The Did It List: Reviews Round-up #1
We told you what to do – and here’s what we did.
Read on for mini-reviews of Sh!t Actually, What The Pitta, Kalifornia Kitchen, Weirdos Save Christmas, Joan of Leeds, Champor Champor, Teenage Dick & more!
We kicked off our festive season with Sh!t Actually (★★★★½ | Camden People’s Theatre | 3-21 December), a hilarious new show from To Do List favourites Sh!t Theatre.
Taking everyone’s guiltiest of Christmas pleasures as their inspiration, Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole gave Love Actually the Sh!t treatment in suitably offbeat (read disrespectful) style. Sh!t Actually is for both lovers and haters of Richard Curtis’s perennial festive movie – if you’re ambivalent about Love Actually, or saw it just the one back in the mid-noughties, this isn’t for you!
Sh!t Theatre tour their (slightly less festive) show Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats across the UK (and Adelaide) throughout the first half of 2020.
Over in the world of performance art, Bitch On Heat (★★★½ | Soho Theatre | 5-14 December) saw Leah Shelton perform a bonkers-as-hell lip-sync like no other!
Directed by none other than THE Ursula Martinez, Bitch On Heat tackled the very now issues of sexual politics, consent and ever-present sexism. Wow moments – and ingenious stage design – didn’t cover all the cracks, but there was never a dull moment, and plenty of food for thought.
Considering how much we love the food, we don’t eat at What The Pitta (★★★★★ | Boxpark Shoreditch) anywhere near enough.
This Veganuary, you could do so much worse than visiting Boxpark Shoreditch to tuck in to one of What the Pitta’s legendary vegan kebabs. The sides are tasty too, but trust us (from experience): one big, fat kebab will keep you very well fed. Ask for all the salad toppings, and a healthy dose of spicy sauce, for the ultimate experience.
Just a few minutes walk away, we were slightly underwhelmed by Kneehigh’s Ubu! A Singalong Satire (★★★½ | Shoreditch Town Hall | 4-21 December).
There were plenty of laughs, and the game performers kept things lively enough – but the novelty of a singalong theatrical experience didn’t quite live up to the billing, and the satire felt a little too close to reality!
More mainstream musicality cheered us up courtesy of the revived Mary Poppins (★★★★ | Prince Edward Theatre | Booking Until 26 July) in the West End.
There’s a time and a place for some old-fashioned, bells & whistles musical theatre – and in these troubled times, Julian Fellowes’s faithful stage adaptation of Mary Poppins is the spoonful of sugar we all need. Zizi Strallen doesn’t quite fill Laura Michelle Kelly’s shoes (from the original 2004 production), but Charlie Stemp is an energetic Bert and Petula Clarke’s rendition of Feed The Birds brings out the goosebumps.
We finally dropped in to Kalifornia Kitchen (★★★★ | 19 Percy Street, W1T 1DY) for some vegan pre-theatre grub.
The Pulled Banana Skin Tacos were a revelation (they didn’t last long!), and the Kalifornia Curry – cauliflower, spinach, cherry tomatoes and potatoes with half pickled shallots in a butter curry sauce – warmed the cockles. Burger fans should head straight for the Klassic Kalifornia Burger: a Moving Mountains B12 burger topped with smoked vegan gouda, caramelised onion, red cabbage, lettuce, tomato and Kalifornian special burger sauce. Lip-smacking stuff, and no cows were bothered!
Kalifornia Kitchen has sadly now closed.
Suitably full of vegan grub, we rolled up to UCL for Weirdos Save Christmas . . . And the local highstreet pub (★★★★★ | Bloomsbury Theatre | 9 & 10 December).
The Weirdo’s Panto has become an institution of the alternative comedy scene in London, and is a must-see on our December calendar. After a couple of years off, 2019 saw the old gang (including writer & director Adam Larter, Cassie Atkinson, Helen Duff, Lucy Pearman, Joz Norris et al.) reunited for another semi-coherent but fully hilarious show, notionally with a narrative but really just an excuse to have fun and be as silly as possible. We’re gonna say it: this felt like the best one yet!
From highs to lows, Zoe Lyons couldn’t save An Act of God (★★ | The Vaults | 27 November – 12 January) from feeling like some kind of not-so-subtle indoctrination session.
The funniest moments in this biblical comedy feel like they are Lyons’s own improvisations. Otherwise, the story of God retooling the Ten Commandments with an eye to 21st Century relevance mostly falls flat, and sidekicks/angels Matt Tedford and Tom Bowen are barely given anything of note to get their teeth into it. A damp squib of a show, which will have taken advantage of seasonal programming to do better business than it probably deserves.
Meanwhile, Forest Uprising (★★ | Leyton Sports Ground | 13-15 December) saw Waltham Forest’s year as London Borough of Culture end with a soggy whimper.
What should have been a triumphant finale to what has been a successful first year for the London Borough of Culture programme, instead represented a massive missed opportunity. Perhaps organisers sensed waning interest, or thought that crowds would turn up at the promise of a sparse programme of performances and a small food-truck market. Forest Uprising was a far-cry from the much more ambitious (and far more enjoyable) events earlier in the year.
Brent is the London Borough of Culture for 2020. Check out the ever-growing programme here.
Happily, things improved with Joan of Leeds (★★★★ | New Diorama Theatre | 3-21 December) from the talented Breach theatre company.
We’ve enjoyed watching Breach develop a really fascinating body of work, and whilst Joan of Leeds feels like something of a festive diversion, it’s certainly no by-the-numbers filler. A joyfully subversive and delightfully obscene medieval mystery play about a runaway nun, Joan of Leeds may not be for true believers – but enquiring minds (or just those out for a silly, good time) are well catered for.
Something a little bit more traditional – but with a twist – came courtesy of Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale (★★★½ | Wilton’s Music Hall | 29 November – 4 January).
For us the BBC adaptation of Dickens’s classic Christmas tale was a TV masterpiece, but this Wilton’s version (adapted by Piers Torday) carved its own niche with a female Scrooge. There were other innovative twists, too, including a surprising trip further into Christmas future than you might expect, and it all looked and felt perfect for the music hall setting. It’s hard to shake the feeling, though, that it’s the building that brings most of the magic to this Christmas Carol.
We headed back to an old favourite, Champor Champor (★★★★★ | 62-64 Weston St, SE1 3QJ) for a much-needed diversion from the usual seasonal fare.
Serving up top-notch Thai food in an intimate, cosy setting, Champor Champor is one of our favourite restaurants in London. We paid a visit between Christmas and New Year, and tucked in to a stinking young banana curry and a river prawn turmeric curry to die for. Of course, we ordered too much – we weren’t passing up the opportunity to gorge on gorgeous papaya salad and a sinus-clearing lemongrass soup, plus the obligatory sticky rice and pad thai – but we waddled away very happy indeed!
Some festive family fun was served up in the heart of Deptford with Humbug! The Hedgehog Who Couldn’t Sleep (★★★★★ | The Albany | 1-29 December).
For kids of all ages this one – a delightful story about Humbug the Hedgehog and his efforts to get to sleep for winter There are a surprising number of characters given the small cast (just three performers, quick changing for their lives), all brought to life with energy and a check glint in the eye. The kids in the audience were totally enthralled throughout the one hour show, and us adults had plenty to chuckle at too – some hilarious moments, a nice gentle message, and a warm fuzzy feeling to really stoke the fires of Christmas spirit.
In search of some quick eats, we finally stopped by at Old Chang Kee (★★★★ | 15a New Row, WC2N 4PD) near Covent Garden.
We struggle to know where to grab food in the Leicester Square/Covent Garden area – so much of it is overpriced rubbish, or its a choice between a lengthy sit-down meal or unsatisfying fast food. Old Chang Kee is our new favourite option for a pre-theatre snack or a restorative hot bowl away from the wintry weather – the Singapore Laksa Noodle bowl is the type of food you need to ward off a cold or revitalise yourself. Served quick and hot, and affordably priced, what’s not to like?
And finally, we went out on a theatrical high with Teenage Dick (★★★★½ | Donmar Warehouse | 6 December – 1 February).
Forget the clickbait title, Teenage Dick is a piece of seriously exciting, modern theatre. Catch it while you can at the Donmar, where every seat puts you mere feet from the centre of the action, as class loser Richard manipulates his way to towards power at Roseland High. Modern takes on Shakespeare can be a stretch, but Teenage Dick reimagines Richard III in a clever, darkly comic way. The performances are excellent, particularly Daniel Monks as the titular Richard and Ruth Madeley as his ‘best’ friend Buck, and the tight direction ensures that there is never a dull moment of a false beat. There are a few derivative nods to the likes of Heathers, Clueless Election, sure, but for the most part Teenage Dick ploughs its own, darkly entertaining furrow.
So long 2019! 2020, here we come!
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.