Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Chicago (Phoenix Theatre)

Posted: April 12, 2018 in Travel

Book: Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb      Music: John Kander      Lyrics: Fred Ebb      Director: Walter Robbie


You can’t keep a good show down! Chicago, with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, was a moderate success in New York and London in the late 1970s, but it is the 1996 revival, directed by Walter Robbie, that defines it. That production has run continuously on Broadway for over 20 years and it also ran in the West End, in three theatres, from 1997 until it seemed to have run out of steam in 2012. Now Robbie’s production rises again, appropriately at the Phoenix Theatre and the air is once more filled with toe-tapping tunes and raging amorality.

This is a prime example of a Kander and Ebb trademark, that of framing a musical with a specific entertainment style. They gave us a Berlin nightclub for Cabaret, a minstrel show for The Scottsboro Boys and, in this case, we find ourselves landed in Vaudeville at the height of the Jazz Age. One of the explanations for the show’s longevity could be the simplicity of it’s staging – a single set, with orchestra in the middle, serves all needs – and another could be the ease with which star names can be slotted into any of the leading roles to reinvigorate it repeatedly. Yes, Chicago, is a show that can sometimes fall victim to flawed stunt casting.

The biggest name blazoned across the posters here is that of Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr, a larger-than-life personality who turns out to be unexpectedly subdued as the dodgy lawyer Billy Flynn. A singing voice with a limited range does not necessarily spell disaster for an actor in a musical, but the Hollywood star’s two big numbers, All I Care About and Razzle Dazzle make little impression and, overall, we really want him to harness the natural ebullience for which he is famed a lot more and burst out of his role.

Elsewhere, the show is still razzle dazzling in most of the right places, with too many great songs packed in to leave room for any boring bits. Sarah Soetaert’s bubbly peroxide blonde Roxie Hart and Josefina Gabrielle’s sultry brunette Velma Kelly are spot-on. Both murderers awaiting trial, they quickly realise that, when the justice system and showbiz go head-to-head, showbiz will win and they scheme to use their notoriety to advance their careers on stage. Incredibly, the book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb is based on real-life events in 1920s Chicago.

Ruthie Henshall has played both Roxie and Velma in the West End and she now completes a personal hat trick by taking on the role of the prison matron Mama Morton, lending her strong presence to the lady that can fix anything, at a price. Paul Rider gives comic pathos to “Mr Cellophane”, Roxie’s cuckolded husband Amos and AD Richardson threatens to shatter glass as the goody-goody Mary Sunshine.

Stacey Haynes is the Resident Director, charged with bringing back to life Robbie’s production and Ann Reinking’s choreography (in the style of Fosse). Combining Kander’s musical mastery and Ebb’s witty, cynical lyrics with glitzy glamour and high-kicking dancing, Chicago remains hard to resist, however often it reappears on stage or screen and it looks set for another successful run here.

Performance date: 11 April 2018

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:


Posted: November 5, 2014 in Travel

Friday 7 November

Having arrived in Delhi just after midday, yesterday afternoon was one of rest and recovery. Starting at 8.00 this morning, we embarked on a 10+ hour sightseeing tour of the cities old an new – a sprawling, smoggy, dusty urban mass with construction of new buildings and a metro system going on everywhere. There are traffic rules, which seem to be there to be ignored – traffic drives on the left and often the right, green lights mean go and red lights mean go with just a little more caution. It is great fun watching the mayhem from the comfort of an air-conditioned coach, as vehicles of all shapes, sizes, ages and states of repair do battle with each other. New Delhi, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the era of George V, could have been the prototype for Milton Keynes, with roundabouts every few yards, but everywhere else is slow-moving chaos. As for the sights, it was a day of shoes on and off as we visited three places of worship. The Moslems charged 300 Rupees to take a camera near their mosque, so no photos of that, but it was a farly ugly building anyway. The Sikh temple was an eye-opener; we visited the kitchens where they prepare 20,000 meals a day to serve to the needy of all faiths. I have been to palaces or religion all over Europe and South America that are filled with precious metals and priceless works of art, so how cheering it is to find a religion that actually does something positive to alleviate poverty instead of just talking about it. Finally, it was the turn of the Baha’i temple, architecturally the most impressive, looking like a lotus flower, or, perhaps, a squashed up version of Sydney Opera House. We also visited the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi (sighted on the place of his cremation), the memorial to India’s war dead (rather predictably, a large arch) and, in fading light, the tomb of Humayun, a 15th Century ruler.FullSizeRender-5FullSizeRender-3FullSizeRender-4FullSizeRender-6
















Saturday 8 November

Days spent hanging around airports are the worst of any touring holiday, but this was the worst of the worst! Firstly the tour manager hauled us off to Delhi airport an hour early, forgetting that it was a Saturday and that there would be little traffic. Once there, we were told of a 3 hour delay due to the plane having broken down; we joked that it would be an ancient propeller plane and it turned out to be exactly that (although I have since been informed that the Q400 is one of the best and most modern planes in the air). SpiceJet appears to be the Indian equivalent of Ryanair, charging for everything, but they kindly agreed to compensate us by waiving the charge for a sandwich. Having arrived in Udaipur, the Hotel Devi Garh, a former palace is truly fabulous. It would have been nice to have been able to spend the afternoon on the terrace in front of my room.FullSizeRender-7









Sunday 9 November

A mere 8 hours of sightseeing today and a lot of climbing up and down steep stairs. Udaipur is known as “the city of lakes” and it often reminds of being beside one of the Italian lakes, with similar Summer temperatures and a heat haze settled over surrounding mountains. The Maharana still lives in a part of his palace, but the rest is now a museum, filled with interesting curiosities and remnants of glorious days. Udaipur has at least three hotels even more luxurious (and expensive) than ours; one of these, on sn island in the lake provided the setting for a scene in the James Bond film Octopussy. A more sedate afternoon saw us taking a boat trip around the lake.






























Monday 10 November

A 10 hour drive (with breaks) from Udaipur to our base for Jodhpur, taking in some spectacular views and fascinating insights into Indian rural life. Whatever the roads, main trunk routes, narrow country lanes or the main streets of towns or villages, they have to be shared with cows, water buffalo and oxen roaming free and the standard of driving is breathtakingly bad. This drive began in lush greenery and ended in near-desert, passing through a mountainous game reserve where baboons can be seen everywhere and (apparently) leopards lurk unseen. We did not get out to take photos. It often felt as if we were intruders into an ancient way of life and, although there are plentiful signs of the modern world, the Rajasthan described by Paul Scott is still there to be experienced. We stopped at the ruins of a Hindu temple with magnificent carvings in sandstone, we saw an irrigation system powered by two oxen and ended the morning with a visit to a Jain temple. This had quite impressive architecture, but, due to a camera levy, no photos. This sect does not allow killing of any animal or plant, meaning that we were not allowed to take any leather items in with us, including wallets; so, when pestered for the usual tourist rip-offs, the truthful response was “no money”. They have a rather flawed business model! The final stop was at a makeshift Hindu temple dedicated to a local drunk who was killed when his motor bike hit an adjacent tree in 1989, giving rise to some supernatural events. The hotel Rohet Garh is a splendidly converted 16th Century palace.





























Tuesday 11 November

A day for exploring Jodhpur, a city of many buildings painted light blue (something to do with repelling insects) which make a curious sight when viewed from the highest point, the very top of the spectacular Mehrangarh Fort. After looking around the Jaswant Thada, a temple on an opposite hill, a lift took us to the Fort’s higher levels, arriving there at 11.00 exactly. The whole group then observed two minutes’ silence in an unforgettable setting, some being moved to tears. After more than an hour walking around the museum, we made our descent by foot. During the afternoon, we took a jeep safari to the outskirts of Jodhpur and beyond on bumpy dirt roads; it is doubtful if the jeeps, each seating four passengers, would have complied with UK Health & Safety standards, but all survived. The “safari” gave a wonderful opportunity to escape from tourist destinations and get a feel of the real India; we visited a family pottery-making business (the father demonstrating amazing skills as a potter) and a small farm where I succumbed to wearing a turban made up from 10 metres of cloth.FullSizeRender-22 FullSizeRender-23 FullSizeRender-24 FullSizeRender-25 FullSizeRender-26 FullSizeRender-27 FullSizeRender-28 FullSizeRender-29



































Wednesday 12 November

A long drive through the arid Thar desert from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, close to the Pakistan border. Still more of a worry, the road went through the area used by India for its nuclear tests; we saw lots of camels, but none with two heads. The hotel Suryagarh is in the style of an ancient palace, but it is 21st Century, with all mod cons and everything seems to work. The public areas of the hotel are fabulous and the rooms are luxurious, but lacking character. The hotel is also home to several peacocks and to Alexander the Great, a beautiful Golden Retriever.










Thursday 13 November

Jaisalmer is known as the “Golden City” because of the colour of the sandstone used in the construction of most of its buildings, including the imposing hilltop fort. This is not a fort in the military sense, but a fortified town that is home to tens of thousands of people. This gave us the chance to experience Indian street life on foot as we climbed to the top through narrow, cobbled streets, crowded with pedestrians, motor cyclists, cattle and dogs. The only notable sight at the top was another Jain temple with intricate carvings, but it was the bustle, the vibrant colours and the cacophony of noise created by the street traders and the motor bike horns that made the climb worthwhile. Upon the descent, we saw streets of opulent mansions built from sandstone and displaying more elaborate carvings. Late in the afternoon, we went out into the desert to see the sunset across sand dunes; some more daring than I rode camels, the rest went in carts pulled by camels, mine by a noble beast named Rocket.FullSizeRender-31 FullSizeRender-32 FullSizeRender-33 FullSizeRender-34 FullSizeRender-35 FullSizeRender-36 FullSizeRender-37 FullSizeRender-38 FullSizeRender-39 FullSizeRender-40





































Friday 14 November

A quiet day with another long drive through the Indian countryside and villages, marvelling at how different life is here from what we are used to in England. The only stop of interest was two small lakes which are the Winter home if a flock of birds migrating from Siberia. No-one seemed sure about the exact species*, but we settled for some kind of crane. Our base for Bikener is the Gajner Palace, a former hunting lodge of the Maharajahs, set beside a large lake.FullSizeRender-41 DSC00135 DSC00140















* I have now been informed that the birds are Demoiselle Cranes and that this is a very famous spot amongst ornithologists.

Saturday 15 November

A sedate morning walk around Bikaner fort gave few clues as to what was to follow. This fort is less imposing from the exterior than others visited , but the interior is full of interest, with the best museum seen so far. This was followed by an introduction to the tuk tuk, India’s 2-seater taxi which is like a small open car built around a motor bike engine. This would have been a hair-raising experience on a quiet private road, but, driving through an Indian city in such a vehicle almost defies description. When the driver wanted the third exit off a large roundabout, he simply cut off to the right in the face of on-coming traffic; something to be tried on Hyde Park Corner! From there, it was through the narrow bustling streets of the city, dodging between other vehicles, market stalls, shoppers and a variety of beasts, alive or dead. This was India for real, not a show staged for the tourists. After surviving that, a quiet afternoon at the lake beside the hotel was exactly what was needed.DSC00149 DSC00151 DSC00156 DSC00160 DSC00169 DSC00172 DSC00174 DSC00177 FullSizeRender-42 DSC00178







































Sunday 16 November

A drive back into fertile territory towards Jaipur. There are more signs of prosperity, but, although the roads are better, the driving standards are not. Along the way, there seem to be as many buildings under construction or demolition as are standing and functional. Our only stop was to view a hideous temple that might look more at home in Orlando than here, but our guide seemed to think it very important and rambled on for more than half an hour about it. At first glance, the Hotel Samode Bagh, which is set in expansive gardens once used as a retreat by Indian aristocracy, looks like a camp site. So a first try at “glamping” seemed likely, but the rooms under the canvas covers are, in fact, built of substances more solid.DSC00195 DSC00196 FullSizeRender-43 FullSizeRender-44

















Monday 17 November

The Amber Fort is by far the most magnificent seen so far, its walls stretching over the tops of hills into the distance and making it look like a section of the Great Wall of China. It derives its name from being located in the Amer region of the city of Jaipur rather than from its colour. Jaipur more generally is known as “the Pink City”, due to many of its buildings being painted in that colour to celebrate a visit by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). It took a jeep ride to get us up to the Fort’s lowest level, a large courtyard with a dozen or more elephants giving rides around the perimeter. From there, we climbed up to explore all accessible areas and gasp at the breathtaking views. After descending, we went to take a look at the Water Palace, but only from a distance as it stands in the middle of a lake. We moved onto the Royal Palace which has excellent museums devoted to portraits, armament and textiles, and an outdoor observatory which includes a sun dial, listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the World and accurate to within two seconds. The large stone-built instruments in the observatory serve a range astrological and astronomical functions, all, we were told, ahead of the time when they were constructed.FullSizeRender-45 FullSizeRender-46 DSC00206 FullSizeRender-47 FullSizeRender-48 FullSizeRender-49 DSC00221 FullSizeRender-50 FullSizeRender-51 DSC00226









































Tuesday 18 November

The drive from Jaipur to Agra included two fascinating sightseeing stops. Firstly, we visited the step well at Abeneri. This is a huge hole in the ground with steps on all sides which princes of the age descended to cool themselves and bathe; it was built more than 1,200 years ago and is still in excellent condition, making a spectacular sight, but (fortunately) visitors are no longer allowed to descend. The second stop was at the ruined city of Fatephur Sikri, a UNESCO World Heritage sight on the outskirts of Agra.

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Wednesday 19 November

A 5am wake-up call and then the short trip from the hotel to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. At first sight, the Taj was shrouded in mist/smog, but, as the sun became stronger, the white marble structure could be seen clearly and the position of the sun meant that it was shining most strongly on the front. The early morning was quite cold (hence the jumper in the earlier photos). The building is enormous and every bit as breathtaking as imagined. Visitors are allowed inside to see the two tombs, but it is the intricate artwork on the exterior which is more impressive; no paint was used, just precious or semi-precious gemstones. In the afternoon, we did a tour of Agra, starting with the “Baby Taj” which is nowhere near as remarkable, but still has elaborate designs on the stone. On the way to the Moon Garden, we stopped to see an Indian “laundry” on the banks of the river, with washing being laid out on sand to dry; not the sheets from our hotel, we hoped! The Moon Garden is a serene, green park, lying directly across the river from the Taj Mahal. The final port of call was Agra Fort, to which the public is only allowed limited access due to it continuing to be used by the Indian military. Despite suffering from fort fatigue by now, this one is sufficiently different to hold the interest and it offers a distant view of the Taj Mahal.

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Day 40 – Home

Posted: December 11, 2012 in Travel

Landed at Heathrow at 6.30am this morning and am now settling into a very cold house. Thanks to Qantas and their awesome A380s for the smoothest, quietest long haul flights I can remember. The adventure is over. For now…….

Day 39 – Christchurch/Home

Posted: December 9, 2012 in Travel

Just finished packing. The scheduled journey time from taking off at Christchurch to landing at Heathrow, including stops at Sydney and Singapore, is 28 hours 50 mins. Joy!!!

Day 38 – Omarama/Christchurch

Posted: December 9, 2012 in Travel

Winding down now, thinking of home. A pleasant enough journey, stopping to view Mount Cook and various other scenic spots, a good lunch in a quaint town called Geraldine and then a late afternoon arrival back in Christchurch. We’ve all had enough of coaches for a while.

Day 37 – Queenstown/Omarara

Posted: December 8, 2012 in Travel

We departed at a civilised hour and very soon made a 90 minute stop in Arrowtown, a pretty little town full of upmarket shops, exactly the sort of place I didn’t need to be let loose in with a credit card on my Birthday. Anyway, I treated myself to two possum/merino jumpers, nice mementos of New Zealand. Then onto the World’s first bunji jump site; apparently Stephen Fry jumped here recently, but I wasn’t tempted. After a couple more unmemorable stops, we arrived in the early afternoon in Omarama, a one horse town where there is absolutely nothing to see or do, so I’ve got no idea why we are here. I’m having a celebratory dinner and Champagne this evening with four nice people. After that, I think I want to go home.

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Day 36 – Queenstown

Posted: December 7, 2012 in Travel

Just as yesterday, we rose early to find it raining, but this time we were given the all clear to leave for Milford Sound. As the crow flies, it is only a short distance from Queenstown, but the crow can fly over the intervening mountain range, whilst the road around it takes almost four hours to drive. After an hour or so, the rain eased and the clouds started to break, giving us near perfect weather for the cruise through the Sound (technically a fiord, similar to the Norwegian ones but spelled slightly differently) as far as the Tasman Sea. More sedate than yesterday, but glorious to behold! We got back to the hotel just before 8.00pm.

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Day 35 – Queenstown

Posted: December 6, 2012 in Travel

Today’s planned all-day trip to Milford Sound was cancelled due to rocks on the road, so we got up at 6.00am for nothing. For the first part of the morning, I was feeling rather morose because the NZ leg of the holiday seemed to be falling apart; all that remained now would be the two day trek back to Christchurch and then home. After an exhausting few weeks, I now felt as if I was running on empty and badly in need of a stimulus. Then the stimulus duly came. We were able to bring forward an excursion to the Dart River valley for what I thought was to be a leisurely cruise to see the locations used in the LOTR films and “The Hobbit” which was shooting here just a few months ago. If I had even the slightest understanding of what was actually involved, I am sure that I would have opted out, but ignorance is bliss and it turned out to be an experience that I would not have missed for anything. We started with what I can only describe as a 90 minute theme park ride, only for real – a jet boat moving at breakneck speed up the river, weaving in an out of narrow spaces between huge rocks, sand banks and various debris, spinning full circles and occasionally stopping to allow us to appreciate fully the spectacular scenery of steep mountains covered with thick greenery and capped with snow, cascading waterfalls and huge jade rocks. We emerged dizzy to embark on a marvellous escorted walk through the rain forest. Wow! After such an unpromising beginning, what a day!


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Day 34 – Fox Glacier/Queenstown

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Travel

I guess that, in a holiday of over 5 weeks, something is bound to be lost because of bad weather. It poured all night and all morning, so no helicopter ride to the Glacier and, for the first part of our journey over mountains and through valleys, the views were spoilt. Miraculously at lunchtime, the skies cleared and the remainder of the trip through countryside resembling the Lake District was glorious. We are now firmly in “Lord of the Rings” country. We arrived at the hotel in Queenstown in the late afternoon and I have a room with a balcony and a wonderful view over the lake, a perfect base for the next 3 nights.

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Day 33 – Christchurch/Fox Glacier

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Travel

A day of breathtaking scenery. We took the 8.15 Trans-Alpine Express train from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass and then re-boarded the coach for the remainder of the journey to the Tasman Sea coast and then down to Fox Glacier. We had been doe to take a helicopter flight to fly over and land on the Glacier, but low cloud prevented this and we were only able to see the bottom of the Glacier from below. We will have another chance to do the flight tomorrow.

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