Tag: london

2017: The Year In Review

It’s New Year’s Day already and that means it’s time to do our annual Year In Review. At this time last year I had almost completely freed myself from a terrible, punishing job at the World’s Worst Company – I was almost at the end of my contract, slogging through the last of a huge pile of paperwork and looking forward to being formally released mid-January. I was in love with a Person who I wasn’t supposed to be in love with during the second half of 2015 and much of 2016 but by the time 2017 materialised it seemed to be really over, at last, and I formed a new and more worthwhile relationship with my Playstation that I had for Christmas.

By the end of 2017 I had visited 5 countries and set up home with someone new, in my first serious relationship since this blog began.

January

January arrived, as it is wont to do. I handed back my keys at the World’s Worst Company, left the building and returned to full-time self-employment. This was definitely the high point of the month. I was in terrible physical shape due to being overworked for a long time but I was optimistic for the year ahead. I joined a local community choir, to give my lungs some exercise and to provide an opportunity to keep dressing up in outrageous, huge-skirted, 1950s frocks, a habit I formed during the last few months of going to work. Check out this little number, it has dinosaurs, which turned out to be rather a theme for January.

dinosaurs

I played Far Cry: Primal on my Playstation and it was the TLYW Game of the Month.

Far Cry® Primal_20170118035629
Far Cry® Primal_20170118035629

I celebrated my new-found freedom going out around London. I saw some art: I went to the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern.

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I went to the British Museum to look at some African masks

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and to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.

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I went to the gym, which was a new thing. I despaired about the state of my teeth, which is never a new thing.

February

I got seriously into live music in February and started going to concerts and operas around London. The first event was a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra of Haydn’s Creation at Royal Festival Hall. Then I returned to Royal Festival Hall for a performance of music by Philip Glass. After that, I went to the comic opera The Pirates of Penzance and then to Rigoletto, both sung by the English National Opera.

I went to the British Museum again, to look at John Dee’s crystal ball. Dee was a 16th-century mystic who advised Elizabeth I. Then I went a third time, to see the South Africa exhibition, which was amazing. I felt relatively well-informed about South Africa, having visited in 2016 and learned as much as possible about its history while I was there.

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I went to an exhibition of board games at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, London, which is an extension of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

I ate heartily, at South Bank Food Market and Comptoir Libanais.

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In February I conceived the idea of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming, an organised programme of console gaming, in which I lined up a total of 14 console games to be played at a rate of one a month. This programme continued well for the first three quarters of the year. Game of the Month for February was ARK: Survival Evolved, which was awesome and turned out to be my favourite game of 2017. I will definitely return to it. I will do a separate post about my 2018 plans for gaming.

ARK: Survival Evolved_20170227004731
ARK: Survival Evolved_20170227004731

I went to the gym and caught two colds, which was so predictable. At least I was trying.

March

I continued to be excited about music and went to hear the Philharmonia Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s Firebird. The below clip shows Stravinsky conducting the last three scenes of The Firebird himself, it was recorded in 1960.

The story of The Firebird comes from Slavic folklore, a theme which held my attention for the rest of the month while I was reading The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

I fulfilled a lifetime ambition by seeing the wonderful Marc Almond perform live in Camden.

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I went to the Royal Academy to see an exhibition called America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s, which featured Edward Hopper and Grant Wood.

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Then I returned to the RA to see an exhibition of Russian art (mainly paintings and ceramics, some films) from the period 1917-1932, that is, immediately following the Russian Revolution.

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Dress of the month was this turquoise Ophelia by LindyBop.

ophelia turquoise

Game of the Month of was God of War III: Remastered.

God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550
God of War® III Remastered_20170327221550

April

My interested in classical music continued in April and I went to Royal Festival Hall yet again to hear Mahler 5. I’d been in hospital with cellulitis, having had a run of bad health for about three months, and they let me out just in time to go to the concert.

mahler 5

I also went to the Royal Opera House to see a performance of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. The production took my breath away with its scale and beauty and I cried at the end. 10/10, would go again.

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Then my interest turned from opera to ballet and I went to see George Ballanchine’s 20th-century ballet Jewels, performed by the Royal Ballet. It was glittering, as one might expect.

Game of the Month was Witcher III: Wild Hunt.

White Orchard
White Orchard

May

A fabulous month. There was more opera and ballet. I went on holiday to Spain and France. I fell in love twice, latterly with Harry, who was about to change my life by becoming my first serious partner in several years and moving in with me before the year was over.

Opera of the month was Mozart’s Magic Flute. I enjoyed it so much, I saw it twice. It was performed by the Charles Court company in the back of a pub in London’s Islington. The second time, I was with Harry and it was our second date.

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Ballet of the month was Casanova, a new ballet by Kenneth Tindall, performed by the Northern Ballet Company.

casanova

I went on holiday to Spain, where there was a resort and a beach, then I went to Paris, where there was wine.

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Game of the Month was Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. It was glorious and I particularly enjoyed sailing ships and fighting at sea.

Assassin's Creed® IV Black Flag_20170528183133
Assassin’s Creed® IV Black Flag_20170528183133

June

There were terrorist attacks in London and Londoners were annoyed. I went to the historic Black Friar pub in London, which was built in 1875 and has stained glass windows.

I went on another date with Harry, this time to see Wayne Thiebaud at White Cube.

thiebaud 6

Then we had still another date and went to London’s Kew Gardens. The summer weather was beautiful, we had weeks of sunshine, not to be underestimated in the UK.

kew tree house

Dress of the month: Nadia, by LindyBop, in a nice guitar print.

nadia guitar

I cleaned my house magnificently because of being in love. I had new, matching tableware from Portmeirion, the first of two sets this year.

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Game of the Month was Red Dead Redemption.

rdr camp

July

July saw two things happen: Harry started cooking at my house, revealing fantastic cooking skills, and I went on a health kick. I purchased a Nutribullet, made smoothies twice a day and started doing a lot of exercise. I felt v healthy and only stopped with the hours of punishing cardio because my hair was falling out (I am not good at doing things in moderation).

 

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There were some nice walks on Hampstead Heath.

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We had an interesting meal at the Carousel restaurant at Tate Modern, including green matcha cake.

The restaurant has this view across the Thames. That’s St Paul’s Cathedral on the other side.

view across thames from tate

While we were at Tate, we also went to see Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (and finally blogged about it in September).

soul of a nation

emory 2

George Romero died and I wept.

bub

Game of the Month was Battlefield 1.

Battlefield™ 1_20170729223245
Battlefield™ 1_20170729223245

August

My business life heated up. I had to blog far less and do less video gaming but I travelled more. In August I went to Rotterdam, Den Bosch and had my 51st birthday in Amsterdam. This is the point where I suddenly had a lot of photos and no time to post them, so you are still waiting for pictures of all these destinations. Here are some teasers.

Rotterdam.

Cube-houses-Rotterdam-architecture

Den Bosch.

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Amsterdam.

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Harry and I managed to squeeze in a date at London’s Camden Lock.

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Game of the Month was Batman: Arkham Asylum.

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September

Work was in full swing. By this point I was right in the middle of the busiest four months of 2017. There were no more fun dates around London or outdoor exercise sessions. I just worked and focused on meeting deadlines. I don’t even have any photos from that whole month.

Harry was supportive while I got all my work done.

Game of the Month was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, arguably the greatest of the GTA series.

gtasa 9

This turned out to be the last month of the TLYW Year of Console Gaming that I could fit into my diary. We are reviving the programme this January.

October

We celebrated the blog’s 7th birthday.

I went to Rotterdam again. Here are a couple more teaser photos. I’ll do detailed travel photo posts in due course.

Delft.

delft canal

I then went to India. Managed to get this quite nice snap out of the window on the plane.

plane clouds india

Spent a few days in Bangalore.

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Managed to carve out a very small amount of time to see some art, of which more later.

November

Finished working in India, went straight to Orange County in California.

Really nice weather, was like a British summer.

Back in London, Harry and I went shopping at The Japan Centre to celebrate his birthday.

December

Continued to work at a breakneck pace during the first half the month, then gradually began to slow down long enough to do a few Xmas things.

xmas market leics square

Harry and I went to see The Nutcracker performed by the English National Ballet.

nutcracker

Then, quite suddenly and very near the end of December, I finished work for real, cleaned my house, visited some relatives and settled in for a slightly delayed Christmas Day in London with Harry.

xmas cocktail 2017

And that was 2017. I wish everybody a very happy and prosperous year to come. I wanted to say that before hitting publish last night but someone was very keen for me to get off my PC and come to bed. Anyway, happy new year.

Winter Wonderland, London

Winter Wonderland is an annual Christmas fair that takes place in London’s Hyde Park. It’s quite a big event. I had never been before and then this year I went twice! It was great and I recommend it. You could go for a date, a family outing with the kids or with colleagues after work. It’s open during the day and in the evening, from 10am until 10pm, now and until 1 January, so you still have time to go.

Attractions include The Magical Ice Kingdom, which has a deep sea theme and includes lots of ice sculptures. I particularly enjoyed the one which I think is supposed to be a jellyfish, yet resembles something else. See if you can spot it.

There’s also the Ice Bar, sponsored by Smirnoff. It sells cocktails and shots and has a vaguely Greek theme. They give everyone a cape and mittens to wear because they keep the temperature of the bar below zero to stop the ice from melting.

There is a ferris wheel! I have videos.

There’s a merry-go-round.

A roller coaster, in fact there are several. I went on this one and screamed my head off.

roller coaster

There are fairground-style games. I didn’t manage to win a penguin.

penguins

There are lots of stalls selling Christmas decorations and giftware such as these lanterns.

There’s a restaurant that sells beer and sausages and has a Bavarian band. Nobody was taking any notice of the musicians and I was the only person who clapped. The musicians seemed surprised. I LOLd.

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A revolving Xmas tree ride.

Exteriors.

And that’s all today’s Xmas news.

Starry Skies, Chapter 9: Slices of Pie

I had to tell Chockney that we are done with each other. I was trying my best but it could have taken years for him to break through the iron fortress that appeared around me whenever I was in proximity with him and he started talking about commitment. I was going to let him come over and do some building work at my flat but then I had a magical third date with Harry which made me want to save my free time for him, so that meant Chockney had to be dismissed. I tried to be nice about it. I let him go.

Harry. We looked at paintings, then we had lunch, then we sat on a sofa in the book shop and looked at books about paintings. I could say a lot of things about how I felt and what I thought. Let me try instead to recall what he was saying and doing.

  • We were sleepy after lunch and when I tired of looking at books, he put his arm around me so I could rest my head on his chest.
  • If I offer him my hand, he holds it and strokes it.
  • He put his hand on my waist when we were kissing. He’s not aggressive at all. He’s very delicate and he moves slowly.
  • He made some reference to Our First Date, like it was a thing, which it was. He said happily of our three dates so far (dinner, opera, paintings) that they were all really nice days. I’m glad he’s enjoying himself, I certainly am. I would look at paintings anyway but it is so nice when you have a young companion who kisses you and says intelligent things.
  • He said that I am the first person who has had anything positive to say about his work. Everyone else he has tried to date disapproves. But it is his job. It’s a lot easier sustaining or even starting a dating relationship when the other person isn’t dead set against your job. In subsequent text messages, he was quite chatty on the subject.
  • I invited him over to my place, he is coming on Sunday. He said ‘afternoon or evening?’ and I said ‘afternoon, but don’t book anything for the evening, we’ll go out and have dinner locally’. This reply made him look happy.

When I see him, it will be our fourth date. And that’s why Chockney had to go.

We went to see Wayne Thiebaud at White Cube in Piccadilly. I absolutely love WT, he is one of my favourite artists. American post-war painting of cakes, slices of pie, sweets, lollipops, ice creams, bubble gum machines. Brush strokes are thick. Shadows are heavy and long. Lollipops lie slain. Donuts are kept in isolation. Quite often, pairs of things appear but are not allowed to have any contact. It criticises mass-produced, synthetic, post-war, commercial food at the same time as participating in it. The items are both grotesque and strangely delicious looking. I think so, anyway. I would eat most of the things painted by Wayne Thiebaud. Harry didn’t agree on this point and I expect that’s why he’s thinner than I am. The White Cube exhibition is on until 2 July. If you can’t make it to the exhibition, I might point out that there are numerous lovely books about Thiebaud here and you should probably have one for your art library.

Starry Skies, Chapter 5: Alain

Let us begin with Maxime. He seemed to be holding out a romantic fantasy of a spontaneous marriage. I suspected that I am far more reckless and up for romantic adventure than he is, so I thought it would be fun to start testing. I started picking out wedding packages in the Bahamas (I so want one of those), sent him links to long, dreary pre-marital counselling courses in London and asked him if he’d told his parents he was engaged. Ha ha, it was great. He tried to keep up but became uncomfortable. He said his parents wouldn’t care who he married (I think this unlikely) but he’d sent a message to his best friend to announce that he had found The One. I was just on the point of suggesting that we go ring shopping and consider waiting to have sex until after the wedding, when he cracked under the pressure and started getting to the point, which was that he did want sex after all and in fact had a shopping list of racy activities that he regarded as achievements and wanted to accomplish, this being the actual point of his messages to me. I knew it. I knew it all along. I mocked him and he stopped texting me. Job done. A pity, he was really good looking.

And now, a few more photos of Paris, and we will come to news of Alain in due course.

Paris was great. I was only there for three nights but several exciting things happened. I did some excellent business in Paris, finished one work project and secured a new contract for another. I took up drinking. I no longer drink, in my everyday life in London. I am more sensitive to alcohol than I used to be and only a small amount can give me an appalling hangover. To my surprise, I find that this doesn’t apply in other countries. I don’t know why. I can go to France or Chile or somewhere and sit in the blazing sun in the middle of the day, drink half a bottle of wine with lunch and think nothing of it. It was great. While in Paris, I drank a lot of Bordeaux. When I wasn’t eating out, I lived on Camembert, white peaches and strawberries. I did very little sight-seeing. I spent a lot of time in this utterly charming little room that I rented and this was because, unlike Chile, you can’t make love in the park. You have to stay indoors for that.

french window

You will notice that so far, in the epic romance known as Starry Skies, I have had absolutely no sex. There was one kiss at the tube station after I had dinner with Harry and that was it. It was time to remedy that. I received a visit from Alain, in fact he came every day, for three days.

Alain fell in love with me in London in 2015 and we had not seen each other since then. We kept in touch in between for business reasons and because I cannot fail to be interested in a man who is in love with me. I told him I was coming to Paris. He said he would like to have dinner with me. Plans evolved from there. Eventually the result was that he appeared in my tiny French room, in the evening. We sat at the table, in front of that window, and talked about business and generally caught up. Then we stood up, to go out for some reason, probably to get coffee or wine. We stood facing each other. He’s young. He’s slim. He’s wearing his bag over his shoulder, ready to go out. He’s staring at me very intently and we are exactly the same height, so we are eye to eye. Time stops. Both of us lean in, about one millimetre each. Then we kiss. Then, without saying anything, we take off our clothes and lie down on the bed, where we spend much of the next couple of days.

We came to know each other very well over that weekend. He just wanted to make love, it was really that simple. People in London are a bit obsessed with sex. Like Maxime, they often have a list of achievements that they are trying to fulfil, or they’re tamely experimenting with some kind of kink, or they’re building up the world’s largest collection of sex toys. Alain could not have been more removed from this culture. It was not his opinion that sex with someone who you’ve loved for two years needs to be equivalent to sport. He just wanted to make love, in a completely straightforward, unspoiled way that focuses on engaging with your partner and not on some irrelevant checklist with accompanying hardware. It was amazing, he did me a lot of good, I felt like I’d been to a spa. It was very cleansing and refreshing. We did a lot of gazing into each other’s eyes, kissing, saying each other’s names, giving massages. I felt renewed.

Not surprisingly, after three days of that, we’d formed quite a bond and saying goodbye was  hard. I cried and we spoke a mixture of English and French (I know more French than I think I do, when the occasion demands). He said “I will remember this weekend for the rest of my life.” Then he went back to his life in France, as we planned, and I had one morning left in Paris and then I needed to go back to London to see Harry and get on with some work.

After I arrived home in London, Alain emailed me to say thank you. He said he’d found a new confidence because of being with me. I was touched.

Starry Skies, Chapter 4: Maxime

Maxime is a mature man of 30. He is one of London’s 20,000 French ex-pats. He looks very French and is really unusually handsome. I did not burst into tears or feel as though I were going blind but there was certainly a sharp intake of breath. His message to me said this:

Dear Madame, I have read your whole profile and I feel as though I will never recover. You are The One. I am totally and completely in love with you. Please have pity on me. You have torn my heart from my chest.

I was rather taken aback, as you might imagine, but of course I replied, because who’s not going to reply to a message like that, especially when it comes from someone with the face of a romantic hero who is in London and not in Russia. We moved the conversation to Whatsapp, as one does, and I logged out of the dating app. I assumed he just wanted sex, which would not be very difficult to get, with his unusually handsome appearance, especially in a city like London, with a population of 8 million people. As such, the conversation might predictably have focused on simple, practical matters such as getting me to come out to meet him. Instead, there was a long conversation, lasting all evening and again the next morning, in which he continued in a similar vein and said things like this:

I love you already.

Please, don’t text anyone. Say you will be only for me.

I’m totally in love with you. I’m really serious.

I can’t look at any other woman now I’ve seen you. Please come and be with me.

I hardly knew what to say. He wasn’t asking for sex. I wasn’t even in London – as most of this was unfolding, I was in Spain. I avoided saying anything that directly referred to this imaginary relationship between us, because what could I say, so I made general remarks about love. I thought he would become bored and quit. I was wrong. At the end of Day 3, he proposed.

Marry me. Be my wife. I cannot live without you and I cannot love you any more than I do.

‘Why do you love me?’ I asked. ‘Because I was born to love you’, he confidently replied. ‘When I saw your face and read all your beautiful words, it was like being struck by lightning, I was shocked. I knew that you were the one I was made for. You are tender. You are passionate. You are beautiful. You think like me. You talk like me. You were made to love and be loved. I am here now. Let me love you. I am your husband.’

He would not give up. He insisted that he was serious. He proposed again and again. He begged me to come home to London. I let him think that I continued to stay in Spain. In fact, sceptical of his extravagant claims and in no mood to be diverted from a path I had already set for myself, I returned to London for a matter of 48 hours, just long enough to take care of some business and pack my suitcase afresh, and then I went to Paris, where another French man was awaiting me, whom we shall call Alain, after Alain Delon.

Starry Skies, Chapter 3: Dinner With Harry

While all this was going on, I continued to exchange messages with Harry, who little realised that while I was conscientiously and respectfully staying out of his room, I was attending church in the room of his Russian competitor and business rival, and being educated in the life and psychology of the camwhore. Consequently, I was not very surprised when he expressed an interest in having dinner with me, with a view to dating each other, yet found himself too terrified to talk to me beforehand by picking up the phone. 

Despite my new knowledge, it nonetheless struck me as slightly remarkable when he confessed, a couple of hours before our date, that he was very afraid to see me in case there was a repulsive and horrifying discrepancy between his ‘carefully curated photos’, as he put it, and his real, three-dimensional self. I was kind and gentle. I explained to him that I was talking to him despite his good looks and not because of them. I explained that he was holding my attention because of his obvious intelligence, academic ability, courtesy and self-effacing manner. He was very touched by this and said “thank you for your kind words”. I did not mention that the reason I was not attaching a lot of value to his physical appearance was because I had been blinded by his Russian counterpart, and everything that was not this holy Russian saint was cut from the same, everyday cloth.

Thus reassured, the shy, retiring little British porn star came out to meet me at a very nice Swiss restaurant in Soho. I was already seated when he arrived, five minutes late and full of apologies. He was a polite, sensitive little sweetheart, just as he was in his text messages. I quickly complimented him on his appearance, told him “you are much more attractive in real life than in your photos”, which was true, and he visibly heaved a sigh of relief. This, from a boy who has been taking his clothes off, for hundreds of gay men, almost daily, for two or three years.

We ate dinner and talked. We talked about my work and about his, using coded language so as not to upset the other diners. He was clever, sweet, funny, engaging. At one point he broke eye contact and turned his face away, looking at the ground. “You saw my photos”, he said, small pink roses of shame blooming in his cheeks. I did see his photos, because he gave me the link to his Tumblr, and what’s more, I Google Image searched him. Doing this caused me to see certain things that I wish I could unsee, because no nice, precious, valuable young boy or girl should be on the internet doing the things I saw in those pictures. His poor mother would have died. I don’t think he can have Google Image searched himself, otherwise those pink roses of shame would have been scarlet.

Anyway, despite all this anxiety and blushing, he managed to have a lovely time in my company, as one would hope. He very much enjoyed himself and we struck up quite a rapport. By the end of the evening he was almost jubilant and we had made plans to go to the opera and even go on holiday together in due course. We kissed at the tube station – as a 24-year-old sex worker who sells himself to his most loyal fans in a range of ways that I am not going to ask about, he proved quite capable of being kissed – and it seemed that a Dating Relationship had been formed. And so it came to pass that I found myself on my favourite dating app, suspending my account. In that small window of time, in a space of perhaps two minutes, between coming online and disappearing from public view, I received a message. A message from a French man who was about to say shocking things to me, henceforth known as Maxime.

**To Be Continued**

The Magic Flute

OMG. That was possibly the best thing I have EVER seen.

OK, so I am an opera aficionado now. I have been to many official, impressive and very expensive venues such as the English National Opera and the Royal Opera House to see world-class performances. Everything has been magnificent. The singing, the orchestras, the set design, everything. It’s all been the very pinnacle of refined culture.

Today, I went to see Mozart’s Magic Flute, an opera I knew nothing about. I went to see it at the King’s Head Theatre, a theatre that I had never heard of.

OMG. It was AWESOME. I was BLOWN AWAY.

First, the theatre. When they say ‘theatre’, what they mean is ‘back room of a pub in Islington’.

Pub exterior. A typical London pub.

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Inside the pub.

kings head interior

Where’s the theatre? Oh, it must be back here.

kings head entrance

It is a miniature theatre! It is amazing! It seats maybe 120 people, at full capacity. It is a real theatre, it has proper lighting and everything, but is tiny. 120 people might sound like quite a few, but let’s take into account that the Royal Opera House seats 2,500 people and that means you are going to pay £200 to sit approximately 8 miles away from the stage. At the King’s Head Theatre, you pay £30 and you have actual Mozart performed by people who are less than three feet away. It was absolutely unbelievable. It was like having a private performance. The Magic Flute was performed in the round, which is to say, in the middle of the room, with the audience no more than four rows deep around the perimeter. Here’s a cheeky photo that I took during the interval so you can see the tiny scale of the place. I’m sitting at one end of the room, facing the scenery on the back wall, and then there are more seats and audience members to the left and right. As you can see, one is basically on the stage with the performers.

magic flute stage

The Magic Flute is a fantastical tale set in “a distant land”, according to Wikipedia. The highly imaginative Charles Court Opera production that I saw today transplanted the action to a South American jungle. Mozart wrote it for a full orchestra, with the original libretto in German; today’s slightly abridged production was sung in English with the accompaniment of a single piano. Mozart intended it to be a comic opera – if you’ve ever seen any opera you’ll know that the comedy element can be a little bit elusive. There were no such problems here. The Charles Court version of The Magic Flute that I saw today was hysterical. I absolutely laughed my head off. It has hand puppets! It has singing birds and snakes! It has the most glorious, over the top costumes! It has hammy acting and joyfully camp dancing! It was by far the most fun of any opera that I’ve ever seen and indeed the best time I’ve ever had at the theatre in my adult life. I split my sides laughing. I clapped my hands over my mouth because I couldn’t bear the moments of suspense. It was a riot. I didn’t know opera could be like that.

If you are within reach of London, you really must go, I cannot say enough good things about it. I have already raved about it to a bunch of people and persuaded them to buy tickets immediately.

Links.

Charles Court Opera: The Magic Flute

A review of this same, fabulous production when it first appeared in 2016.

Go here to buy tickets: Kings Head Theatre

The show is on until 3 June.

Here is a larger, more traditional and serious production that was at the Royal Opera House in London in 2003, with a full orchestra and everything. I will go and see this type of version of The Magic Flute at some time, but nothing will ever take away from my first experience of that intimate production in that tiny little place. It was magical. Mozart would have approved.