs) flows effortlessly and convincingly from appropriate dialogue to poetic musings. Attempts to do this jar in many modern scripts, but never once does it seem out of place here. The staging is great – there’s no interval, no set changes, and definitely no fourth wall. With just a bed and a few props, the cast of two work their magic. Yes, just a cast of two. At times they each morph into other characters – which sounds odd but works brilliantly. I can’t recall seeing a production that plays so smartly with the suspension of disbelief yet never once disengages you from the unfolding drama.
The two actors are faultless. Cora Bissett perhaps has the edge, but it’s really unfair to split them. Matthew Pidgeon turns “Robert… Rob… Bob… fuck” into a tragic hero on a par with the best. These two are a double act and utterly convincing. Over a drink after the play I tried hard to think of faults with this production and struggled to find one.

Throughout Midsummer there are musical interludes penned by Gordon McIntyre – it is after all “a play with songs”. These work rather well – rather like music in a TV drama, except here it’s the cast that sing and play guitar. Again, sounds a bit odd – works like a dream. Seems a bit Dennis Potter doesn’t it. Well, he was brilliant too.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. It is both hilariously funny, utterly engaging and incredibly moving as the characters come to terms with what they are doing with their lives. And it’s on our doorstep. Go and see it. 
Midsummer runs until January 29th at the Tricycle Theatre.
There’s even a singles night on December 21st (midwinter, geddit)
*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Review: .45 at Hampstead Theatre

If Martin Scorsese collaborated with Tennessee Williams, you might end up with something like Gary Lennon’s superb .45.

Set in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen in 1977, this play bristles with sexual tension, moral ambiguity hangs thickly in the air, and there’s an ever present sense of danger. It’s a moody drama set to a blaring CBGB’s soundtrack.

The cast is excellent. Natalie Dormer is particularly compelling as Pat, the woman at the heart of the story who is loved by everyone. She combines strength and vulnerability perfectly, while her scenes with Daniel Caltagirone who plays her boyfriend Ed are as loaded as the handguns he pulls.

Despite the urging of her friend and would-be lover Vic (a superb Katie Wimpenny) and reformed tough guy Reilley (Chris Reilly), Pat simply can’t just walk away from Ed. “I love him ‘cos he’s home,” she says. “We suffer well together.”

It is the introduction of social worker Kat (Emma Powell) that disrupts the cycle of violence. At first her presence jars; her repression too stylised in contrast to the overt sexuality of the other characters. Indeed her first scene is the weakest in the play – it’s an unexpected gear change and the staging is initially confusing. If I had a criticism of the play it would be that Kat’s emotional release is too staccato, and thus less believeable, but this is being picky.

.45 was made into a film starring Milla Jovovich and directed by Lennon (who wrote cult US TV series The Shield). I have not seen it and have no desire to. This is a great example of a play that works brilliantly on stage. The confrontations between characters are immeasurably more powerful when they are happening right in front of you, but the most violent scenes happen off stage and leave the audience to explore its own dark imagination. 

The play, directed by Wilson Milam, is in Hampstead Theatre’s Michael Frayn Space – a small stage downstairs. The intimacy this provides is very suitable for the stifling atmosphere of the apartment and bar where most of the action is set, but why squirrel this away in some ‘alternative’ space? It’s the first time the play has been staged in the UK and, sure, it won’t be to everyone’s taste – there’s a lot of swearing and sexual references. But if you think that going to the theatre can be much more than a pleasant evening of mediocrity, then buy tickets to plays like this and prove to theatres that there is a demand for more engaging and challenging work even from the typical Hampstead Theatre audience.

Watch an interview with Natalie Dormer below, and for interviews with all the cast, visit the Hampstead Theatre’s You Tube channel. Then go and buy tickets for the damn play already.

.45 runs until November 27th at the Hampstead Theatre
Book here

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket courtesy of the theatre

Jonathan Simpson: Camden’s Musical Mayor

I enter the Mayor’s parlour on a wet Saturday afternoon clutching an espresso from St Pancras. The mayoral ermine is on display, along with an incongruous golden football boot in a cabinet that also contained silver cake slices masquerading as trowels (for ceremonial brick laying you understand), punch bowls and goodness knows what else. But how does the man who has to wear the robes feel all this mayoral bling fits his rock’n’roll image?
Camden Mayor, Jonathan Simpson, 36, doesn’t immediately strike me as someone who is going to be over-excited by the regalia of office. When I meet him, he’s wearing a suit as casually as one can, and is certainly not weighed down by the chains of office.
The Mayor has been a councillor since 2002, initially representing Fortune Green for the Lib Dems. In May 2005, he controversially defected to Labour over the Lib Dems’ Asbo policies and was subsequently elected to represent King’s Cross in 2006, which he held in May this year. Away from public office, his private-sector career is in the area of regeneration. He has also served as a special constable in the Met and was a board member of the gay rights organisation Stonewall from 2000 to 2002.
Despite not being at first glance the clichéd image of a fusty ceremonial mayor, The Mayor tells me that every Wednesday he does indeed don the ermine for the weekly nationalisation ceremony. “It’s very humbling,” he says. “Sure, there are Americans who’ve lived here for 10 years but there are also people who’ve fled their home country to come to the UK.”
This is just one of the many roles the Mayor has in Camden. Unlike some London boroughs, such as Tower Hamlets and Hackney, Camden’s mayor is an ambassadorial position with no political or executive powers. The mayor also chairs council meetings, much in the way of the Speaker in the House of Commons. The mayor is nominated (and therefore de facto elected) by the majority party of the council and holds office for 12 months. With Labour in overall control of Camden council, there will be no rotation of the post between parties when it comes time for someone else to be elected next May.
Simpson takes the apolitical nature of his position extremely seriously. He politely declines to answer any overtly political questions, but also backs away from anything that might be only remotely construed as political. I ask what he sees as the biggest challenges facing Camden over the next few years, beyond the obvious financial constraints brought about by the cuts that is. Even this is clearly risky territory.
I get the sense that as a relatively young mayor, he is determined not to let what seems to be a naturally open and conversational manner get the better of him. The most he’s prepared to say is that “anyone would have to be anxious about public services.” He won’t even be drawn into anything particularly quotable on how he feels about spending a year away from the cut and thrust of council debate.
Caution is perhaps the best approach for an office whose last occupant, Omar Faruque Ansari, was stripped of his responsibilities in January after being arrested on suspicion of benefit fraud.
When conversation turns to pushing the merits of Camden, Simpson is of course anything but reticent. With the incredible Gothic revival frontage of St Pancras looming large in the window behind him, it is easy to agree when he says, “We have some of the most amazing places in London outside of Westminster, and we’re much cooler than Westminster.” Camden is full of “bohemian, vibrant, young people”. It was this that first attracted the Mayor here when he was a student at UCL in the 1990s. “I came to Camden ‘cos it was fun. I absolutely loved the place.”
This perspective on the borough (formerly the three boroughs of Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras) informed the Mayor’s decision to choose Camden’s musical heritage and its plethora of live music as his ‘mayoral theme’.
“More than a thousand people work in the live music industry in Camden and there are 61 live music venues.” The figures are well rehearsed, although almost certainly include those Kilburn High Road venues that fall on the Brent side of the road but that have willingly been adopted by Camden’s marketing machine. Of course The Roundhouse is one of the best known and loved of the live venues and The Roundhouse Trust, which helps kids get involved with the arts, is the mayor’s chosen charity for his term of office.
Simpson has also given his tenure as mayor a slightly edgier vibe by asking his good friend and BBC London radio presenter and self-proclaimed “chubby glamourpuss” Amy Lamé to be Lady Mayoress. He confesses that he thought she’d say no, but her American roots came to the fore and “she’s milking it.”
Simpson’s passion for music is evident. Did I know, he asks, that Morrissey’s guitarist Boz Boorer is planning to put on a regular rock’n’roll night at The Alliance on Mill Lane? I did not. The first one is November 27th.
He still manages to go to live gigs, even if the first part of the evening is usually in a work capacity. For someone who ceremonially comes after only the royal family and the Lord Lieutenant in the pecking order, it’s great to see him talk enthusiastically about electro-punk band Robots in Disguise, who performed for some excited kids and bemused parents at Holborn Library a couple of weeks ago.
Simpson confirms that his job is “absolutely astonishing”. “You can’t comprehend the amount of work it is. It’s certainly not just drinking tea and opening fêtes. I have done 340 events so far since being elected [in May], including opening the Kentish Town Baths and meeting the French ambassador.”
It strikes me as refreshing – and utterly appropriate for an inner London borough – to blend the historic paraphernalia of office with a younger, alternative outlook on the merits of the area. It would be a worthwhile legacy if subsequent mayors felt similarly able to find a theme that matched their own interests, rather than feeling pressured to focus on something more predictable.
Indeed, as I walked past the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras on my way back to West Hampstead, I found myself hoping that the next Mayor will also manage to marry the dignity of office with a bit of Camden joie de vivre.

Review: The Saloon Singer at New End Theatre

Holly Penfield has a one-woman show (+ band and bartender!) at Hampstead’s New End Theatre. The Saloon Singer sees the cabaret artist link together a collection of songs from “One for the Road” to “Rhythm of Life” via “The Boys in the Backroom” and a host of others – some classics, some less well-known.

In a variety of glam outfits and wigs, Penfield channels Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe and Julie Andrews, among other sultry sirens, and also gives us a rather good self-penned song. In between the music, an overly breathless Penfield coquettishly declares her love for the audience, the silver screen and hats with shoes on them.

There’s rather a lot of audience participation, as she hauls a succession of men on stage. When it’s just to be sung too and mildly embarrassed I don’t mind this too much, but the poor guy dragged up during the finale could barely have looked more uncomfortable and there was something ever so slightly distasteful about seeing this woman of indeterminate age ‘riding’ a hapless punter who had presumably paid the full £18 for his ticket.

It’s a 90 minute show, with a ‘pause’ rather than an interval, during which Joe the bartender (who’s on stage for the whole thing) hands out free glasses of wine, which is a nice touch. I can see it working well in a cabaret club setting where Holly would be able to roam among the audience, but the stage version didn’t do it for me. The script – such as it is – is loose to put it mildly, which means she occasionally loses her way but the very act of staging a show like this in a theatre rather than a club means the audience has certain expectations.

I would rather have just had the songs because there’s no doubt that Penfield can sing – the highlight of the evening was her rendition of The Eagles’ track Desperado. In what one assumes is the latter part of her career, playing to her strengths would seem to be the way forward.

The Saloon Singer runs until October 24th. It starts at 9pm, so there’s time for a drink at one of the nearby pubs or a burger at Tinseltown on the corner (where they kindly gave me a free smoothie!)
Book tickets

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for the play courtesy of the theatre

Review: Enlightenment at Hampstead Theatre

In a scene towards the end of Enlightenment, one of the characters is wrapped in a sheet; one assumes the impression of a straitjacket is deliberate.

Three-quarters of the way through this production, I was feeling similarly constrained. I wasn’t being led down blind alleys or fed red herrings. Any room for speculation was blocked by some awkward dialogue. I was interested enough to want to know how the play would end, but the route to get there didn’t excite me quite enough.

This was a shame, because there was much to like about Ed Hall’s debut as artistic director of the Hampstead Theatre. The stark set, which subtly morphed from a home into a clinical examination room of hope and fear, worked well. The bombflash lighting changes were effective, and the ghostly projected images provided an opaque netherworld contrast to the characters’ attempts to rationalise their situation.

The acting too was generally good. Julie Graham, on stage for most of the play, was at her best when wracked with emotion. Richard Clothier was excellent in the role of frustrated tired husband, while Daisy Beaumont’s parasitic journalist channelled Davina McCall too closely for comfort. Tom Weston-Jones never truly convinced no matter which side of his character he was showing, but he had stage presence – essential for his scenes to be believable.

No, the production was good. It was Shelagh Stephenson’s play that I struggled with. It flitted around themes such as truth, benevolence, self-deception, hope, love, narrative and security. Yet it also found time to throw in the bourgeois decadence of capitalism, geopolitics and the nature of modern media. Highly contemporary, but perhaps a little ambitious. Worse, the philosophical musings seemed misplaced against the powerful emotional torture that was the backbone of the entire play.

The story also stretched the bounds of credibility once too often. I can turn a blind eye to some dramatic licence, but the third time around you start to lose empathy with the characters.

Stephenson’s story might be better suited to television than the stage. It needed to be faster-paced, and give more time to the evolving tension between Weston-Jones and Graham’s characters. A screenplay would be less ponderous and might do a better job of showing not telling. It might also feel less obliged to seek the laughs, which jarred at times – for this wasn’t always gallows humour. A bleaker interpretation of the script might have made the narrative more compelling without sacrificing the barbed one-liners.

Once again, the Hampstead Theatre has produced a crowd-pleaser and doubtless plenty of people will enjoy it. But for me it didn’t live up to its billing as a “mesmeric thriller”. Its strength is as a dark emotional exploration of the horror of the unknown.

Enlightenment runs at The Hampstead Theatre until Oct 30
Book here

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for the play courtesy of the theatre

Rock on the High Road: Kilburn’s music then and now

The arrival of The Betsy Smith – a pub/music venue – on the Kilburn High Road is yet another indication that the old Roman road is finding its way back onto the musical map.

After my brief round-up of West Hampstead’s musical heritage, I was delighted to be invited to join accredited blue badge guide Simon Rodway on a walking tour of Kilburn’s musical treasures. This was organised by Camden council, who are putting together a self-guided podcast. October is also Camden mayor Jonathan Simpson‘s Music Month, so what better time to catch up on music on the very edge of the borough – an area often overlooked in favour of Camden Town and Chalk Farm.

We kick off outside the iconic State building. Recently taken over by the Ruach Ministry on condition that the decorative interior was restored. When I first moved to Kilburn and lived round the corner from the State it was a bingo hall, but when it opened in 1937 it was Europe’s biggest auditorium , seating 4,004 people. Anyone and everyone has played there and The Who’s live performance there is a DVD classic. It is also home to one of the largest working Wurlitzers in the country and this too will be restored to its former glory.

The Rolling Stones backstage at the State Nov 19, 1963

Working our way north up the High Road (bizarrely with a full police escort, which makes us look like VIPs but does nothing to suggest that this is a perfectly safe part of town) we pause outside the National. This enormous venue was built in 1914 and was a cinema and ballroom initially. In the 1980s and early 1990s bands including Suede, Nirvana, The Smiths and Blur played here. It too was taken over by an evangelical church – the Victory Christian Centre – but this ran into all sorts of problems. At the moment the building is used by another church movement, the UCKG.

The next stop on the tour is not really music-related, but it is the epicentre of Kilburn’s cultural revival. The Tricycle Theatre is certainly one of the most respected off West End theatres in London, with a reputation for staging political plays that often transfer to larger theatres or go on tour.

From the Tricycle, with its “opened by Emma Thompson” plaque we head across the road to the Sir Colin Campbell. I’ll be honest, this is one of those pubs that I always thought you’d have to pay me to go in. It looks like an old-man Irish pub and upon entering there is indeed one old man sitting at the bar. The landlord looks surprised to see us, and does a double-take when the police escort walks in. But when prompted to tell us about the music at the pub he is more than happy to tell us about the sessions on a Friday night. It all sounds genuinely Irish and not tourist Oirish, and actually the sort of place that could be a good night out if you threw yourself into it.

We walk up to The Good Ship, the first of Kilburn’s cluster of live music venues. John, the owner, is there to meet us and give us the lowdown of the low stage. The Good Ship tends to have younger up-and-coming bands. John tells us of the night Adele and Kate Nash shared the bill, and explains that bands like the back projection that lets them have more imaginative visuals.

I throw in a good plug for the Monday night comedy. What I like about The Good Ship is that it’s completely lacking in pretension. It is also willing to try things out and has hosted spoken word events and quizzes as well as music. Right now, it’s the most reliable comedy club in the area and at £4 an absolute bargain. Recent better known acts have included Josie Long, Milton Jones and an unbilled impromptu opening from the great Ed Byrne. But back to the music.

We turn off the High Road to a place none of us has ever even heard of. The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance is a living and breathing rock school. It offers full BMus degrees as well as diplomas, foundation courses and specialist courses. We actually gatecrashed and they’re weren’t expecting us but the college’s CEO Paul Kirkham appeared and gave us a quick talk about the college. Its aim is not to churn out the next X-Factor winner or Simon Fuller band, but rather to give students a sustainable career in music. He cited the fact that half a dozen or so students were at Glastonbury this year as backing singers/musicians. The college was originally in Acton before moving to its rather swish Dyne Road premises, of which it is taking over more and more floors.

By now, Andy at The Luminaire was ready for us. Modest to a fault, he ascribed the venue’s success to the fact that there are clean towels in the dressing room. The club, above the Kings Head bar, has the biggest pulling power in the area. It has a slight tendencey towards bluesy/folky musicians, but also hosts its fair share of pop & rock bands. The Libertines, Editors, James Morrison and Jarvis Cocker have all played there, while some months ago I saw the last living Delta bluesman David Honeyboy Edwards at what may well be his final London gig.

The Luminaire’s famous “silence during the music” policy is almost a trademark and although it’s often ignored during the support acts, it has undoubtedly contributed to the fact that artists like the place. Punters like it because as well as good acts, the managemnt is conscious that they often have to get home on public transport, so sets tend to be over in time to catch the tube or train. Put it all together and it’s not surprising that Time Out and Music Week have both given it Music Venue of the Year awards. It also has an excellent website (something a lot of London’s music venues would do well to emulate).

The last stop on our Camden musical tour was meant to be Powers. Owned by former Mean Fiddler founder Vince Power, it is a more intimate music experience and again focuses on up-and-coming acts. Sadly, we were a bit early to have a snoop around and as this was the one place I hadn’t been to I had been intrigued to see inside.

We’d managed to spend several enjoyable hours exploring the musical legacy and contemporary scene along the Kilburn High Road (with the exception of The Westbury). It’s great that a street that inspired the name of Ian Dury’s first band and that has let Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain entertain its residents, is still rocking.

UPDATE May 2011 – Camden has produced a PDF map of the musical heritage of the High Road.

The Railway’s musical legacy

It’s common knowledge that The Beatles auditioned at Decca studios on Broadhurst Gardens, now the English National Opera premises. The New Years Day (1962) session didn’t go as well as manager Brian Epstein hoped and resulted in the now infamous rejection: “The Beatles have no future in show business”.

Also fairly well known is that The Railway pub on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane had an upstairs function room that played host to big name acts including the Rolling Stones and London’s adopted guitar hero Jimi Hendrix. During this time it was called the Klooks Kleek and was a key component of the capital’s burgeoning blues scene. Supergroup Cream even recorded its first live album there. Along with Mick, Eric and Jimi, luminaries such as John Mayall and Georgie Fame graced the stage at Klooks – or would have done if there had actually been a stage. This article from Down the Lane tells the whole story.

Klooks was like an old Victorian drawing room, some 20 metres square and unlike other venues had no stage at all. The floor was carpeted, the walls curtained in red velvet and covered in flock wallpaper, all making for very good acoustics. There were no mixing desks, lighting rigs, sound/ lighting engineers or even sound checks, the bands just tuned up and played. It was a bit like a gig in your own front room

What I did not know until this morning was that even in the 1970s and 80s the venue was still pulling in big names. In 1979, an up-and-coming rock group played The Moonlight – as it had been renamed. It appears to be the first time Paul, Dave, Larry and Adam had gigged outside Ireland. The U2gigs site contains this short review of the set from an Adam Symons.

U2 were very intense and Bono was mesmerising. The small hot club with its low ceiling was claustrophobic in a good way, if that is possible. Their short set left a great impression on me…”

The Moonlight was also on the small circuit of London clubs that hosted the occasional southern forays by the new wave of Manchester bands. The Dark Circle Room blog has some of the recordings from Joy Division’s Factory by Moonlight gigs (note the spelling mistake in the sleeve notes of the live album).

Here’s a faster loading set list, photos of the entrance as it looks now, and an extract from the NME about the impending refurb of the club.

Of course West Hampstead has other musical claims to fame. Artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield and Slash were both born here; and that Decca audition might have put the Fab Four off NW6 but it didn’t stop them from recording some of their most influential material just down the road by the world’s most famous zebra crossing.

Live music can still be found from time to time along West End Lane: at the Lower Ground Bar, The Wet Fish Café, Pizza Express, even – once in a while – at The Railway itself. But local music fans have to trot down to Kilburn venues such as The Luminaire, The Good Ship or Powers, or hold out for the OxjamKilburn festival for their fix of anything redolent of the days when Keith Richards riffed through the clouds of his own cigarette smoke at Klooks Kleek.

West Hampstead bookshop “lock-in” success

Last night saw an experiment in West Hampstead. West End Lane Books threw its doors open from 9 to 10pm to @WHampstead twitter followers (and a few others!). There was wine, there was chat, there was 15 percent off everything. A dozen or so #whampers decided that the election debate on TV wasn’t enough of a lure (or recorded it) and getting to know a few fellow locals was a far better option.

It was great to see a mix of familiar faces such as @bubela, @TheWetFishCafe and @SamWong1 along with some first-time whampeventers including @designbyday, @jenny23232323 and @tractorgirlie.

Photo by @designbyday. Original here

Plenty of books were bought (lets not forget that if we want to keep our independent bookshops we do, at least occasionally, have to buy books from them and not Amazon), a reasonable amount of wine was drunk, and hopefully everyone had a good time!

Other bookshop / @WHampstead tie-ins are being mooted, so keep your eyes peeled and follow the #whampbooks hashtag. The bookshop also organises lots of its own events.

Review: Darker Shores at Hampstead Theatre

At several points during Darker Shores, the characters debate whether things are real because we perceive them, or whether they are real because we feel them. The 11-year-old boy next to me for last night’s performance both perceived and felt the reality of this Victorian Christmas ghost story all too vividly. Director Anthony Clark was clearly doing something right.

Michael Punter’s new play engages with the theatricality of ghost stories rather well. It begins by nicely blurring narration into action, thereby disrupting the audience’s understanding of what exactly is real and what exactly is now. If this makes it sound pretentious, fear not. Thanks largely to Tom Goodman-Hill’s outstanding performance as natural scientist and would-be Darwin refuter Gabriel Stokes, this is a play that seeks to entertain not confuse. Goodman-Hill dominates the play, even more remarkable when you learn that he was a very last-minute replacement for Mark Gatiss. The crumbling of Stokes’ crisp surety in the face of the inexplicable is far more convincing and compelling than Julian Rhind-Tutt’s evolution from Confederate impresario to fragile soul suffering post-traumatic stress. Indeed, in the first half, Rhind-Tutt’s Tom Beauregard appears lost at sea – his elongated southern vowels struggling in quieter passages and never quite convincing as either a Doctor of Spiritual Science or as a 19th century Derren Brown. He ups his game in the second half and some sort of equilibrium is restored between the male protagonists.

The two are joined on the Gothically draped stage by Pamela Miles’ doughty Mrs Hinchliffe, whose secrets are closely guarded in the folds of her housekeeper’s black dress, and by Vinette Robinson as cockney sparrer voice-of-reason Florence Kennedy. Kennedy initially seems too simplistic a character, but it is clear she has a larger part to play in the tale and both women perform well, especially Miles whose part is more subtle.

Amid the trickery and illusion (of which there is plenty) the frights and scares vary considerably in their intensity. Some of the moments that should shock are sadly rather rushed with not enough dramatic build-up. The 360-degree sound effects, on the other hand, are extremely effective at bringing the audience right into the action. The first sighting of the ghost is particularly well done, and spooked my young neighbour more than a Dalek ever would (he told me this during the interval).

Although the main stage is left relatively uncluttered, the wings are full of shadows and spotlights and curtains and columns. This has the excellent effect that you start to expect something to happen out of one of these dark corners every time a spirit is summoned. Yet the final revelation is a delicious surprise.

There is much humour in the play, largely based on superb delivery and timing, but on occasion the comedy releases the tension before rather than after a more dramatic moment. And as the audience relaxes into its seats instead of perching on the edge of them, it becomes harder to ratchet up the spook factor. This conflict sadly was the play’s weakness for me. It became harder to care about the characters and the resolution of the story and came perilously close to drifting into pantomime – albeit a well acted, grown-up pantomime. This was reinforced by a rather clunky exposition scene near the end that felt as if it should have been integrated more smoothly into the text.

Overall though, it is hard to carp. It was definitely a very enjoyable evening, contained some excellent performances and I would certainly recommend it for Goodman-Hill’s acting alone. 7/10

Darker Shores by Michael Punter
Hampstead Theatre until Jan 16th

*Disclaimer: I received a free ticket for the play courtesy of the theatre.
Image from Hampstead Theatre website