Victoria's Knickers, Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London W1.

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I love when the National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s West End season comes around. This year their shows are on at the Soho Theatre throughout November. Victoria’s Knickers is the second production of the season. Consensual began a week ago and you can still catch a performance of that if you are quick, I saw it last week and you can read what I thought of it here: Consensual.

One of the things I really enjoy about the National Youth Theatre shows is that you often have absolutely no idea what kind of thing you are going to see until the curtain goes up. This particular show is a historical romp set in the early nineteenth century delivered in modern language with musical interludes and current world references. It is, very loosely, based on a real historical incident when a teenage boy repeatedly broke into Buckingham Palace. He was feted by the papers at the time, he was interviewed by Charles Dickens and it was even reported that on one occasion he was caught with a pair of Victoria’s Knickers.

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The story is delivered in a musical madcap romcom style, with a touch of 18th century political drama. The genre of the play changes from minute to minute and the musical styles vary from hip-hop, through Disney to Ed Sheeran and Adele. The plot line is full of holes, the story is ridiculous, the set is practically non-existent and it all adds up to a fantastic evenings entertainment, that the audience loved.

This show could not work without brilliant writing and direction. Josh Azouz on this showing is a very talented writer with a sharp eye for inventive situational comedy.  There are some great individual one line jokes in the script too. When Victoria tells Ed that she loves Albert, he replies conversationally “Of course you do, he’s your cousin”. Director, Ned Bennett does a brilliant job in drawing attention to the preposterous, and finding the humour in the clashes of cultures between all the different genres of theatre on show in this production. The set consists of unadorned MDF at the back, what looks like brown paper at the sides, and dozens of old random cardboard boxes that arrive on stage for most of the second half of the play.

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Alice Vilanculo is amazing as the soon to be Queen Victoria with a very 21st century sensibility, she makes you care for her situation while still having you laugh at it. Jamie Ankrah is excellent as Ed, 19th Century pauper, dreamer…. teenage lover. Aiden Chang has a fantastic role as Sasha, a soldier/torturer disguised as a lady of the court, he attacks the part with gusto and steals almost every scene in which he appears. Oseloka Obi is great as the rapping prince Albert, the acting throughout the company is brilliant and the show is littered with great cameos.

Victoria’s Knickers is difficult to describe and there are so many levels on which it should not work. However it is funny, inventive, musically clever and likeable. This is another success for the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain and for a writer and actors with big careers ahead of them.

Hershey Felder, Our Great Tchaikovsky, The Other Palace, Victoria, London

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Hershey Felder has spent the last two decades recreating, on stage, the lives of great composers, while playing their music to highlight salient moments from those lives. Tchaikovsky is the sixth in this series. The genre is part biography, part piano recital.

The stage is set to resemble a room in his dacha in Klin, with rugs, cabinets and a baby grand piano. There is a large portrait over a writing table, whose likeness changes to whoever he is speaking about. The backdrop to the set also has illustrations which change to reflect different periods of his life.

Felder begins the show by coming on to the stage with a letter he has received from the Russian Government inviting him to bring his story of the life their greatest composer to be performed in his home country. He asks the audience whether he should do this.  This is a rhetorical question, as the difference between his account of Tchaikovsky’s life and the official Russian version is vast, and it seems unlikely that Hershey Felder’s telling of events would prove popular there.

Tchaikovsky’s story is told by picking out individual snippets of his life, mostly in chronological order, and combining them with music that he was writing or performing at the time. The effect is like an entertaining lesson combined with a piano recitation by an inventive and musically talented professor; imagine one of the best university lectures that you have attended and you won’t be far wrong.

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Hershey Felder has chosen which events to recreate, so we are given the narrative from his point of view, and he makes us aware that others may look upon his life differently. For me, who liked Tchaikovsky’s music, but who knew hardly anything about his life, it was a perfect combination. I was given an insight into the man while listening to an accomplished pianist playing his greatest hits.review

Browns, Cardinal Walk, London Victoria

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Victoria Station and its surroundings have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. It is now full of pedestrian areas and buildings made of glass and steel. Cardinal walk is probably one of the oldest of these but still fits nicely into this environment. The décor and the ambience of Browns matches this well too, it is set over two floors, all glass. The restaurant is on the first floor so if you get a table by the window you can watch the world go by as you eat.

Their Pinot Grigio is good, although at over £8 for a large glass, it needs to be. They have a reasonable selection of beers and the cocktail list looks impressive although we did not try any. The service was good, our waiter was friendly and helpful, but he wasn’t really that busy, so maybe he should have picked up on our indifferent response when he enquired how the food was.

The thing that let them down was the food. The fish pie was ok, but I expect better than that when I pay over £15 for it. The only way to tell the difference between the different fish was texture, the overall effect was bland and the potato topping was runny. The steak sandwich was also all right, no butter on the bread – just mayo, but the chips were only slightly hotter than luke warm and they didn’t have any English mustard. The side order of onion rings contained four rings!

I wanted to like this place because I have enjoyed other restaurants in this chain in the past. With such a large choice of places to eat around Victoria now, average food will not get repeat business.

The Other Palace, Victoria, London, SW1

The Other Palace started life as St James Theatre in 2012 when it was the first newly built theatre in Central London for over 30 years. It was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s, Really Useful Group, last year and has been rebranded and it intended as a place to develop new musicals.

The opening season looks very promising.  The first show was  “The Wild Party” which was an auspicious start . This was my review of it. The Wild Party, The Other Palace, Victoria, London.  Later in the year The National Youth Music Theatre will be bringing “Sunday in the Park with George”. A musical based on Fellini’s “La Strada” should be interesting too.
The complex itself, is a space containing two theatres, a restaurant upstairs and a ground floor bar. The building is glass fronted on the ground and first floor making the entrance, bar and restaurant feel bright and airy. The main theatre is relatively small, with around 300 capacity, nicely laid out, with every seat giving a good view of the stage. The studio is quite intimate, capacity around 100, it was laid out as a cabaret bar, but seating arrangements could be flexible. The cabaret tables and chairs worked perfectly for the show on at the time.
The upstairs restaurant, is modern and light. The setting is lovely. I have not eaten there since it has been rebranded as The Other Naughty Piglet but I have heard good things about, Naughty Piglets, their other restaurant, in Brixton.
The bar is set slightly lower than ground level, it catches the light well and it is a comfortable place to chat. It’s not huge, though, and does get crowded during the interval, this is a bar where it is definitely worth pre-ordering your interval drinks. The house white and house rose were both dry and good quality.
The Really Useful group have made a shrewd buy in this handily located theatre. It is  very close to Victoria Station and right across the road from Buckingham Palace.
I love the idea of it being a place to refine new work and I wish them every success in their endeavour.

Shake Shack, Victoria Nova, Victoria, London

 
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This is a shiny, brand new, glass fronted burger and hot dog restaurant on the corner in Victoria Nova. The building is beautiful and given the location, there will be a lot of passing trade. It is licensed, so it sells beer and wine, although I did not order any with my burger, and to be honest I did not see any alcohol on any of the tables that were occupied.
The burgers are marketed at the top of the price range, advertised as being 100% Aberdeen Angus beef, source verified and traceable. I don’t doubt that this is true. I had a single smoke shack, which comes with bacon, cheese and cherry peppers.
It was good without being exceptional, the cherry peppers were a nice addition, but the meat  was a little bit greasy for my taste. The chips were an extra £3 and were poor value. There wasn’t enough of them, and they were crinkle cut, semi-crispy and hollow. They were also cold when they arrived, although when I complained they changed them without query. The shake was nice and thick, but very sweet, perhaps they are more aimed at children than adults.
Given all the new high-end burger joints opening in London, the competition must be fierce and this did not strike me as one of the best. Sorry to say, I think “5 Guys” does it better.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

This is a big varied garden just across the road from the river. It has grassy knolls overlooking lotus filled lakes, tree filled areas and nice views over the city.
It is beautifully maintained and it is possible to take a gondola ride around the lake. (They don’t sing opera, though!)
  
  
  
Make sure you walk up the hill to Guilfoyle’s Volcano, which has a fantastic collection of succulents and cacti around it. A nice day out from city sight-seeing.