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THE BEST ITALIAN WINES FOR 2018

The swish Meridien hotel in London’s Piccadilly saw the launch of Signore Daniele Cernilli’s 2018 “ultimate” guide to Italian wine and wineries. What makes this wonderful compendium different? It is not – in the words of Signore Cernelli himself, (aka Doctor Wine) “encyclopedic” – rather it is “essential” in that a “rigorous selection process” has been in place. I would describe it as panoramic since it is “essentially” meticulously country wide and of course includes wines from Sicily and Sardinia. In all, the guide evaluates over 1,000 wineries and over 3,000 labels; over 500 of these fall inside the 15 euros bracket – there are of course expensive wines too! The wineries and their terroirs are described in some detail and the wines themselves conveniently graded along the lines of
A Inexpensive
B Reasonable
C Expensive
D Luxury
E Priceless
The good wine doctor’s guide has become essential pre-prandial reading.

The tasting in the Meridien Hotel suite encompassed many of the wines in Signore Cernilli’s guide and were set out on their winery tables: I started with a delightful mainly chardonnay blend called BEYOND THE CLOUDS from Elena Walch; a little short of heavenly perhaps, given its 2015 vintage.
PRICE B Imported by Bancroft Wines.

Then much joy from a decent 2015 Poggio al Lupo Morellino di Scansano from Tenuto Sette Ponte.
PRICE B Imported by Champagne and Chateau Boutinot.

Excellent wine too from Decugnana dei Barbi , my chosen one- the 2015 Il Rosso.
PRICE B Imported by Alivini.

Two tables then of island wines which interested me greatly; one from Sicily and the other from Sardinia; of the wines on display I very much preferred the Sardinian exhibits and especially the 2006 Alghero Anghelu Ruju Riserva, a really dark and lustrous red with wonderful herbs and spices and even a touch of liquorice. Ideal – I was told- with local wild boar.
PRICE B Imported by Matthew Clark/Alvini

The Tuscan wines on the Vignamaggio table were beautifully presented by a representative of the winery; I tasted two terrific Chianti Classico and a wonderful 2011 Cabernet Franc. The Cabernet Franc was indeed a sleek wine which I will long remember for its sheer stand-out class and quality.
PRICE C Imported by

Corney and Barrow

To finish off I was privileged to taste the Zyme 2006 Amarone della Valpolicella La Mattonara Riserva. An experience never to be forgotten!
PRICE E

Shaun Traynor

@shauntraynor69 on Twitter

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A Celebratory Lunch at Sager+Wilde

Another grey city day …. and what better prospect than a lunch to celebrate the pairing of Parmigiano cheese and Balsamic vinegar, hosted in a candlelit railway arch near Bethnal Green . A first visit to Sage+Wilde. They win me over immediately with their in-house fizzy water which sees me through a nosey-around this inviting bricked space and all through lunch … complimenting each course perfectly. But first we get to taste! A hard cheese rich in history, mature in flavour showing no sign of going out of fashion. It stands superior as a cheese that can be eaten without adornment or dipped into a pool of balsamic. We were fortunate to be able to taste 18 month old, 24 month old and 30 month old Parmigiano alongside 12 year and 25 year Balsamic…the older the cheese, the drier and more crystalline , the older the balsamic (let’s not call it vinegar)the sweeter, more intense….. And so to the lunch menu! Six courses , the first and final two courses devised and prepared by Chris Leach, Head Chef @ S+W, the remaining courses presented by Gianpaolo Raschi, a Michelin star chef from Modena. The first course, with a chewsome Burrata was delightfully crunchy-crisp from the nut soffritto. A beautifully presented, substantial dish. Personally, I found it a bit too robust, on the heavy side as an opener and would have preferred it to swap places with the bright, colourful, light and moreish prawn dish. Such a vivid vibrant dish, enriched by just the right hint of sweetness from the 24 month balsamic. The squid (which I had without the duck liver) did not benefit from being served cold but I loved the crunchy sing of the red onion pickled in balsamic .I am a lover of chickpeas and this soupy broth full of big fat chickpeas and plump clams was a heavenly bowl of comfort, based on a family recipe, faultless in its delivery. Hats off to chef Raschi (below, right).I can only rely on fellow guests with regard to the beef sausage and they evidently enjoyed it especially the fact that it was made in-house. Meanwhile, my hake was perfectly cooked, an excellent flavour and texture that worked really well with the burnt shallot. I’d imagine the beef stood up better as a robust companion to the 30 month cheese .And finally, dessert. A bit of a colour and shape theme going on here as we finish with a dish that looks similar to the first dish, both from Chef Chris Leach (below) Big on portion, big on flavour, absolutely loved the plump baked fig with the creamy vanilla icecream and again, a terrific balance of flavours, syrupy yet tangy, a perfect place for the glossy “younger” 12 year old balsamic to shine. A sweet ending to a skilfully prepared lunch that certainly did justice to its two key players .

🍒Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries🍒

London Life was delighted to attend a recent media event showcasing Jerte Picota cherries at Ibérica restaurant in Victoria . An intriguing tasting menu devised by César García and Luis Contreras in this roomy, attractive space soon lifted the spirits on what was an ugly wet evening. I dislike the term "fine dining" but the presented dishes were very fine indeed. Subtle, sophisticated, surprising.
But first, a taste of the cherry in all its naturalness, along with some specially selected Cava to add some sparkle to the evening.

I adore cherries, buying them by the bucketful while their short season lasts and until this evening, have always devoured them in their plump. sweet and juicy natural state. The Jerte Picota  variety, much prized in Spain, is a brighter red, not overly sweet, with a solid texture, making it versatile and an ideal ingredient in both sweet and savoury combinations. As for the Cava, I have it on good authority that it was utterly delicious and just look at that bottle! Gaudi inspired!

While my everyday life is just a bowl of cherries, on this enchanting evening, life perked up considerably when it came served up as a soup bowl of smooth cherry gazpacho with a kick of anchovy, a hint of mint and the welcome surprise tastebomb of a floating cheese icecream.

My favourite dish of the evening?

Let us continue!


I can't speak for the Croquetas de Jamón  but I can say that the asparagus was as lovely as it looks- vivid green chubbiness, crunchy charred ends, accompanied by grownup Manchego cheese. The remaining impression thanks to onion  relish is of a balanced sweetness.

It is so liberating to eat tapas-sized portions! That way you can taste a lot of different flavours in a number of dishes and leave the feast feeling satisfied but not uncomfortable after over-indulging!

This ever so slightly seared tuna was clearly sushi quality. I have never tasted better. I take it all back. I could easily have eaten much more of these meltingly moreish mouthfuls, completed by a pop sensation from the toasted pine nuts and that subtle underlying hint of sweetness from apple. Finished off by popping one of those pickled cherries into my mouth. There can never be too much of a good thing.

This was followed by a pork dish. Readers, this you will have to judge for yourselves. Other diners clearly enjoyed it!

Drum roll for a most interesting vegetarian option. Cauliflower and cherries with pak choi anyone? Me neither, until I tried it.

It was salty, sweet, creamy crunchy, very umami! With a smooth sauce textured with nut. Brave combinations but they worked. Cauliflower cheese, eat your heart out.

There is always room in everyone's stomach for dessert and I was keen to see what the chef would come up with, as I mostly associate cherries with sweet pastry pies.

Mercifully, this dessert was light and fluffy, managing to taste warm, fulfilling that sense of being cosseted from the cold outside world, just as you prepare to re-enter it. And then! The pleasant shock underneath, the refreshing surprise of cold sharper sorbet which is a neat reminder
of the surprise bomb in the gazpacho at the beginning of the meal.

An accomplished menu, with playful touches, like an ongoing amuse bouche, but with more substance,  showing respect for the ingredients, especially the honoured ingredient of the evening, the blushing Jerte Picota cherry
I loved it all but it's a tie between the gazpacho and the tuna for first place in my affection. A thoroughly Modern Spanish Food Experience! Which still respects and utilises the food traditions of Spain. Well done guys!

The Jerte Picota season is short and will end all too soon. Still available as I write at Sainsbury's , Morrison's  and Tesco .

For more on the provenance, quality and history

http://cerezadeljerte.org/en/

http://www.ibericarestaurants.com

 

 

A random walk in Hyde Park on a blue Monday in July

Abruzzo-on-Thames

Abruzzo Wine Showcase Tasting

by Wines of Abruzzo

abruzzo shaun

Tonight, wines from Abruzzo came to London to that marvellous event space (level2) OXO Tower with showcase wines (with snacks like those that accompany the aperitivo) and a view of theThames that only an oligarch could afford.

Wines from Abruzzo are traditionally quite uncomplicated-the red Montepulcianod’Abruzzo and the white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo; Montepulciano is a grape native to Abruzzo, its dark spicy fruit and soft acidity make it attractive for everyday drinking, but it can also produce some powerful, deep and tannic-carrying red wine – only for the brave!

All such reds were on display at this public tasting – for example, the Retro 2012 (heavy number) from Societa’Agricola F.LLIBiagi – not available in UK – in any case, are we ready for it! More subtle: Ursonia Montepulciano 2013; I’m ready for this one – and indeed for the San Felice Montepulciano 2011 but neither available in UK!

The whites were more distinguished – or at least more elegant and presentable – the Carmine Festa Millesimato Metado Classico 2011with its stone fruit flavours and minerality was an excellent and welcoming choice as the number one of fifty wines; Ulisse Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2015 was young and fun and with honey-comb! And my favourite wine of the evening – Contessa Pecorino 2016 -plums, apricots and nuts- and this one is AVAILABLE IN UK! (from The Wine Society)

The Pecorino grape has always seemed to me to be “better” than the Trebbiano – but both whites – on tonight’s showing – immensely more pleasurable than any of the red and rustic Montepulciano.

Wine critics talk of terroir as of a place where vines grow and develop – if I were choosing an urban party location in London as a terroir de vue or di vista – OXO 2ndfloor Events would be it.

SHAUN TRAYNOR

www.shauntraynor.co.uk

Guaranteed to give you Goosebumps! Southwark’s Crossbones Garden

crossbonesThe Crossbones Garden: Garden of Remembrance

“I’ll take you to the burial ground garden” She says. This is not a phrase I was expecting to hear from my work colleague as we leave our office building one sunny lunch time. My imagination piqued, I agree to come along. We walk through Southwark back streets, detour around the ever present road-work barricades and wait patiently at traffic lights while cars and cyclists blur across our vision. Eventually we stop before a sandwich board sign announcing entry to the Crossbones Garden (the garden’s official name) and, not knowing quite what to expect, I take my first glimpse of our lunch hour destination. The entryway is a large wooden sculpture, a giant bird’s wing set upon carved stilts, a cloistered tunnel designed to sweep visitors across the threshold from urban street to the concealed garden within. Following the curvature of this sheltered path we finally emerge into the walled garden and I stop, my mind attempting to take in this strange place. Rough patches of rubble are juxtaposed with soft natural plantings emerging from neat dry stone walls. Everywhere sculptures and symbols demand inspection: a bronze skull, a porcelain goose, a clay mask of the green man. Having been here before, my colleague sits down to eat her lunch but I feel compelled to look around, to try to make sense of this confusion.

Directly in front of me there is a bare, raw expanse of concrete ground.  Dull grey, cracked and blinding in the midday sun, it is uncompromisingly barren, a featureless desert from which the garden protrudes. Sweeping across this negative space my eyes land on the far wall where a mural depicts a stylised map of the local area, a crude outline of a skull marking the location of the Crossbones garden. I walk purposefully towards the map, but my attention snags along the way. To my right, wicker work hearts dangle and spin from a tree above a wildflower turf. Faded ribbons, woven through the wicker, drape down forlornly and then stream suddenly outwards with a momentary gust of wind. Words flicker along their lengths and I catch them in broken drifts: “who have none to remember them….”,  “leaving a young son…” “beloved…”. I step backwards and drop my eyes, not wanting to intrude as the ribbons continue their solemn dance of remembrance. 

Turning, I see a pyramidal mound, its base a crumbling mass of broken rubble, compacted earth and sweet pea shoots pushing upwards through the cracks. Midway along one side there is a row of oval faces. They have blank expressions, slits for eyes, scratches for mouths. They are no-one and everyone.They make me uneasy. Above these masks there is a rising mosaic of sharp edged oyster shells, pearlescent and reflective, jigsawing their way to the pyramid’s point. At the tip there is a weight of concrete and broken brick, a visual connection to the raw foundation of the structure that lies beneath. 

Finally I reach the mural which is presented as a triptych, the central panel being the map, while the outer panels are painted white with poetry written in large black print. The poems, excerpts from John Constable’s book The Southwark Mysteries, are replete with mysterious allusions to a goose persona: “I was born a Goose of Southwark”, “You can hear me honk..” And this ‘goose’ appears to hold some power to “unlock”, “unveil” and “reveal” a hidden “secret history”.

Bewildered, intrigued, my eyes fall on a friendly face. A woman has appeared beside me wearing a vest marked ‘volunteer’. She answers the question in my eyes and tells me to take an information booklet from beneath the wooden entryway. This text, titled Crossbones Garden, The strange but true storyperforms the role promised by the “Goose of Southwark” and reveals to me the mysteries of this unique place.

As I read the guide I continue to circuit the garden and I begin to see how Crossbones is choked with symbolism. Every nook and cranny is crammed with carvings, objects, text and plantings that denote deeper meanings connected to its fascinating pastThe goose’s wing entrancethe poetry on the mural, and the rosemary plants, symbolic of remembrance, all refer to thbeginnings of this place as the burial ground for the prostitutes of Bankside’s brothels. Working in the ‘stews’ from as early as the 12th century, these prostitutes were described as ‘Winchester’s Geese’ due to the protection accorded to them and their trade by the Bishop of WinchesterBarred from a Christian burial, these women are thought to have been buried at this site, referenced in John Stow’s 1598 Survey of London as the “Single Women’s Churchyard”. By Victorian times the Cross Bones burial site had extended to include not only the local prostitutes but also the general poor who lived and died in the crime and cholera infested area surrounding Redcross Street. The graveyard finally closed in 1853 due to its being ‘completely overcharged with dead’, with an archaeological dig in the 1990’s confirming this overcrowding (the archaeologists estimated up to 15,000 burials on the Cross Bones sitewith more than 60% being children).

The largest symbolic gesture within the garden is that of the red iron gate shrine, a dedication to the multitude of nameless dead buried beneath this site. Bedecked in countless ribbons, flowers, and scraps of embroidery, these gates are continuously replenished with mementos, layer upon layer building, blocking the gaps between the bars, shutting out the light. In the centre of the gates, a commemorative sign reads: “R.I.P The Outcast Dead” while facing the gates, a line of objects stand to attention: plump geese, benevolent angels, and, set upon a wooden pedestal, a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a white, orange beaked goose within her arms.Sometimes sinister, often poignant, the garden is a living poem with its visual rhythms and metaphorical displays holding you caught as in a spell, wanting to delve deeperto decipher the layers of meaning held within the walls of this truly bizarre space.

Kathy, one of the many regular volunteers who maintain the garden, explains to me that “everybody has a different take on this place”. She proposes that the garden has an ‘aura’ that draws all sorts of different people through its winged entry. This includes office workers, tourists, and those with a deeper connection – the Friends of Crossbones Group – some of whom perform monthly vigils at the shrine. These vigils, started by visionary writer, John Constable, author of the poems on the mural, are held on the 23rd of each month. They are ritualised acts of remembrance, a recognition of those ignored at the margins of society, from past to present.

There is, for me, a sense of macabre eeriness created through the repetitive reminders of human mortality that permeate the space. This disquiet, however, is softened by the garden that grows above the surface of this graveyard. Lime green euphorbia rise above feathered ferns. Purple sage, rosemary, thyme and lavender meander gently through the raised beds, punctuated dramatically by startling red poppies and pure white daisies. Nature, often perceived as a symbol of life and death in its seasonal changes, its cycles of fruitfulness and rot, growth and decay, becomes a salve – a calming tonic to the more confrontational momento mori of the skulls and statues within this remembrance garden/burial ground.

The garden was originally created in the 1990’s by Andy Hulmethe Invisible Gardener” who was a security guard on the site. In keeping with the mysterious ‘underbelly’ atmosphere of Crossbones, Andy Hulme secretly created a guerrilla garden hidden within the confines of the London brick wallsSince then, and through the work of John Constable and other Friends of Crossbones, the site has become an official garden of remembrance, the land leased from Transport for London for this purpose. Managed by Bankside Open Spaces Trust, designed by Helen John, the Crossbones Garden has had thousands of visitors since opening to the public in 2015.

Having completed my introductory tour of the garden, I take a moment to sit with my work friend and rest within this tranquil space. The wooden bench set within the dry stone wall feels warm from the sun. My fingers reach to gently crush a clump of thyme growing beside me. I raise my hand to my nose and breathdeeply, inhaling the fragrant aroma reminiscent of relaxed home cooking. Three other visitors sit on a bench not far from us, shaded by a hawthorn hedge. Eating their lunch, immersed in discussion, their voices murmur and blend with the vibrating hum of the bees collecting nectar from the abundant rosemary flowers. Just visible behind pine tree and burgeoning shrubs, a volunteer gardener kneels on the earth, scraping and pulling at unwanted growth. Then the sound of church bells pool into the garden, drowning out even the bustling trains that hurtle across the rail bridge behind the garden’s northern edge. The bells, announcing the 1pm mass in the local church, lend a moment of reverence to the garden in keeping with the shrine, the solemn poetry and the burial mound covered in blood red poppies. They also signify the end of our lunch break and the need to return to our office. The spell broken, we exit through the goose’s wing and return to the hurry of the London streets.

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To find out more about the history and events surrounding the Crossbones Garden visit: www.crossbones.org.uk

Helene Latey

Helene Latey writes a regular blog for Transition Town Kensal to Kilburn with a specific focus on gardening, sustainability and community. In 2012 Helene ran a guerrilla gardening arts project “The Blue Flower River Project” as part of local arts exhibition The Kilburn Grand Tour. When she’s not writing or gardening Helene can be found wandering the streets of London looking for new green spaces to explore. Read the TTKK blog here: http://ttkensaltokilburn.ning.com/profiles/blog/list/

ttkensaltokilburn.ning.com
All Blog Posts | We’re a local group with a vision to turn our area into a more self-sufficient community, using the Transition model

THE PULVERISED @ ARCOLA DALSTON

pulv 2

From http://www.arcolatheatre.com – Today, 12:21 PM

“Stop the rat race. Stop time. Stop the money. Stop the anxiety. Stop everything that has made human beings so bitter.”

A quality assurance officer from France, a call centre manager from Senegal, a factory worker from China, and an engineer from Romania. Each leads a life apart, but all work round-the-clock for the same multinational corporation.

When work has no borders, what’s the cost? Alexandra Badea‘s captivating drama is a powerful and disturbing portrait of globalisation and its far-reaching effects on our lives.

Following an explosive premiere at the National Theatre of Strasbourg, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix de la Littérature, The Pulverised arrives in the UK with a new English translation.

Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL

The Pulverised
02/05/2017–27/05/2017
Monday – Saturday at 8pm. Saturday matinees at 3.30pm. No performances Sunday.

The Immortalist @ Pentameters in Hampstead

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Read Shaun Traynor’s review for London Life here: http://sco.lt/4kWFpR

 

 

Ashes Afar Burns Disturbingly @ Romanian Cultural Institute, London

Ashes Afar 1

Ashes Afar
By Andreea Borţun
Romanian Cultural Institute
Wed 12 April 2017

Following critical acclaim at Edinburgh 2015, ASHES AFAR had a Spring 2017 one-off performance at The Romanian Cultural Institute’s new performance space in London’s Belgrave Square. The one act play is a 55 minute exploration into the nature of immigration and how it can affect (in this case) two young lovers. The plot is as bizarre as it is brilliant.

When Aine, an Irish immigrant in London (Crissy O’Donovan) loses her memory, (or is it her mind?) Mihail (Liviu Romanescu) a Romanian immigrant in London, constructs a sinister form of therapy (“GAME”) to help “bring her back.”
So their six year (sex-fuelled) love affair is played out in disjointed, crazy, but finally elliptical episodes.

There are short sequences of hilarious, quite mad, slapstick comedy and others bordering on the sad and finally tragic.

The play is directed by distinguished Romanian director Bobi Pricop

The play is a disturbingly enigmatic work, in which the acting serves the playwright well; Liviu Romanescu is truly engaging in a “trying hard to make sense of it all” role and Crissy O’Donovan would win all the awards going if this play was within a more mainstream context. So,let’s hope the overall work of the VANNER Collective (http://wearevanner.com), a team of theatre makers dedicated to producing and creating new work, gets the wider recognition it deserves.

Congratulations are due to the Romanian Cultural Institute for staging such a ground-breaking production.

Ashes Afar 2

SHAUN TRAYNOR
http://www.shauntraynor.co.uk

Next at the Institute:

17 and 18 May at 7pm
“Jonah” by Romanian classic Marin Sorescu, produced by Kibo Productions, directed by Sarah Willems and performed by Alin Balascan.

Ashes Afar Press enquiries:
Cristina Catalina on 07717 377 310 or email cris.catalina@gmail.com

A Romanian Rainbow Brightens Leicester Square Theatre, London

Fata din curcubeu

“The Girl From The Rainbow” is a one-woman show written by Romanian playwright and actress Lia Bugnar. When the play premiered in 2012, the part was played by Tania Popa, who reprised the role in London in 2016. Young actress Ilona Brezoianu plays the Girl in this production, and from what I’ve gathered, has garnered critical acclaim as well as awards from previous performances. From what I saw at the Leicester Square Theatre on the afternoon of April 2nd, those accolades are very well-deserved.

The play follows a young Romanian prostitute who operates from a seat in the back row of the Rainbow cinema, and entertains her clients while the movies are playing. She has therefore become a very cinematically literate hooker. The premise is immediately good: there she stands, in front of an audience, talking about her favourite films, the clients she was with when she was watching them and some of their stories, followed by a more maudlin second half in which she goes into her tragic early life story – and all of it is sometimes interrupted by traditional Romanian songs, some quite cheerful in the beginning, but getting more and more tragic and moving as the story advanced into an examination of her family life.

You can always tell when a play is written by an actor, because there’s an extra understanding there of what is playable and what isn’t, and this piece really allows the actress playing it to explore a huge variety of emotions. It is a great showcase for an actress of talent, and if Lia Bugnar were better-known in the English-speaking world, I’m sure even big names would be interested in taking it on. Maybe after this performance in London there will be enough interest to get it translated.

Because, of course, this performance was in Romanian with English subtitles. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how well it would do in translation really, because so much of it felt so quintessentially Romanian. It was clear once the play got going that most of the audience were Romanian themselves, from the way they responded to the performance. That only made the entire thing all the more special, in fact: there was a great atmosphere to it, permeated with a sense of nostalgia for home and language that really added to the performance itself. It has been a long time since I’ve sat through a play where the audience was this quiet – there seemed to be none of the usual fidgeting in seats, or rustling of bags, or throat clearing and coughing that you usually get. Maybe a lot of it was down to the fact that most of the audience seemed to be Romanian (some even sang along to some of the traditional songs) but I think there was a little more to it. After all, I don’t speak any Romanian, but I still didn’t feel left out.

When acting is really good, the language barrier becomes completely unimportant. And Ilona Brezoianu pulled that off beautifully. There were moments where she held the entire room in the palm of her hand, myself included. There is not a doubt in my mind that she is a great actress. She had a habit of smiling and laughing through her tears as she spoke of her reminiscences that made the words all the more moving. She also succeeded in treating the entire piece as a conversation, so much so that you could feel the audience wanting to talk back and answer her a lot of the time. In fact, there were moments when she almost made me feel as though I could understand her, as if I too spoke Romanian in that moment.

Unfortunately, because Ms. Brezoianu’s acting was so absorbing, it made the tech mistakes with the subtitles all the more annoying. Sometimes you could tell that her asides had been improvised on the spot and the subtitles simply weren’t equipped for them, but when she was just performing the piece there were often delays that were extremely off-putting. Again, her acting was so good that I could always tell when what she said didn’t coincide with the subtitles, and that happened one too many times for my comfort. It was distracting and frankly annoying to not be able to follow what she was saying just because of the bad timing of the subtitles. Tech mistakes with subtitled shows are bound to happen, but when the acting is so good, that makes them harder to forgive. I’m bound to say that she never lost the audience – the majority seemed to speak Romanian, as I said, and the ones who didn’t were often too interested in watching Ms. Brezoianu to pay too much attention to the screens.

I was disappointed in the ending of the play. The beginning hit all the right notes, with the anecdotal film reviews punctuated by sexual encounters and mishaps, interspersed with cheerful Romanian songs – I remember thinking there were a bit too many of them, at one point, because I was enjoying the monologue so much I was impatient for her to get back to it. The second half of the piece, however, often veered towards the tragic, when the girl focuses on her family history – how happy the family was in the old days, and how everything went so horribly wrong as to justify her current situation. The film reviews disappear completely, the anecdotes about clients are forgotten, and the songs become increasingly sadder and more moving. Ms. Brezoianu’s performance of them was riveting and very emotional, but the play itself seemed to lose some of its punch as it became more melodramatic.

As for the ending itself, I thought it incredibly clumsy. Through no fault of Ms. Brezoianu, she very nearly pulled off what I consider to be an impossible scene, but ultimately failed to disguise how ridiculous it was. The piece suddenly turns into an interrogation by a police officer (where did he come from? why? we will never know) and it is implied that this interrogation will end in her death. I can’t say this does much to assuage prejudice of Romania’s police, but then again, that wasn’t the point of the play. A spotlight shines down on the girl as she gets beaten up by this officer. Now, there’s no one else on stage, so Ms. Brezoianu had to pretend to get beaten without even the aid of a sound effect for the slaps and punches. It is incredibly difficult to not make that look like a pantomime. Again, Ms. Brezoianu is good enough that she very nearly pulled it off, but ultimately, there was no disguising what a silly way that was to end an otherwise superlative piece. I say it is a crying shame to have such an awkward ending to what could otherwise have been a great achievement. It still was one, in terms of acting – my warmest congratulations to Ilona Brezoianu, that was one of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time, and she certainly deserves any accolades she may have received for her work in this play. Hopefully she’ll get to have some international recognition as well in her future career, she certainly deserves it. But the writing, which started out as stellar, did leave a bit to be desired towards the end, I’m sorry to say.

The audience didn’t seem to mind it, though. After singing along and crying with the girl from the Rainbow, they stood up and gave her a well-deserved standing ovation. I think that, even if it was only for an hour and a half, Ilona Brezoianu took most of that audience from that little underground theatre in London back to Romania that afternoon, and they were appropriately grateful to her for it. It was very touching to participate in that, even if only as an observer.

Mariana Mourato
April 2, 2017

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