Miss Saigon – theatre review

Miss Saigon has only earlier this year returned to the West End and has taken the box office by storm and it is already set to shut by February 2016. As the production costs and maintenance are huge and the venue is not enjoying full houses all the time it is only natural to see it go away as fast as it appeared. So before it shut, I had the pleasure of watching it on the 19th of September 2015.

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Miss Saigon is the story of a Vietnamese girl, Kim, who is working in a brothel in Saigon. She falls in love with an American soldier, Chris, they quickly get married and try to move to the USA as the troops are vacating Vietnam, but she stays behind and unbeknownst to him, she is pregnant. The musical then follows the plot to their reunion and everything that happens in the mean time, politically in Saigon, now Ho Chi Min, and to the characters’ romantic entanglements in their own countries.

Knowing the history and background of the musical, I have to give the biggest praise to the creative team! Choreography and set played with each other beautifully. One of the most phenomenal numbers The Fall of Saigon is set with a set of moveable fences that rotate and change positions as we to and fro between Kim outside the fence and Chris stuck inside. With dancers flinging themselves fearlessly at the fence to truly demonstrate the desperation and desire to escape as well as the fear of those who wanted to keep the gates shut. It was beautifully created and truly showed that not only are the cast extremely talented, but are supported by a creative dream team. From Bob Avian, musical staging, Geoffrey Garratt, additional choreography, Totie Driver, Matt Kinley and Adrian Vaux, set design; this incredible group of people enable the cast to perform in a stage that not only supports the narrative and contextualises it. they are truly able to embellish the performance and add to the brilliant production of this musical. This also shows why the production is having to shut early, as cost wise I can only imagine the rotating sets and the live helicopter must cost a fortune to uphold. Regardless, for this alone, the sheer detail, flexibility and creativity of the set, the entire production was worth watching. In my opinion, one of the best uses of space in theatre I have seen in a while in terms of stage, set and choreography design. Bravo!

Let me talk about Jon Jon Briones. Jon Jon took upon perhaps the most iconic, comedic and full character of the entire show, The Engineer. A character that does not have a name per say, but leads and drives majority of the plot by his sheer cunning and desire and belief that he will go to the USA and pursue the American dream – fantastic number by the way. He is, in my opinion, the true star of the entire cast. The small nuances that made the character and he maintained throughout the show, from small hand gestures, quick flicks of the wrist and a nasal pronunciation of only certain words.He kept the character true to his sleazy self, but always with a flair of superiority and class. Jon Jon completely captured the Engineer, his slimy, self centered egotistical ways, his way of pretending and demonstrating himself as superior but then cowering at the first sign of fear. A true talent, with an amazing set of pipes to add the mix, I am proud to say he held his own to show the performing excellence that comes from the Philippines.

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Eva Noblezada was fantastic as Kim. Kim was a character that started off for me as truly irritating. I cannot stand women that are lead entirely by men in their lives, from the Engineer, to her father, ex husband Thuy and even driven only by potentially being with Chris, the entire first act of Miss Saigon truly makes Kim for me a very difficult character to like. That being said, political context and all she was very well written and developed. In the second half, as she has grown as a mother and we are introduced to her son Tam, we begin to see that not only out of love for a man who left her, but mostly an ideal of that, it is truly the love for her son that drives her forward. This for me is incredible. There are many people, feminists, that will say she should not need this incentive to move forward, but being a mother is the one thing that truly distinguishes us from men, it is a capacity only we have and a connection that only we can have with our children. As the presence of this boy nearly brought me to tears, I was interrupted from my potential crying by my mother and sister seated either side of me sobbing and sniffling relentlessly for Tam. Noblezada, accompanied by her phenomenal, awe provoking and goosepump causing voice, took on this challenging, powerful and multi dimensional character beautifully. She embodied Kim entirely, and I had the pleasure of seeing her transform from a quiet, shy but filled with morals young innocent girl to a woman with a purpose in 2 hours. It killed me to watch Kim’s end, but it was very much where the story was leading and Noblezada showed us a fighter and warrior the entire way. Truly fantastic.

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Disappointingly, her leading man left much to desire. And I LOVE THIS! I love that this man was a failure to his first love and child, I love that this man isn’t even man enough for his current partner. I love that he is torn apart and has no clue what to do with himself, and that even in war, he was weakened by his emotions, weakened by his desire to leave and love. I think this is a TRUE character. In that this person actually lives amongst us. A man with difficulty to accept and remember the troubled past of war, and that struggles with something that was ripped out of him. I am just saddened that they cast Chris Peluso to portray the fantastically real and failed character of Chris. A nasal voice, not much in terms of delivery of character development, it is a shame that he was not left in the background as an all swinging and singing chorus member. I feel this was not the role for him because he perhaps did not understand the complexity and wonderfulness of playing a character that is so completely damaged, a MAN in theatre that is so devastatingly broken. A man who was not capable of being the hero.

I had not come across Miss Saigon in film or stage before, and although I had some idea of the type of music and setting I was so overwhelmed by how well constructed it is. It was a true delight to watch it and be able to now share with you my views. It is an outstanding piece of theatre and music and I can see why it returns to the West End regularly, in spite of how costly it is to run. A genuine tear jerker, set in the woes of war we know devastated and destroyed a lot of families, people and countries, and that today we still see remnants of it. Overall one of the most phenomenal pieces I have seen, but do not think I could go through that much emotion again on stage. Give me 5 years to recover.

Miss Saigon is set to be removed from the Prince Edward Theatre in February 2016. It would be a true shame if you did not spend 2 hours of your time going to watch this. Click here for info and ticket details.

Salmon En Croute – recipe

It has been a while since I have written about food, let alone shared a recipe with you.

I have decided that Fridays are good days to share recipes, so I am actually going to to a Food #FlashbackFriday. A few weeks ago my mother’s best friend came to visit us from Switzerland and I decided to give the family a break and sent them off on an adventure of Cambridge while I stayed at home and cooked for them. I decided to take inspiration from my partner, who made this for me the first time he ever cooked for me and it is incredibly tasty and easy to do.

I won’t share with you how I made something between an Eton Mess and a Pavlova, because it was just embarrassing, so let’s focus on the main.

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Ingredients:

  • White Bread
  • 2 or 3 egg yolks
  • Rocket
  • Soft Cheese or Philadelphia Cheese
  • Salmon – preferably skinless
  • Puff Pastry

Note: You can make your own puff pastry, but I have never tried and for ease and the fact that I had just come home from work, roll out puff pastry is always my choice.

Preparation:

Pre-heat your over at 180 to 200 degrees.

Roll out your puff pastry on a non stick surface. I usually spread flour on the surface to make sure it does not stick.
Once rolled out, place 2 or 3 slices of the white bread in the centre, without the crusts.
Spread the soft cheeses on the slices of bread, the thicker the layer of cheese the better.

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Now layer the fish on top of the bread. If your salmon still has the skin on it, make sure you remove all of it.
Once the salmon is all in place, season it, I will always add a bit of pepper and mixed herbs and little bit of salt.
Place the rocket on top of the fish.

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Slice the remainder of the puff pastry from the bread to the edge, creating rectangular and triangular segments. Slowly close these together over the fish and rocket making sure the pastry sticks together.

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Separate the egg yolks into a bowl and mix these. Brush the egg yolk all over the pastry making sure it sticks together.

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Once this is done please prepare your oven tray by either spreading butter on the tray to make sure the pastry does not stick or use a sheet of grease proof paper. I used paper but I still spread butter on it, so this way I am protecting both the pan and the food.

This will go in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes.

Serving:

I like to serve this with new potatoes, either roasted or boiled, and some vegetables, this time I used broccoli. I also think it tastes incredible with a Hollandaise sauce. I cannot make Hollandaise sauce, still haven’t quite mastered it but will keep trying. In the meantime I used jar stuff but it is very good and goes perfectly with the fish.

Let me know if you try this recipe and show me how yours looks!

Enjoy it.

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Straight outta Compton – film review

It has taken me a while to digest Straight Outta Compton. As a hip hop fan, I have never quite indulged in the political background of what was happening at the time until I was a teenager undergoing other issues that kept arising. It was a few years after, as a 3rd year student at University, that I delved into what happened and how it is a truly important and influential time in modern history.
Sat in a classroom surrounded by my fellow pupils from African descent, I realised that all of us sat in this room represented ethnic minorities. Which in actual fact is crap, because I am sure majority of the world is mixed race and actually probably Asian like me; but that is besides the point. The point is this music and culture sings to us because it represents a constant fight and struggle only us groups considered minorities can relate to. Studying ‘Theatre in an age of Hip Hop’ taught by a very white and very Jewish American professor was for me the epitome of this idea of connectivity between all races and people that have a background of struggle.
Straight Outta Compton, however focusing in a particular group, is brilliant as a biopic of what happened to this particular rap group at the time.

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Some of the highlights of Straight Outta Compton for me were not actually directly related to the main cast. I think that the simplest choice to have white people featured in the concert audiences was extremely poignant. It showed that the discrimination between races came from older generations and was slowly disappearing.
Another highlight for me, was the scene where the group exits the studio and is harassed by the police and told to stand down regardless of them not doing anything. It was a black police officer that participated. This is extremely interesting! The power struggle here being between two of the same race. However, not once was it mentioned that the police was black nor that they were from the same race. This is very interesting as a choice, it demonstrates that actually the class system was still very much an influence at this time. To me, this shows that black educated people were considered superior, or rather were considered worthy of normal human interaction.
Placing fear on a whole demographic of people, from harassing them simply for crossing a street from one house to their own home is a truly frightening thought, one that we cannot fully concoct in our day and age. Watching it on screen, facing the fact that this happened throughout the ages in history, whether it be black people, native americans, jews, it seems a cyclical behaviour of groups that fear change or acceptance. Groups that feel they are superior by some higher power, but actually, people that are just completely ignorant.
Without wanting to get incredibly political, which I am afraid I may have already done, I am aware that Straight outta Compton selected extracts of a fuller past and history of this musical group and issues of the time. Like all movies, 180 minutes is not quite enough to show the entire story. We do not see acts of aggression from the entire group, Dr Dre being portrayed as the saint of the group, when in actual fact he was quite the opposite. However, I have to say that the choices made by writers and directors, of what to focus on were in my opinion entirely correct. The media have already informed us enough about the band’s ancient scandals and antics, we can google it all. What we truly wanted to see as a film audience, was given to us! A portrayal of the difficulties this band faced in their given political climate, and how their perseverance made them one of the most successful bands and stemmed a series of hugely influential individuals into the music and hollywood industry.

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Let me sing praise to all the actors that took upon themselves the challenging task of playing influential and leading figures in hip hop industry. I am sure that in years to come Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Eazy E are going to be studied and remembered for their acts and willingness to speak of the ill treatment of the black race and even Latin Americans by authorities. Authorities who convinced themselves that for no apparent reason these people had to be culprits and simply misconstrued a small percentage of trouble makers for the whole race. They labelled entire ethnic groups forgetting that a very high percentage of criminals are white.
O’Shea Jackson Jr stepped into, or up to, his father’s shoes and legacy and it is clear that he has observed and learnt from the man himself. He hones his acting skills and craft here perfectly depicting the legend that is and paying him his respects. Aside from the striking resemblance he is simply a talented young man who could not have been better selected for the role.
Jason Mitchell has walked the paths of legends, from his humble beginnings to Eazy E his performance has been praised and critically acclaimed for such an accurate depiction of the legendary hip hop persona.
Corey Hawkins was by far my favourite actor. Given only a small look at the complex and extensive character and person that is Dr Dre, the Juilliard graduate demonstrated his skills and talents by painting the fullest picture of Dr Dre he could given only very specific aspects of his life.
The entire cast was incredible and I feel that they were all perfectly selected for the roles.

Straight outta Compton is a cultural phenomenon of a biopic. With hip hop being hugely studied and debates still ongoing regarding a lot of situations at the time of the band’s beginnings and rise, it is appropriately selected as an opportunity to provide cultural, historic and political context. I feel the story itself is not about the characters in question, as it therefore should have delved into the individuals further, but it is infact about the negativity and struggles they faced. I feel it was an opportunity to understand a lot of anger and frustration that came from some of the members of Straight outta Compton due to the legal matters in the music industry, which were still influenced and dictated by their race.
A must see for all film fanatics, but mostly for hip hop lovers and those who have an interest in racial politics and history. It provides a true insight, however narrow and single tracked, into the band’s start and rise to fame, but mostly offers a chance to learn about the difficulties of living as a hip hop artist and black person at the time.

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