Open Air Theatre: To Kill a Mockingbird

Monday, September 15, 2014 2

I

was very lucky to nab a last minute ticket to see the most excellent production of To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. A first, in a couple of ways, for me. While the existence of a theatre in the great outdoors of my second favourite park in London has always intrigued me, the reality of the great British weather and needing to book tickets well in advance had preventing me from actually seeing anything there. A friend had a spare ticket for last Wednesday’s performance and knowing my inability to say no (it’s a problem, I am working on it) she asked if I wanted it. After quickly checking the weather for rain, I agreed.

It didn’t rain, but I was woefully underdressed and absolutely froze as a result, though I was so fully absorbed n the performance, I hardly noticed any discomfort.

The Venue: The Open Air theatre is a lovely venue, there is covered dining, but all the seats and the stage itself lives up to the ‘open air’ name. The setting in the heart of Regent’s Park is wonderful and though there is a grassy area in the theatre ground for a picnic, if you are not early enough to get one of the park benches, the grass outside of the venue has probably seen better days.

There is quite a range of food available there, from a BBQ to healthy looking salads, though I cannot judge on the quality of it, a we’d armed ourselves with Waitrose’s finest. But judging by the many well dressed people drinking champagne from plastic flutes on the picnic benches, the food is probably not bad. There is also a full bar, from which I had a much needed hot chocolate.

The Play: This leads to the other first, which I am a little ashamed to admit, I have somehow not read to Kill a Mockingbird. We didn’t study it at school and I never got around to reading it later, which I regret as I wish I could have experienced it for the first time at a much younger age. As it stands, I cannot comment on the play’s strength as an adaptation, but judged on its own merits, it was fantastic.

It starts with the cast dispersed amongst the audience, standing up one by one and reading passages from the book. They all make their way to the stage, a very spare set consisting of a rather realistic looking tree with a tyre swing, and transform it into a chalk drawn map. Props and actors remain on the side until needed, with quick on stage costume changed effectively transforming narrators to various characters and back. The reading from the book continues throughout and it’s a method that really works to add depth to the performances we see on stage. The adult cast is all great, but the real stars are the kids, which are truly fantastic. The play is brought to life by the kids playing games and running around, on a few occasions, beyond the stage itself. The limited props mean that the storytelling relies heavily on the audience’s imagination to transform you to the little town in Alabama and it works. The first half is lighter than I was expecting, with a number of laugh out loud funny moments. The courtroom scenes are excellent and the attack on the children mostly shown via a passage from the book, nevertheless frightens. Really, Scout’s ham costume alone is worth seeing this for.

In a Sentence: Really fantastic play, definitely reading the book ASAP, wish I’d brought a blanket.

Can I see it? To Kill A Mockingbird has just finished its run at Regent’s Park, but it’s starting a National Tour and will be back in London next year, I couldn’t recommend it more.

Hotel Dining Recommendations

Sunday, September 7, 2014 1

I

have tried to go to Barrafina, the ultra cool Spanish small plates no booking Soho restaurant, a few times  now, with no success. Last time I tried, it must have been about 5:45 on a Wednesday and I was told to expect a wait of about an hour. And no, I couldn’t come back in an hour, if I wanted my place in the queue, I had to stay in the queue. (the countless masses would kill for my place in the queue, was heavily implied in the waiter’s tone and arched eyebrow)

I chose not to and if I sound bitter it’s mostly because I feel they were quite rude to me, though I am still planning on getting there one day. It’s on my list. I have an ever growing list of places I’d like to try and after a quick peruse of this list, a worrying trend becomes apparent, most of these have adopted this ‘no bookings’ policy. Which is all well and good, but sometimes I just want to have a specific time and a place, where I can eat some good food with no hassle. And so if you are looking for the latest pop up that only has 3 tables, and two dishes made from the produce locally grown in the owner’ back garden, then I would advice you to stop reading right now. However, if you are looking for a nice place where you could take your parents for a good meal in lovely surroundings, then please carry on.

My secret weapon when it comes to a family visit or a last minute dinner reservations is hotel restaurants. London is full of hotels I can’t afford, with restaurants that I can. These are restaurants you could never find if you didn’t know about, which means that hotel guests aside they are rarely heaving, making them extremely convenient for a last minute booking. The surroundings are often lavish and the food can vary from pretty decent to amazing. There are often good set meals and it’s worth checking bookatable.com or opentable for any additional deals.

Thirty Six by Nigel Mendham at the Dukes Hotel

This is top of my list, it’s a three rosette restaurant that deserves it. The dining room is very light and airy, the service impeccable and the food beautifully presented and delicious. We had a three course set lunch, which included an amuse bouche between each course, which was completely unexpected and a lovely touch, not to mention very tasty. The desserts are to die for. If you want to be surrounded by hustle and bustle, this is not the place for you, as when we started our lunch we were the only people there, but if you want to take your time and enjoy your food, I would very much recommend it. We were there for a good few hours and felt welcome the entire time. It was a lovely experience and though I have an aim to go to new places as much as possible, this is a restaurant I cannot wait to repeat.

Brasserie Joel at the Park Plaza Hotel

Unlike the others on this list, the Brasserie Joel has modern even minimalist in decor and we were not the only diners there. It occupies a large space on the first floor of the Park Plaza, with a pleasantly high ceiling and round tables, nicely spaced apart. The service was excellent and the set menu included the Tuna Tartare starter, which was very good. They also offer a set lunch menu of exceptional value, that I have not yet tried, but it is on my before mentioned to do list.

Reform Social and Grill at the Mandeville Hotel

This is located just off Oxford Street, offering some peace after a hard day’s shopping. It’s got good, hearty food, very generous portions at very affordable prices. If you are looking for even more affordability, there is a bookatable deal for steak or lobster burger with chips and half a bottle of wine for £16, which I have tried and tested and would do so again. But whatever you do, you’ve got to leave some space for dessert, because all else aside, I’d recommend this place on the strength of its desert alone. It’s got great spin on childhood classics like the jam rolly polly and toffee apple cumble and everything comes with lots of custard. Real nice comfort food.

The Brasserie at the Charring Cross Hotel

I must have walked past Charring Cross station hundreds of times, not once looking up at the Charring Cross hotel. My brother found the Brasserie and yes, yet again that is where we took our parents. Trying to find the restaurant once you enter seems like an adventure and yet again it felt like we were the only guests, but the decor is lovely, the view from the terrace really very good and the food decent. After the craziness of the street below us, it felt like a retreat.