All photos © Manuel Harlan
It’s quite rare for me to come away from a trip to the theatre and say ‘I’ve had fun’. I love going to the theatre. But I think I’m most drawn to pieces that shock, stir, provoke. Productions that have a darkness or severity around the edges seem to linger in my memory as my favourites.
Sherlock Holmes: The Best Kept Secret at the West Yorkshire Playhouse is not like that at all. And yet I enjoyed it immensely. It was fast-paced, exciting and more than a little ridiculous. It’s a play that knows just what it is and exactly what it’s doing. We’re there, in the pea soup of Victorian London, to enjoy ourselves.
Picking up the saga two weeks after the Reichenbach Falls incident, in which Holmes (Jason Durr) and his nemesis Professor Moriarty fell to their apparent deaths, the story is concerned with Holmes the older, Mycroft (Adrian Lukis), who is embroiled in a governmental scandal which has landed him on a course to the scaffold. In order to save his brother, Sherlock must turn to his trusted aide, Doctor Watson (Andrew Hall), the hapless Inspector Lestrade (Victor McGuire) and the enigmatic Irene Adler (Tanya Franks), erstwhile known as The Woman.
The play is full of Victorian Gothicism and some moments are surprisingly grisly. There are museums after midnight, abandoned amusement parks and shadowy conspiracies. The play checks a lot of boxes and rattles along as a good, tongue-in-cheeky detective drama should.
A few elements of the plot seem slightly crowbarred in, giving the play a kind of ALL STAR SHERLOCK HOLMES! feel to it. I winced at a couple of the meta-gags (but, apparently, was the only one who did). The narrative as a whole is a bit wobbly, confused and, as a storyline, not all that interesting. I was desperate, too, for a hand-wringing, maniacal villain from the offset.
But, for a piece that doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tiny plot details hardly matter. The excellent performances of such bouncy and appealing characters are what carry the play and there’s not a dull moment in it. The audience were reacting explosively to the (mostly) well-observed, often cheeky, comic moments and their warmth towards the characters was evident throughout.
Writer Mark Catley manages to play with Conan Doyle’s characters and bring newness to the familiar world in a way which generates some real surprises, but not so much that hardcore Sherlockians would be lost to their own outrage. It’s nice, too, to see Sherlock back in the 1890s.
We currently have three other Sherlock incarnations in various media. Director Nikolai Foster certainly had a chalenge in adding something original to this well-thumbed character. And he’s managed it. Durr’s Sherlock isn’t quite as arrogant, pompous or intriguing as, say, Benedict Cumberbatch’s. In fact, he may be the most likeable Sherlock Holmes yet. Whether that sticks in the craw of superfans or not, it’s a master stroke for a piece of family theatre.
Sherlock Holmes: The Best Kept Secret is currently playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. For tickets and information, click here.
I’m going to be running some creative writing workshops as part of the the fantastic Art Works Leeds week.
The sessions will be aimed at people aged 13-19. If that’s you, come along! If you’ve written a hundred novels or absolutely nothing, you’re very welcome. No experience necessary. You don’t even need to bring a pen!
We’ll do a series of fun and exciting writing exercises that you can use to develop your work. By the end of each session you will have produced a piece of ‘Flash Fiction’ (a short, short story) and this can be left in the space and be projected for the public to read.
Also, illustrators and artists will be responding to your words to create accompanying artworks. AND your stories will appear on the Art Works blog!
Please email email@example.com to reserve a space. There are only 15 spaces per session!
(Check out my Tales from the Red Barn for some examples of Flash Fiction. Click the image below.)
I know there’s often a little sniffiness about reinventions of Sherlock Holmes. Who amongst us wasn’t a little apprehensive when we heard about a TV version set in modern day London starring Tim from the Office and Dr Chinnery from the League of Gentleman (may the Lord have mercy on my soul for that derrisory tone. I adore Martin Freeman and Mark Gatiss. Curse my rhetorical tongue)?
Since then, there’s been a US TV version (can’t comment, haven’t seen it) and two blockbuster movies helmed by Guy Ritchie (astonishingly, very entertaining). And now our very own West Yorkshire Playhouse brings us a new version of that most famous, most beloved crime-buster.
I’m excited. I genuinely am. The teaser videos look great (see below). The set looks dark and moody and clockworky and gothic and fun. The plot’s bound to be tied up in mystery and shadow and the production values, if I know the good old WYP, are likely to be tip top.
So, rather than being a preview, this is a little message to any skeptics and purists and apprehensivos out there: just stop it. Go along and enjoy yourself.
Truth is, no-one has ownership or exclusivity over a character. Let’s refer to Roland Barthes: “…every re-reading is a rewriting…” Thank you, Roland. So, there’s no original Holmes and even if you think Basil Rathbone is the best one ever (he clearly is), there’s always room for reinvention with good old Sherlock. So let’s all get behind it. Ok? Ok!
Sherlock Holmes - The Best Kept Secret is playing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from 18th May to 8th June. In other words, it’s on right now. I’ll be reviewing it later in the week.
It’s curious that unlike the Doctor and James Bond, there appear to be several Sherlocks popping up all over the place at the same time. I wonder what your thoughts on that are? Perhaps leave me a message below?
I love to eat out. Who doesn’t? And Leeds spoils us with its variety and volume of restaurants. With voucher websites aplenty, too, we’re often spoilt for choice for cheap-ish culinary treats.
A while ago I wrote a post about how the quality of food and service in some places can plummet when there’s a discount involved. Thankfully, that certainly wasn’t the case at Anthony’s Guinea Pig Night.
Go on, you can make the joke if you like. Go on. I had to fight the Dad Joke Gene all night to ask the waitress “How fresh is the guinea pig?”. I’m not a dad. I have no excuses. But, I digress …
The price for the whole evening is just £24.99 per person, with bottles of wine at a very reasonable-for-a-swanky-restaurant £10 each. For this, a three-course meal and coffee. The twist, though, is that there’s no menu and you have no idea what’s going to arrive in front of you until it does. Also, each person at your table is likely to receive a different meal. It’s such an exciting element to the evening.
The meal kicked off with some artisan bread and sea-salted butter before our unnamed guinea pig cocktail (“excuse me, how fresh is the … NO!”) was brought out (strawberry coulis, elderflower, vodka, velvet falernum - no idea about that last thing). It was delicious and refreshing and set us up for a good feed.
Our first courses were: Smoked ham hock terrine, piccalilli puree, quail’s egg with a pickled salad and Trio of Fish: smoked mackerel pate, tuna tartar and tempura prawn in vodka & tonic batter.
The presentation of both was excellent. Dainty, pretty and just what you’d expect from so-called ‘fine dining’. That sort of ‘painting on a plate’ effect. Both dishes were delicious and, in particular, the tempura prawn was excellent (though neither of us detected any vodka). Also, I’d never had a quail’s egg before. So that was exciting.
For our mains: Pan fried salmon on the bone, smoked aubergine, tomato & sardine dressing, spiced puy lentils, charred spring onion and Rillette of confit beef shin, carrot puree, pink fir potatos and purple broccoli.
We encountered an issue here. Politely, we ate half of the dish and passed it along to finish the other. But, at the end, both of us said we’d preferred our first dish. It was strangely annoying to watch our co-eater chowing down on something we secretly believed they just didn’t like and respect enough. We had food jealousy. It was weird.
I started with the beef shin and was immediately in love with it. The meat was unbelievably tender and full of flavour. The accompanying vegetables added a punch of sweetness which made the beef really sing. The salmon I liked but felt a tiny bit underwhelmed. My partner felt something similar but entirely opposite.
Our only critical feedback for the main was the lack of moisture. There was sauce on both but not nearly enough. And, for some reason, it’s hard to gauge how much sauce is yours when sharing a dish. Another spoonful, please.
We were quite excited about dessert, being incredibly impressed with our courses so far. We were served: Coconut pannacotta, white chocolate mousse, coconut foam and white chocolate soil and Spice chocolate tart, orange jelly, chocolate and orange liquor gel.
The coconut dish was presented fantastically in half a coconut shell (though, strangely, a mound of sea salt was used the steady it at the base with a warning “don’t eat that bit” to accompany. I wondered: Why not use sugar, just in case?). The dessert itself was a little flimsy. The white cocolate mousse was delicious but the rest felt a bit underwhelming; boring, even.
The chocolate tart was rich and the chilli in there added a healthy whack of space. Again, the gels and syrups needed to be doubled in volume (I got in trouble for accidentally eating all of the little gels by accident, honest). Chocolate orange is one of my favourite combinations, so this was a cracking bit of luck.
As we sipped our coffees at the end of the meal we talked about how much fun the evening had been. The element of surprise added a fantastic talking point to the meal and made it feel like an adventure. Also, at around £30 per head (if you include wine/ a cocktail) is incredibly good value for food of such quality and at such a reputable venue. Our waitress (in fact, all of the staff) was informed, smiley, helpful and just excellent all-round. We were really impressed and made to feel incredibly welcome.
The Guinea Pig Nights are currently taking place every Monday night. It’s a really affordable special treat and one which is a little different from your average meal out. You’re also invited to give your feedback on each dish to inform future menus at Anthony’s, another perk of the event. You’re not necessarily invited to draw a skateboard under the guinea pig, though…
Photo: mine. Logo: Theirs.
I know very little about wine. I’m one of the “I know what I like” brigade. I love Torrontes (a fact which once impressed an employee at Malmaison. Truth is, I’d had it there several months before when my partner’s father ordered a bottle). I like Tin Pot Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (I had it as part of a fancy tasting menu and wrote it down) and, one time, I “correctly” identified toast as an aroma from a wine I cannot remember the name of (I checked the bottle. It said “notes of toast”).
But, I wanted to learn more and have been meaning to check out one of Leeds’s many wine tasting events. As luck would have it, I received a tasting session at Lazy Lounge as a gift for Valentine’s Day (swit swoo) and went along at the weekend. The interior of Lazy Lounge is incredibly cool. Old furniture and that swanky 1920s feel about the place which makes you feel a little cooler just by being in there. It’s a very comfortable environment for throwing back numerous glasses of wine in the name of refinement and education.
We were seated in a group of eight at a reupholstered baby grand piano (now a glass-topped table). The owner of the bar, Tom, was our guide and teacher. His manner was straightforward and he annihilated any winey bullshit as the evening proceeded. He was incredibly patient as the group steadily paraded along the path to moderate pissedness (no spitting, here).
We were treated to seven glasses of wine in total (three white, one sparkling, three red). The format was very informal and, I have to admit, I was slightly concerned that the bustling environment in Lazy Lounge would leave me straining to hear all of the fancy-pants buzz words and mouthful titles. I needn’t have worried. It was an incredibly fun, un-stuffy, lively and spirited tasting session. And I learned some stuff, too.
Tom began by telling us “you can’t be wrong with wine tasting because taste is subjective”. A great way to open. Part of the concern, I think, when people attend wine tastings is being made to feel silly for saying “This wine smells of Skittles” or “It tastes like a potato”. Removing this was a really smart way to get the group to relax and give their own thoughts on the wines.
There is, though, a bit of fun to be had with the “guess what the bottle says this wine is like” game. I was pretty chuffed when I identified pear (the bottle said pear drops), lemon (citrus), liquorice (fennel) and raisins (raisins!) in various different glasses. It’s not a competition. But ten points to me.
There were little facts and smatterings of history as Tom guided us through the wines. Did you know, for example, that anti-freeze used to be used in wine production in Austria because and, due to the sweet-tasting glycol present in the substance, people only started noticing when they fell sick?
Did you know that every bottle of Krüg has a number of the back, allowing you to follow the bottle’s history? And did you know that when people say “the bigger the indentation on the bottom of the bottle, the better the wine” it is utter bollocks? (It’s there to release the pressure in the bottle).
This was an incredibly good value and interesting evening. Chock-full of lovely booze and fascinating info. Lazy Lounge is a brilliantly-cosy venue and one I’m really pleased to have discovered. The tasting session was part of a voucher deal but there’s a similar on on their website at just £15. A bargain. It’s worth the money to see Dan Aykroyd’s own brand of vodka bottled in a massive crystal skull, wheeled out at the end for a visual treat.
The wines we tasted:
1. Chenin Blanc (Millbrook, South Africa).
2. Savignon Blanc (Spinyback, New Zealand).
3. Rioja Blanca (Viña Real, Spain).
4.Prosecco Spumante (Vinvita, Italy)
5. Monterey Valdiguié (J. Lohr, America/France)
6. Chianti Riserva (1489, Italy)
7. Zinfandel (Burlesque, California)
I went to the Handmade Burger Co. in Leeds Trinity for the first time yesterday. It left me with an unshakable thought: I can’t remember the last time I had a really, really great burger.
These days, it seems I am constantly disappointed by burgers all over the place. They keep breaking my heart (as well as, I assume, clogging it with stupid cholesterol). Case in point: yesterday’s maiden voyage at the Handmade Burger Co. I ordered a mainstay of the burger community. A barbecue, cheese and bacon burger.
It looked amazing. Stacked high, good ‘n’ wide, lovely green salad leaves, great looking bun. It tasted … perfectly fine. Far from awful, approaching good. But that’s not good enough!
Here were its faults: the burger itself was quite dry. In fact, it was slightly over-cooked. IN FACT, in a place that specialises - nay, is exclusive in burgers, why aren’t they asking me how I’d like my meat to be cooked? Burger folks: please stop ruining your meat to keep a few fussy customers from screaming at the sign of a little pinkness inside! I’d like it medium-rare, please. Thank you for asking.
Secondly, the cheese and bacon were both a bit rubbish. The cheese had that sickly, plastic sheen due to being melted then left to cool before service and the bacon was, oddly, pretty tasteless. Finally, the bun was cold and neighbouring staleness. It kept doing that irritating, breaking apart thing mid munch. The menues claimed the restaurant has 6 deliveries a week of fresh bread. So, what happened?
It sounds like I’m being really negative. Because I am. So, let’s add some balance: the deal (an O2 moments thing) meant that I paid just £5 for the burger. That’s ace. The fries that we had on the side were delicious. Crisp coating, fluffy inside and there were loads of them.
And, the service in the place was amazing. Smiling, happy waiting staff for whom no demand was too much (read: “Could we have a bit more ketchup, please?” “Yes” “Wow! No demand is too much for you guys!”)
I’m becoming totally disillusioned with burgers. There. I said it. And, until very recently, I’d often bellow “I LOVE a burger” sometimes at random, sometimes at strangers. Gourmet Burger Kitchen used to be a place I’d go to as a special treat. But, even GBK, the last few times, have ladled on the elaborate toppings, forsaking - in my humble opinion - the flavour of the burger itself.
Can it be that hard? Are we simply settling for bun, then salad, then patty, then more salad and cheese, then bun and ta-da! A perfect burger! No!
Successful assembling of a burger does not a perfect burger make. I used to assemble many a Lego house/spaceship/technodrome. But, if I’m being really honest, not a single one of them would have won me any architectural prizes. I knew that, even when I was fiftee- EIGHT. When I was eight. And, do you know what? I didn’t go around calling myself a Lego Construction Specialist. (Maybe once or twice. But rarely at most) nor bragging about how good my Lego creations were. Nor did my friends lie to each other about how “amazing” my Lego work was on the strength of the fact of there being some Lego present.
So, here’s the deal: I want juicy, succulent beef, great quality, fresh lettuce (NOT ICEBERG) and smoky, crispy bacon. I want the bun to not fall apart when I bite into it. I’m not saying the HBC burger was terrible. It wasn’t terrible. It was ok! But I’m tired of settling for ok burgers. And so are you. You just might not realise that you are. But you definitely are.
So, Leeds eateries, I throw down the gauntlet to you. I’m calling you out. If you think your burger impressive, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will gladly sing from the rooftops about it (or, blog) if it is approaching delicious. If it’s not … probably best you don’t get in touch in the first place.
Production photo: After the beginning. Before the End.
Stopping the action mid-way through his latest show, Daniel Kitson announces to the front of house staff at the City Varieties, Leeds, ”There’s an alarm going off … I can’t tell if it’s inside or outside of the building … It seems a shame if we all die here because someone failed to point it out … It’s probably nothing, guys … we’ll carry on”. If you’ve seen the man before you’ll know what I mean when I say: it’s tiny things like this that make him exceptional.
The first Daniel Kitson show I saw (I was a late bloomer) was ‘It’s always right now, until it’s later’ at the Edinburgh Fringe 2010. I sat with two friends at 10am in the Traverse Theatre and watched in the relative darkness, a few lightbulbs on stage lighting the be-bearded raconteur’s progress. By the end I was a wreck. Trying my best to hold back blubs whilst keeping face with my two buddies, ready to blame it on the time of the morning, a hangover, whatever. Turns out, they were exactly the same.
Every Kitson show I’ve ever seen has been an incredible experience. There’s a sort of poetic nonchalance in his delivery which makes it seem off the cuff and spontaneous; as if these beautiful eruptions of words and stories and moments are just happening, now. You almost feel privileged to have witnessed it.
This new piece, ‘Before the beginning. After the end.’, is a strange surprise. Genre-wise, it’s incredibly slippery. Was it a stand-up show? (Kitson sat down throughout and he’s far too smart for this not to have been a point to be made) Was it a piece of storytelling? (There wasn’t really a narrative). What actually happens is that Daniel Kitson thinks at us for two hours. It was dense with language; a barrage of his West Yorkshire mirth and wisdom, cracking like a hundred whips, rumbling on like a hungry gut.
The show is riddled with whimsical philosophy. Like all great thinkers, Kitson manages to smuggle an awful lot into our brains while distracting us with cleverly assembled aphorisms and anecdotes. I found myself nodding along at his observations, as if I were at a lecture by Žižek
It’s possible for a show like this to tip into navel-gazing and self-absorption. And, with a lesser performer, this would have quickly becoming nasty and irritating. But Kitson is incredibly aware of himself; of his reputation and godlike status amongst comedy fans. And he knows how to handle this awareness. Even when addressing the strangeness of his impact on the lives of his admirers, head-on, it seems like he’s merely brushing-off his shoulders off after a rain shower.
Interspersed with wibbly sound effects and a lilting, airy soundtrack, Kitson procedes to just talk to us. About moments of his life, about second-hand memories and, mostly, about thoughts he’s had. A strange, weaving series of background noises keeps up with him, giving the memoir-esque fragments a dreamy quality.
There were rare moments when I wasn’t laughing and, in those moments, I caught myself just beaming in the darkness of the City Varieties. Just being in Kitson’s company (in a manner of speaking) is a huge pleasure. You feel like you’re in a Merrie England cafe with a very clever chatterbox. It’s, somehow, homey.
If ‘It’s always right now, until it’s later’ was a novella, this show is a collection of meandering, delightful, loosely-connected short stories. Connections are forged, yes. But there’s something more simple about this show which, if you were looking for grand and universal meaning, might leave you feeling disappointed. It’s a show about moments, enjoying those moments, and trying to untangle yourself from an obsession with how each moment might end.
I saw ‘Before the beginning. After the end’ at City Varieties, Leeds, on Thursday 9th May 2013.
Could you please take a moment to appreciate how natural I’ve tried to make this photo look? Almost as if we were passing one another in the street, nonchalantly. In fact, it was a bloody palaver and I shan’t be doing it again.
Hello. I haven’t written on this blog since my initial “I’m a freelancer now!” post a few weeks ago. I hope you’ll forgive me.
To business: I’ve decided to make this particular blog a little different. It used to be very photo-heavy but, from now, it’ll be wordier. For more picture-heavy stuff, have a look at my other blog on my photography website.
I’m going to use this one for reviews, opinion pieces and other bits and pieces. It’s going to be very Leedsy so if you have anything you’d like me attend and review, let me know.
I’d like to say I’m too proud to accept freebies and handouts. But that’s nonsense. Chuck ‘em over and I’ll be only too pleased to review whatever you throw. Within reason. Steady on.
The first thing I’ll be reviewing is Daniel Kitson’s new show ‘After the beginning. Before the end’ which is on at the glorious City Varieties this evening. I have to say, I’m a fan of Kitson’s. His other storytelling shows have all but convinced me there’s little point any of the rest of us trying anything, perfect as they are.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading the posts. And if you don’t, well, you know, horses for courses.
A couple of months ago I wrote a post semi-announcing that I’d decided to cast off the shackles of 9-to-5 and go it alone (a very dramatic way of saying I’d decided to go freelance). Today is Day one.
The times has sped past me. A little too quickly, in some respects. Yet there was a sense, too, that I couldn’t wait to get there. Get here. And here here is.
The main reason for this post is to say thank you. Thanks so much to everyone who has transformed my abject panic in the face of quitting my job and spending my days working hard towards a new, self-assembled career into something much sweeter, much more invigorating and delightful and inspiring and motivational. It’s made this seem less like a reckless, feckless idea and more like exactly the right thing to do.
That’s not to say I’m not nervous and apprehensive. I absolutely am. And I’m aware it’s going to be a slog. But, I hope, a lovely slog. (“Lovely slog” is one of the most unpleasant sounding phrases I’ve ever used. I apologise profusely for having thrust it upon you). Everyone has been so supportive and I’m just so grateful - it means a lot when a whole gang of people say “That’s fantastic! Good for you! Great decision!” etc rather than “What … YOU? That’s an awful idea! You absolute foolish fool!” It cools the anxiety a good deal.
I was going for the slightly-manic-but-mostly-excited look for this photo. I think I nailed it.
I have such an unpredictable, busy time ahead of me. I have some photography work already lined up (which is excellent) but the majority of the first month or two will be planning, marketing and attempting to grow the business. The majority of this week will be me trying to (jigsaw metaphor ahoy) find the corner pieces and maybe a few of the edges before I can even think about starting to construct the picture.
I’ve decided to set one day a week aside for writing (at least). I have a few whimpering, attention-starved projects crawling around inside my computer shrieking “Finish me!” like the creature damning its creator in the polar wastes. Very excited about doing this, and doing it as a part of my plan; guilt free, gleefully.
I feel good. I feel confident. I feel, somehow, new. Looking for positives, and attempting to annihilate negatives. I”m not a superstitious person but I’m looking to fortune with a pressurising glare. Oh, and I’m trying not to see the demise of Margaret Thatcher happening the same week I finished working 9-5 in favour of doing something “arty”, something I adore, something she may well have referred to as “a privilege” as a very good sign from the universe. (NB: It is definitely a very good sign from the universe).
So, look, you need a photographer, I am a photographer. Drop me a line: email@example.com