East London In Flux

The thing with most community engagement activities is that the people who put on the show couldn’t care less if you’re there or not. Sometimes the engagement exercises target seniors: When they don’t then the senior wannabee participant is more than invisible. This I have known for ages and corporate engagers be wise that many oldies are on your case.

East London in Flux presented by Fundamental Architectural Inclusion d.o.b. 2003 is different to all of the above and valuable to the ethos of community engagement. It’s a programme delivered with passion. Its participants are encouraged to join in and given the confidence to do so. And the sandwiches are nutritious, full, tasty and textured.

Today the room in the University of Birkbeck in the new Stratford E15  (aka USS hosted by community outreach officer Patrice Buddington) was bursting and a-buzzin’. We came from Stratford, Hackney, Forest Gate, Leyton, Romford, Mauritius and other places north of Watford. Imagine!

As for architecure, I can’t get over the fact that the Uni building is built on one of the meanest pot-holed car-parks of back in the day. Those days when the stealthiest of creeping car-park attendants would sneak out of the shadows: Those times when the parking machine swallowed pound coins then failed to deliver the ticket. Those were the days when you left the theatre production or pre Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012 pop-up workshops early so as not to fork out another load of coins.

The main attraction of this the first in a series of presentations and day-long workshops was the architect-guided walk around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Laid on were electric scooters, wheelchairs and taxis for the less mobile. The sun shone too. The morning session was all about how architects used any available terrain to construct the Olympic cities. Hitler’s Games came out top in the we- did- it poll not only because the construction/ideological team used media to the hilt when the concept of media as a corporate entity was not invented yet. Even the athletes’ village was great….bungalows. Ooh! give me one.

The heart-warming bit is how junior school kiddies are involved through Architectural in learning through model-making and discussion their role in the Legacy of the London 2012 Games.

Twas brillig.

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Bronco Bullfrog

Was at The National Gallery after walking with The Stuart Low Trust through the China Town balloon-festooned streets in the freezing cold. We were aiming for the Sainsbury Wing for a free one hour tour.Our group leaders carried in their bright yellow Sainsbury carrier bags our free picnics: Beacons of light and joy! The tour guide was most informative, jolly and a gifted story-teller. We learnt tons about Christian symbolism through Crivelli’s work , ” Madonna of the Swallow”. The Turner exposition was illuminating (!). I felt though that I were in a church. Even the reduced Christmas cards from a fiver to a quid were too religious for me to send despite there being  the prestigious National Gallery logo on them. The other guys on the trip went home after the tour but I needed to soak up some secular stuff and finally, feet aching, found Church’s small exhibition of awesome sunsets over icebergs called “Through American Eyes”.

Culture done and over to Stratford for the film “Bronco Bullfrog”. Terrible acting, nasty wordless pauses, brilliant photography and filming, interesting landscapes and a gripping story-line. I had to pull myself into myself because it was that cold in the Stratford PictureHouse auditorium and then remember it wasn’t the theatre so it was traditional for the other members of the senior audience to rustle their sweet bags. Imagine! The music was good too. I did feel I was watching Ray Davies of The Kinks back in his day but he is and was in fact well-spoken having come from the borders of East Finchley and Muswell Hill, north London. The characters in “Bronco Buffalo” hardly moved their lips to talk their sloppy talk, their east London working class uneducated speke understood by everyone and unloved by many, Interestingly that same language survived and the tongue is still heard today amongst the ethnic minority of West Ham,  Stratford and east Leyton. Innit?

Someone clapped at the end of the film. I didn’t.

The film was a gift from ‘London On Screen’. I was ashamed of the settings, the poverty, the way people lived in Stratford 1969. I saw squalor which made the kitchens of 1960 kitchen -sink plays seem smart. They weren’t but were the common person’s habitat. I had been part of the common and hard-up mass; been there, cleaned the ash-tray, jiggled the black and white television aerial. I was allowed to feel the shame and anything else all because the London On Screen films are there to provoke memories about London and to preserve feelings of place. The films aren’t specifically for seniors. Birkbeck students, young and mature,  are invited in for free because the films provide a cultural background for all Londoners and a chance to identify with wherever one lives in London, I think. The screenings are cheap and good too and Stratford PictureHouse is so Stratford E15. i.e welcoming, homely and belonging to the local community.

Glad I made it. Wished I’d had a hot dog.

From BFI site   “Barney Platts-Mills‘ debut feature stars an entirely non-professional cast of  local teenagers from Stratford, East London.

The film grew out of a documentary, Everybody’s An Actor Shakespeare Said  (1968) made by Platts-Mills about the ‘Playbarn’ project run by veteran British  theatre figure Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal in Stratford. The project  aimed to divert local youths from loitering and petty crime and into creatively  channelling their energy and imagination through acting and improvisation.  Inspired by Littlewood, Platts-Mills encouraged the youths to come up with a  story based on events taken from their own lives. These were used as the basis  for Bronco Bullfrog. The young cast give the film an air of authenticity and  their sometimes awkward, hesitant performances reflect adolescence in a  non-contrived way.

The film treats its characters warmly and emphasises that their chosen  courses of action – petty crime, delinquency, and in Del’s case, elopement with  Irene (which, since Irene was 15, would make Del guilty of abduction) – are  determined by the limited choices they have.

The look of the film is reminiscent of the cinema verité/Free Cinema style  which had ushered in the 1960s, but any sense of optimism suggested by such  films is dashed. The mood of Bronco Bullfrog, shot in black and white against a  backdrop of East End bombsites and the new brutalism of urban high-rise flats,  closes the decade on a pessimistic note of limited horizons for its  working-class protagonists.

As evidence that not all of London had been swinging in the 1960s, Bronco  Bullfrog foreshadowed the ‘no future’ ethos which characterised the Punk  movement of the mid-to-late-1970s. The film also anticipated the treatment of  disaffected youth which became prevalent in British television drama”.

Littlewood suggested at Stratford Royal Theatre in those days  of yore that the aimless Stratford working class youth  be inspired by acting. “Bronco Bullfrog” reared its awkward, self-conscious head and became the chore of lazy, paid amateur kids. The project was obviously Littlewood’s baby  but just a laugh and a time-filler for opportunist thieves and petty criminals allegedly.

What is interesting is that the Theatre Royal Stratford east is still doing what their founder- director Littlewood did, that is encourage local youth to divert their energy to drama. They succeed. What is weird is that the film critic Alexander Walker, now deceased, praised the potential impact of “Bronco Bullfrog” on the film accolades’ industry and outside of the auditorium on my evening was the artist Alexander Walker’s art. Coincidence. Oooh.

There’s a striking art exhibition from Alexander Walker on the foyer walls upstairs at Stratford PictureHouse, eye-catching because of its colours noted well after a black and white film. One painting brings home Walthamstow Central. What I don’t get is why the Leytonstone-ites aren’t makng a fuss of the Hitchcock murals in their station now that Hopkins and the pink-haired lady of film are doing the rounds with their blockbuster. (I am so not interested).

Alexander Walker and The National Gallery in one blog!

Claremont Project in Islington continues to put on fabulous classical recitals. Last week the Korean pianist dazzled and excited our old limbs, mainly old white thighs.

Issue 6. less than a month to go to The Olympics and Paralympics Games.

Thursday June  28th    £5 Phone 08442485136    for fiver tickets to The Olympic Park in first week of Games. Phone lines open until 6th July First come first served. Pay with VISA only. Postage is £6.

free (not confirmed) noon-7pm (Thurs to Sat) Tokarska Gallery 163 Forest Rd E17. Kate Green’s photographic exhibition showcasing 1948 Olympics.

£10  Greek Theatre E17 back of Walthamstow Girls School E17 until 30th June. “Richard 111” Annual open air performance by The Greek Players. Inside if it rains.

Sat  30th June   10-noon Mary Katherine Presents on StreetlifeRadio from Waltham forest College. Golden oldies, modern hits and silver sounds “Lifting yourself up to good living”.

£3  1-5pm. Interview and film course for archives in Rivington Place (second Saturday) all about the changes the Olympics brings. Book on 02077299616 with INIVA.

Sun 1st July  free. 2pm Support the British Cyclist Sky ride n Haringey.Leaves Finsbury Park at 2pm and goes to Bruce Castle and back.

Tues  July  3rd  free    6pm  Canary Wharf  at 1, Churchill Place. NME’s  Pat  Long talks about his years at NME.

free SOFT at the Mill e17. Exhibition of textiles. RAGWORKS features.

Thursday  July 5th   £2  6-8.30pm  Book for workshop on scripts  “Understanding Text” with Theatre Royal Stratford’s Jan Starkey-Dodds. Recommended.

Fri         July 6th   free 6pm  Party to mark the glorious end of Openstage 2012. TRSE Phone to book if you belong to OpenStage on 02082791100

Available now. A Taste Of Hackney free App

Coming soon  Rio Cinema free film, free David Bailey talk at TRSE, free Ruskin’s Legacy talk with “News From Nowhere ” club E17/E11,  Mapping Your Manor Walk 11, Rosetta Arts course with Birkbeck Uni.

Spirits rising

Yesterday I went off to Theatre Royal Stratford east to join in the Stratford East Singers. Jan i/c Theatre and Education at TRSE had arranged it since 8th October and before and there was plenty of interest in free singing in the theatre. Agewell Singers happens every Thursday lunch-time at Stratford Circus but restricts its participants to over those 50 years old or better. Here was a place and a time for those just wanting to open their mouths and sing. Shawab, TRSE assistant director, welcomed us and introduced us to Byron Gold our tutor  and the TRSE creative music director. Well, we had fun and scary bits too when we had to sing solo. Of  course, we weren’t forced to but we like to get in the spirit if it all. GREAT. There was a good mix of ages, ethnicities and boldness. Charlotte i/c Openstage2012 TRSE joined in with volunteers who’d also come via Up Your Street. We were great.

Went over to Downhills Park in Tottenham for half term adults’ brooch-making with buttons and bows, rags and pins, sewing and Nina. Was an eye-opener. What you can do with scrap eh?

Ended the day with a guest pass to Hackney Picturehouse. All the founder members have their names in light and then on the screens in colour and in B&W. Watched Clooney’s “Ides Of March”, a tale of a man’s integrity, falls from grace, values of life bla bla. A brave thing to do another drama about the American presidency campaigns and their shenanigans. Clooney damn handsome as ever.

I love the fact that we can munch and rustle bags like rats in the dark cos it’s the flicks and not the theatre. The founder members look nothing like what I thought Hackney people are i. e. mixed up racially and deliciously diverse. And I saw very few  people look like they aged more than 50 years.

I’m wondering who will come to show songs at TRSE tomorrow Wednesday because it finishes at 9.30pm. I’ll be there for sure. High Street Seniors exists to encourage seniors to be out in their neighbourhoods after dark. We walk on Thursday. See issue 42 of Up your Street.

Holden Point

one of the other residential towers in Stratford

Last week I grabbed a ticket for Newham residents to view the Olympic and Paralympic Games  site from the heights of Holden Point in Waddington Street, all part of Newham Fun Day. From the start, Steve, the security, at the sheltered housing, welcomed us 20 people including kiddies very well with a beaming smile. Don’t it make a difference? (Been to Hackney Museum lately?). We took the lift up 21 floors and then the steps to the roof. I guess a wheelchair would be lifted over the steps. It’s all built in properly, like a portacabin to me, and the Queen’s been there too! The wind was just howling through the open window so I shut it!

 Jean J, was our volunteer guide and she was absolutely brilliant; clear, slick, professional and knowledgeable. Newham is just on the case all the time promoting and doing all it can for one of the most deprived boroughs ever. Only now billions is being granted to Canning Town and Custom House to clean up their acts, two extremely deprived areas. Makes you wonder why no-one cared before.

Whatever is said about legacy, it’s still the fact that the Site will be E20 so it won’t smack of the connotations of Stratford as it was. Stratford as we know and avoid it ,in most cases, is E15. Me? I love Stratford. I’m always shocked when people in Leyton haven’t been there and as for those types up in Walthamstow, well!  There are markets and shops everywhere but Stratford has  The Theatre Royal called TRSE, The Picture House and Stratford Circus besides eateries. Connections to everywhere by public transport are very good and hopefully sense will prevail and the Eurostar will let passengers on and off at Stratford International. The German Rail lot want a bit of the action so it will happen..

The best part of the day was coming home to a cup of tea though. No energy to get to Spitalfields for the weaver’s house at 19 Princelet St. Next opportunity will do.

Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood  Theatre Royal Stratford east.  This afternoon Dec 30th 2010

                    The production actually started on time with a trio of performance arts pigs warming up the holiday audience  with lots of sing- songs, obligatory shouting, clowning around and prompts to shout.  The mood was set.

                     The Wolf   (Michael Bertenshaw) and Granny  (Derek Elroy)  are shocking and delightful . I would have been happy for the pair of them to carry on playing to us mesmerised ones. They look like the grown up actors in a budget sixth form end of year spoof.  With ‘ Glee’  and ‘ X Factor’  and  ‘Britain’s Got Talent’  we are used to wannabees popping up and showing off.  It was a bit like that with the rest of the cast; a solo spot here and a music mic  there.  It also takes confidence and experience to pull in an audience or maybe today’s audience was slow to respond.

The music is fantastic. Elroy’s singing voice is lovely.

             There is much to commend the performance. Often there are excellent choreographed sets with agile actors displaying their craft. The attempt at a pentecostal church gathering  is miserable and lacking joy despite Atkinson’s energy. The costumes are interesting. The lighting and effects are superb. At one crucial point the Wolf takes on King Kong’s scale. The children in the audience hide under scarves and coats. Here we have a taste of the true darkness of fairy tales. Short-lived because what follows next is a waste of time.

               After the interval Red Riding Hood meets Alien, meets Dr Who, seemingly meets Arts Grant funding criteria, maybe,  where demonstrating the internal goings- on of a Big Bad Wolf’s stomach is deemed educational and worthy.  Who knows what the paying audience made of it?  Where’s the axe whan you need it?

               Overall it is a great afternoon show.  Recommended. Something to look at, something to be puzzled about, a challenge to follow as the deviation from the path takes us into the variation on a tale. Bravo to Chloe and her red hood to die for. Perfect in his acting Marcus Ellard is on his way up. There are special offers on tickets at the moment. Open Stage 2012  volunteers are there to meet you and invite you to prepare next year’s pantomime.  And recognising all the extra characters who hide behind doors and trees like squirrel and baby owl I applaud the blatantly obvious Beyonce-inspired foxy dancer who is unable to steal this particular show. Very very watchable.

                    I never knew until today that the panto is described in places other than Stratford as “the black Red Riding Hood”. White Narnia’s on over the road.

Just want to thank Corinne at Stratford management and Joy at Words of Colour. Never had the best seat in the house ever!

The other review part 1 “Reasons To Be Cheerful” Stratford east theatre.



“Reasons To Be Cheerful” is an outstanding feat with actors both wheelchair-users and non- users working the stage. Through clever antics and managed confusion at the very start of the experience, the members of the audience fall into their roles as punters in an east London pub. It’s the early eighties and a band are getting ready to put on a play.The  action is concentrated on one central space which imitates a typical pub stage around London’s east end even now. A wonderful live band replaces a back screen and furniture after furniture crowds around the actors putting to bed the dictate that wheelchairs and disabled people need free access to manoeuvre.
The grand scale technology heightens the onlookers’ senses through moving images and the actors’ lines on a huge backdrop screen. Sign language flows fully integrated and obvious into the play within a play.
Here we are back in Thatcher’s day with punk rock and its foul language embellishing anarchy and hatred formed in the dingy sitting rooms of impoverished Britain.
It was hard to latch on to the core of the drama. A love story was unfolding. Buttons and Cinders were evident in Doc Martens and tat. Whilst I had expected a socio-political manifesto through script, the observations of the times through the eyes of the diminishing working class were delivered through aggressive lyrics, high jumps and shouting. I remembered I was at a musical. I got over myself and insisted on being entertained. Well there I was then in the over busy set of a pantomime.
The characters were energetic but cliched; kitchen-sink drama roles revived. There was the adolescent searching for approval and tickets to Ian Drury’s gig, (most of the audience at this point asking which web-site shall I search this guy, Ian?), the P45- wielding machoman factory manager, a feisty husband-searching easy-lay, a put-upon carer/mother/wife (yawn), the miserable helpless sick dad. Thank goodness for the signing mini-skirted eye-candy actress.The rest were as dull as the kitchen-sink water.
The singer in the band , him in the wheelchair, and the band were absolutely on the money (as my alter ego, Simon Cowell, would say). The predictable bursts of song every 5 minutes were brash, grimey, and begged applause. The tanked up audience gave and gave. I left.
My mission is indeed all to do with the integrity of the theatre. Let’s remind ourselves that the Theatre Royal, Stratford east is a theatre, was built as that and advertises itself as that. It is not really a community centre, is it? It does engage increasingly with the community, local or otherwise. “Reasons to be Cheerful” was right to be staged in the heart of the east end, and its timing is perfect as we emerge cynical and angry from the damaging recession.
There is a gorgeous warmth about the place but I am not that sure that the continual stench of all-seasons seasoning snaking into the auditorium during a white punk Britain exposition doesn’t compromise the experience.