THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Ballo, King’s Head Theatre

I must say I was hugely excited to receive the invitation to review again at the King’s Head, it being one of my favourite places to come and see what’s on offer.  This evening certainly did not disappoint. I was sceptical at the thought of an opera of Verdian proportions being done justice by the intimate settings of the King’s Head but with the stage being set wisely in thrust mode, the action managed to overcome the spatial limitations of its platform.

Now, if you have seen any of the publicity for this production, you will realise that it bears resemblance to a certain Swedish super-power home store.  Indeed, ‘Ballo’ is the famous Ikea’s retail rival in this version.  That is not to trivialise or undermine the storyline in any way; as all the drama, backbiting and tragedy that one would expect from Verdi is still very much present, just against a more humorous, light-hearted backdrop – kudos to Adam Spreadbury-Maher for striking this fine balance.  A healthy dose of Abba in the second act may have offended the sensibilities of some purists but an open mind will put paid to any such reactions – it certainly had the audience’s hips shaking and bottoms wiggling!

The roles have been double-cast; I was fortunate to catch the tragic lovers Riccardo and Amelia being portrayed by Edward Hughes and Becca Marriott respectively.  Hughes commanded the challenging score magnificently; sustaining repeated high B flats with impressive stamina and resonance.  Marriot’s athletic arias were performed with panache and intelligence, and the two had a lovely chemistry.  The casting surprise of the evening was the trouser role (Oscar) being sung by male coloratura soprano Martin Milnes.  This added great comedy and spark to the show, and if one had closed their eyes they never would have known the difference!  The greatest comic injection, however, came from Olivia Barry’s portrayal of the fortune-teller Ulrica.  She had the audience in stitches with her witty interpretation, and delivered the epic role with great control and a rich, velvety mezzo.

As ever, a theatre of this size limits the scope for orchestral accompaniment.  However, the lightning fingers of Ben Woodward more than compensated for this – he handled this tour de force of a score with great dexterity – top marks.

Ballo runs until 25 May – book tickets here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.


This is the second show I have been to at the Barbican in recent times, and again I was given the impression that it is a theatre I am missing out on.  The Barbican centre, and as a result the theatre inside, has something of that 70s architectural bleakness about it, but being in the minority in this respect gives it a certain charm as a performance venue.  One feature worth mentioning is the massive retractable stage curtain, which consists of two rather noisy pieces of plastic that slide from the top and bottom of the stage and meet in the middle, bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘final curtain’!

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel features some of the most powerful music ever written for the stage and the most well-remembered of this writing duo, including the immortal ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘If I Loved You’ and the joyful ‘June is bustin’ out all over’.  Therefore it was no surprise to note that the age demographic of the audience was somewhat older than average, however, this should not discourage younger viewers from enjoying what was a fantastic production of this timeless classic.  Opera North’s touring cast did a terrific job with the musical; their intention to present a largely un-altered version of the masterpiece (with the exception of a few injections of modern dance) was clear and committed.  I must confess that I found the whole evening rather lengthy – obviously this is a criticism to be levelled more at Messrs R&H – the fantasy plot in the second act grew rather tiresome for my tastes.  Nonetheless, the performance had some sparkling moments; Claire Boulter’s evocation of Carrie Pipperidge was adorable and appropriately motor-mouthed and excitable; Elena Ferrari’s rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was extremely moving, as was the ultimate chorus reprise of the number and; William Kenning’s and Alex Newton’s extended dance sequence in the final act was entirely entrancing.

This would be the perfect evening for a family night out or a nostalgic trip down memory lane with Rodgers and Hammerstein.  Failing either of these scenarios, you really don’t need a valid excuse to go, so book tickets here.

Continues until 15 September.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.


THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Barbecoa Butchery Demo

I was intrigued as to what this demo at the butcher’s wing of Jamie Oliver and Adam Perry Lang’s famous Barbecoa restaurant would entail.  I can assure you that it was a novel experience that I would recommend to anyone with a stomach or a taste for meat.

After a bit of a chat with the butchers (Marco, Zach and Adam) that would be leading us through the evening, we were directed to look at a humongous 170kg half carcass of a cow that was chained up in the walk-in refrigerator.  Suffice to say there was not much left of it by the end of the evening.  After a struggle with a knotted chain, the cow was lowered to eye level and the breaking down began.  The masterful butchers began with the substantial shoulder of the animal before deconstructing the entire piece; carving, boning, slicing and dicing was interspersed with helpful commentary that simultaneously offered innovative recipe ideas while dispelling preconceptions about the uselessness of certain cuts of meat.

The night also involved a wine tasting, which was professionally led by Paul Green, the head sommelier at Barbecoa restaurant.  The first wine, a 2009 Spanish red called Pacheco, had a full-bodied texture and a spicy, fruity taste.  I must say this was my favourite of the three.  The second was a 2010 Pinot Noir branded Paper Road.  It hailed from New Zealand and evoked a slightly lighter and earthier flavour.  Finally, we sampled the 2009 wine from Italy, Ca’marcanda Promis.  This was a heavier drink with a nice sweet liqourice flavour.  We were advised to enjoy this alongside a sirloin or rib-eye steak.  Interestingly, these wines are exclusive to the Butchery and are not served in the upstairs restaurant, and have been selected by the resident butchers to compliment the cuts of meat that they offer.

It was truly a delight to spend an evening with these guys who clearly love and invest a lot of time in their craft.  I left the Butchery feeling a lot more knowledgable about how to get the best out of good quality meat.  We were also furnished with some generous gift bags to go home with, and although my camera battery died just before the demo started, I can offer you some snaps of what I did with Barbecoa Butchery’s meat.

Drop by the Butchery on Watling Street by St. Pauls to inquire about one of these demos – it’s an experience you will not forget!

Visit the Barbecoa website here for more information.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.