Travel - Vienna, Austria

As part of a trip organised by my university, a few weeks ago my friend Eleanor and I spent a few days exploring Austria's capital city, Vienna. Vienna is known for being the cultural heart of Austria, and what better time to visit than during the city's annual arts festival Wiener Festwochen. We wanted to explore Vienna's culture, while also enjoying the city's atmosphere.

On our first evening in the city we headed over to Schauspielhaus Wien to catch an electric multimedia performance art piece called MDLSX. The show was in Italian with German subs, but the imagery created by performer Silvia Calderoni, as well as the use of evocative music and intense lighting meant that I could pretty much follow the story which was being told. The piece centred around the life of a hermaphrodite named Cal, and Calderoni combined autobiographical elements with heightened fictitious ones to create a wild, engaging narrative which both shocked and engrossed the audience. Although this was very much not the sort of thing I would ordinarily see, it was a fascinating and inspirational piece nonetheless.

On day two we were up and out pretty early, partly to avoid the heat of midday (which was a lot more intense than I had expected) and partly so that we could make the most of our time in Vienna. We hopped on the subway and headed across town to the Belvedere Palace, home to the largest collection Gustav Klimt oil paintings, including his famous 1908 masterpiece The Kiss. The palace is so huge and full of spectacular artwork, and The Kiss itself is just otherworldly. 
I'm hardly an art expert (my drawings of dogs infamously look more like Brachiosauruses!) but even I could appreciate Klimt's masterful use of colour, and the emotion he was able to enmesh in the faces of  his characters. After marvelling at his artwork, as well as the other paintings displayed in the palace, we decided to move on. Having spent most of the morning inside, what better way to get a sense of Vienna's vastness than to take a ride on Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna's giant ferris wheel. 
I loved the fact that the ferris wheel and pods looked almost exactly as they did when it was first built in 1897, and the views from the top were wonderful! That evening we took time to relax and enjoy the city's chilled out nightlife atmosphere. Unfortunately, as a vegetarian I couldn't enjoy much of the traditional food on offer, but most definitely enjoyed a falafel sandwich purchased from one of the city's many Imbiss stands. When visiting Vienna, head to one of the small street food vending snack bars for a quick and easy meal.

On our third day we headed straight to the Natural History Museum. Honestly, it would've been easy to spend a day just walking around the museum, which seemed to have endless rooms spanning several floors. I was particularly interested in the vast collection of fossils housed at the museum, while the floor dedicated almost entirely to taxidermy was more unnerving than entertaining. Having spent several hours wandering around, we decided to leave and just walk around the city, enjoying the amazing atmosphere and beautiful architecture which makes Vienna such an iconic city. 
That evening we headed over to Volksoper Wien to see Anatevka, the German language translation of the classic musical Fiddler On The Roof. The production was dark and moody, with effective yet simplistic set design, lovely costumes and some brilliant surprises in terms of set pieces. The cast was first rate, with Austrian musical theatre star Gerhard Ernst leading the company as Tevye. Despite being a huge musical theatre fan, and being familiar with the 1971 film soundtrack, I had never seen the musical live before, and so didn't really know what to expect from the stage version. However, I was beguiled! There are so many brilliant and iconic songs to enjoy, and infact I enjoyed them so much that as soon as I got home I downloaded the 2016 Broadway cast album, which I can wholeheartedly recommend! 
Photo credit - Barbara Pálffy
On our final day in Vienna we decided that instead of wondering around aimlessly or spending our last day inside, we would hire a bike and cycle around the city. This was honestly such a brilliant decision as although navigating Vienna's cycle lanes is quite frankly terrifying, once we'd gotten the hang of it we were able to cover so much ground, enjoy the glorious weather and find loads of hidden gems that we'd missed by travelling via the subway for our entire visit. We took a walk around the Vienna Rose Garden before returning our bikes and heading back to the hostel to check out. 
Vienna is honestly one of the most grand, beautiful places I've even visited, and there is just so much to do there. We barely scratched the surface in our 4 day long visit, and I'd definitely consider going back one year to discover more of Vienna's glorious culture. 

Review - Titanic (Charing Cross Theatre)

Right now at the Charing Cross Theatre, a spectacular, heart wrenching musical is playing every night until August 6th. That musical is Titanic, directed by Thom Southerland. The musical centres around the doomed maiden voyage of the iconic ship of dreams, and tells the stories of multiple passengers and crewmen from various different economic classes, many of whom existed in real life. Each of the characters are engaging and interesting in different ways, and as a result, the story focuses less on the phenomenon of the sinking, and more on the relationships between each of the characters. Of course, from the beginning of the story, the audience's knowledge of Titanic's fate mars the more upbeat, breezy moments, making the whole musical a rather emotional one. 
Photo credit - Scott Rylander
Titanic features an impressive ensemble of actors, who each play a multitude of different characters. However, thanks to David Woodhead's gorgeous costume design, this use of multiroling is never confusing or alienating. Notably, Claire Machin and Peter Prentice are heartbreaking as Alice and Edgar Beane, a second class married couple struggling to come to terms with their status, and Victoria Serra is engaging as Kate McGowan, a tenacious young Irish woman. Meanwhile Niall Sheehy and Matthew Crowe's duet The Night Was Alive is a real vocal highpoint in the show. A truly first rate cast has been assembled for this production, and that in itself is thrilling to see.

Staging such an epic show in such a tiny theatre seems like it would be pretty much impossible, however, this production is designed so ingeniously that the audience is always aware of the ship's grandeur, even in purposefully intimate scenes. David Woodhead's set design is simplistic yet multifaceted, meanwhile Howard Hudson's lighting design perfectly compliments the piece's archaic tone.

Peter Stone's book maintains a sense of nervous tension throughout, without resorting to distasteful elements designed to shock the audience. However, the horrors of the real life event are not understated, and a sickening sense of uncertainty and ultimately helplessness is laced through the second act masterfully, and will leave the audience with a lump in their throats.

Titanic at the Charing Cross Theatre is undoubtedly a five star production, and the perfect way to kick off Thom Southerland's tenure as artistic director of the Charing Cross Theatre.

Visit the Charing Cross Theatre website for more details, and to purchase tickets. 

Review - Show Boat (New London Theatre)

The West End transfer of Daniel Evans' production of Show Boat has sadly had a shorter life than originally planned. The production, which was previously booking until January, is now set to close on 27th August. However, it seems that Show Boat's somewhat brief run is less of a representation of the show's quality, more of an indication of the changing demographic of West End audiences. The production itself is slick, lavish and rather magnificent. 
Photo credit - Johan Persson
What is immediately apparent is the fact that Show Boat is a gloriously designed show. From the gorgeous costumes to the beautifully understated lighting and wonderfully intricate, versatile set, everything about it looks sumptuous, yet suitably archaic.

Similarly, Alistair David's choreography is both exciting and time period appropriate, and elevates several numbers, such as Goodbye My Lady Love, which was performed excellently by understudies Dale Evans and Georgie Ashford as Frank and Ellie at the performance I saw. 

The  show's book is arguably one of this production's more flawed elements. Several storylines fizzle away between acts, and an abrupt and rather jarring time jump at the end of act two makes the shows ending seem a little disjointed. However, the plot itself has some wonderful, classic musical theatre moments, and is supported well by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's music and lyrics. 

Emmanuel Kojo sings a moving rendition of the timeless musical theatre classic Ol' Man River, and Rebecca Trehearn performs both Bill and Can't Help Lovin Dat Man impeccably. Despite playing the relatively minor role of the show boat's leading lady Julie La Verne, she is mesmerizing and gives a memorable performance. 

It's nice to see a classic musical back on the West End. Especially one with such an exemplary cast. Show Boat is a must-see for any musical theatre lover, but sadly that this production hasn't managed to make waves with audiences in London.

Show Boat is playing at the New London Theatre until 27th August 2016. You can find out more information about this production, and book tickets, by visiting the show's official site, here.