Call Lane Social: Tiki Hideaway

You can’t really miss Call Lane Social: it’s the newest addition to the Call Lanebar scene and its name is literally in lights. Bright red lights. Thanks to The Culture Vulture, aka the best blog in the North, a few bloggers were invited down there recently (ish, my blogging hasn’t been especially timely of late) for a mysteriously titled ‘mixology event’ where we would check out the bar and have a go at mixing our own cocktails.

On arrival, after a quick catch up with a few awesome blogger folk, I got chance to check out my surroundings. The space was dark, the walls exposed brick, the seating and bar sleek and black. So far, so trendy Call Lane. The last thing I expected was what happened next, which was that we were whisked upstairs, up a narrow, dark staircase, and into a completely different world. The bamboo walls, the pufferfish lightbulbs, the treasure map of themed cocktails: it was like being transported to a beach bar in Hawaii.

After a few minutes to explore, we took our seats at the bar and began our cocktail lesson, led by Andy, the talented and incredibly knowledgeable barman, pictured below. We started off with one of their best sellers, the Amputated Zombie (so named because just two or three of them will reduce you to a similar state), and as one of the first ‘volunteers’ I took my place behind the bar, surrounded by fragile looking bottles and fruit displays, to shake, layer and pour my masterpiece.

A rather blurry picture of Andy, mixologist extraordinaire

Under Andy’s expert instruction, I combined no less than three increasingly potent varieties of rum with a blend of tropical fruit juices, ice, and the garnishes of my choice. The enormous, chunky Aztec style glasses are a nice touch; they add to the ambience whilst making sure you get great value for money. The final flair, though, was a slice of lime, topped with a rum soaked sugar cube. Suddenly, Andy produced, as if from nowhere, a vicious little blowtorch, and ignited the sugar cube. It was obviously a little more flammable than I expected, as instead of the gentle glow I anticipated, a billowing flame shot up, threatening to melt my straw.

Voila!

After the flames had subsided, I got to work tasting my work of art. The blend of sweet fruit juices was the perfect counterpoint to the spicy heat of the rum; the drink was obviously strong, but it tasted sweet, fruity and spicy, with just a kick of alcohol at the end.

I watched a few other people make their Amputated Zombies, but unfortunately I had to leave shortly after this to attend a birthday dinner. It was the perfect start to my evening out, even if I did feel a little deflated stepping out on to the grey, drizzly Call Lane after such an exotic experience.

Call Lane Social’s Tiki Hideaway is open from 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and if you fancy holding a private function there, you can book it up until 9pm on those nights.

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Carousel at Opera North: The Sitzprobe

If the brightly coloured, ethereal posters around town haven’t alerted you to the fact, Opera North are right in the middle of a two week run of Carousel, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical voted as the best of the 20th century by Time Magazine. A week or so before the opening night, I was lucky to be able to attend the sitzprobe, a seated rehearsal which is the first time that the orchestra and the singers rehearse together. This particular one was held in the Howard Assembly Room, which many of you will know as a remarkably versatile venue, and which turned out to be a beautiful space in which to enjoy this experience.

As we waited to go into the Howard Assembly Room, the musical director, Tim, spoke to us a little bit about where the cast and crew were at in the rehearsal process, what the sitzprobe would involve and why the show was going to be so good. It was all incredibly interesting, but one moment stood out for me. A blogger asked why someone who wasn’t interested in musical theatre at all, and would rather watch X Factor on a Saturday night, would be interested in going to see a musical by an Opera company. Tim described that moment that people get when watching X Factor, when someone opens their mouth and starts singing, and it’s so beautiful that your hair just stands on end, and goosebumps blossom on your arms. He explained that this would be like that, only better. About a thousand times better, I added in my head, because these are extensively trained, incredibly talented singers that have honed their craft professionally for years.

We filed into the Howard Assembly Room and took our seats down one side of the balcony to watch the set up. At the end, in the gallery, sat the chorus, and opposite us were the main cast members. Below us, the main room was teeming with people, setting up double basses taller than me, lugging in drums that took two people to carry and arranging more chairs than I imagined could ever be necessary. Disappointingly, there was no triangle player – the keyboard player had to multitask. The trills and scales as the players tuned their instruments and warmed them up were divine – I had to just take a quiet moment to soak it in and bask in the presence of all that sheer talent.

Soon it was time to get started and the orchestra launched into their opening number, the instrumental Carousel Waltz. The sound of a whole orchestra filling the room was incredible, and I felt absolutely privileged to be in the room for this experience. They played the piece straight through, and I felt transported away from the rainy Leeds day and straight to a 19th century fairground in a seaside town in Maine. It was absolutely beautiful, and couldn’t be improved upon in any way. Or, so I thought – turns out the conductor had other ideas. He barked a few instructions to the flautists, and painstakingly went through the whole piece again, stopping regularly to discard a pianissimo or throw in a mezzo forte. I had thought the piece was impeccable before, but it just got better and better as we listened, and I left with a brand new appreciation for the work and the vision that goes in to productions like this.

Next, we moved on to one of the big numbers, June is Bustin’ Out All Over. This was the first time we heard the singers at work, and it was worth the wait. The chorus, a group of about fifty people populating the gallery, suddenly stood and started singing, and it was just a wall of exquisite sound that blew me away. The individual cast members were just as impressive, with voices that effortlessly spanned the octaves and produced notes that thrilled when they could just as easily have chilled.

At this point we were summoned; 3.30 had arrived and it was time to leave. As we left I felt resentful that we’d been dragged out after just two songs, but actually tit was perfect – I was left desperately wanting more.

Carousel is running at Leeds Grand Theatre until 19th May. Tickets are available here.

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Laughter Lines

Comedy in Leeds seems to fall under the radar a little; the big names have toured a few of our theatres, of course, but I don’t seem to hear too much buzz about other events. (If you’re interested, incidentally, you must follow @killforaseat, who knows where it’s at.) Luckily we have Patrick Turpin and Natasha Rosenthall, two graduates of the University of Leeds, currently in the throes of organising their second comedy festival in the city.

Laughter Lines is a week long comedy festival, starting at the end of April, featuring fifteen shows across eight venues. Topping the bill are Frisky and Mannish, Isy Suttie, Paul Foot and Henning Wehn. There’s also a film screening, a showcase of up and coming local talent, clean comedy for families and a show from the world’s only comedy think tank.  There’s a huge variety so hopefully there’s something for everyone. The venues include The Carriageworks, Dock Street Market, Hyde Park Picture House, Seven Arts and several of Leeds’ best pubs – so at the same time as having a good giggle you could also find a favourite new hangout.

Remarkably, the festival has been fully crowdfunded via pleasefund.us. If that doesn’t show that there’s demand for this sort of thing in the city, then what does? Let me know if you go along to any of the shows – it would be great to hear what you all think of it.

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World Book Night 2012 in Leeds

It’s here again! Tomorrow is World Book Night 2012, when tens of thousands of givers across the country will distribute half a million free books among their local communities. Come Wednesday I’ll be at a local Girl Guide group telling them why I love I Capture the Castle; meanwhile on Monday night tons of other book lovers are organising fab events throughout our fair city.

World Book Night at The White Swan, Leeds

In the city centre we have an event from @LeedsBookClub and the one and only @Gazpachodragon. As you can see from the poster above, it’s at The White Swan (awesome ale alert) and starts at 7pm. Prepare yourself for endless literary fun and grab yourself a free book to see what all the fuss is about! Plus, I heard there would be cake…

Up in Headingley @BookElfLeeds is looking to repeat last year’s success at Arcadia Bar. Again, there will be free books, plus the incredible Travelling Suitcase Library and a buffet. The word on the street is that cheese on a stick will feature heavily, which is good enough for me. Again, it starts at 7pm and full details are here.

If you’re already a total bookworm, then popular book blog For Books’ Sake are holding an event at Café 164. You can swap books from 2pm and from 6pm is a literary quiz. With prizes! Book your team’s place by tweeting @cafe164. More info here.

Finally, the gang at @WaterstoneLeeds are celebrating in style! They’ll be open til 8pm and offering 10% off all full priced books between 6pm and 8pm. They also have a quiz, plus an open mic for random reads – grab your favourite book passage or poem and share it with everyone. Again there’ll be free WBN books, wine, nibbles and activities for kids.

That’s a ton of World Book Night fun in Leeds tomorrow! Unfortunately I think anyone would struggle to get them all in but I’m sure there’s scope for a bit of party hopping. Have fun deciding, and, most importantly, get into the spirit of the night. Read the books, enjoy them, pass them on, and introduce someone to the joy of reading.

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We Are Poets at Leeds Town Hall

As many of you will know, the Leeds Young Person’s Film Festival has just begun we’re now well in the throes of the 13th Leeds Young Person’s Festival the 13th Leeds Young People’s Film Festival is now almost over (it took me a while to get round to writing this, okay?). It’s just one more of the many exciting events that our fair city bestows upon us each year. I’m a bit tardy in blogging this, but last Friday I went along to one of their first events, We Are Poets. It involved the screening of a documentary, hosted by the fabulous Benjamin Zephaniah, supporter of the documentary and poet extraordinaire, and followed by a Q&A session with some of the people covered in the documentary.

The film is about a group of teenagers who belong to Leeds Young Authors, a performance poetry group in Chapeltown. A group of these teenagers were chosen to go to Washington DC to compete in Brave New Voices, the world’s most prestigious slam poetry competition.

Benjamin Zephaniah gave some short opening remarks before the film which were beautiful, and which prepared us for the experience perfectly. I loved some of the things he said, and I desperately wish I knew shorthand so I could have got them down more accurately. Among other things he told us how great he thought it was not that these kids were getting familiar with the great poets of the past, but that they were learning to write their own poetry. And not just for the sake of it, not just for something to do on a Tuesday night, but because these teenagers have something deep and something important to say.

He said that despite today’s children being the Twitter generation, young people’s voices are not being heard. But no matter what technology is developed, no-one can stop us from returning to the first art form, the spoken word. This is so true and I hope it’s something that the young people ofLeedswill remember: that they do have important things to say, and no-one can ever stop them from saying them. This linked really nice with a scene in the documentary with another respected performance poet, Saul Williams. He reminded the young poets that although people will try to label their art as street poetry or slam poetry, what they are doing is poetry, pure and simple. They are performing their poems in front of people, just as the ancient poets did before the advent of literacy, and they shouldn’t feel that they are anything less than poets.

Zephaniah’s final words reminded us that the film itself was as much an art form as the poetry, and it was true that as we watched, it was obvious how much had gone into telling a beautiful, inspirational story. Not only did the film get across the incredible talent that each teenager has, it shows us each of their personalities, their political opinions, and most of all their journey as they go from writing poets with their mates in a conference room in Chapeltown to performing at Brave New Voices to standing on a stage in front of the White House.

I was pretty much blinking back tears the whole time I was watching this. Not only was the story of the Leeds Young Authors incredibly inspirational and moving, but there were gorgeous dashes of poignant humour, and a distinctly humbling reminder that our city is packed with wonderful people who give constantly of their time and talents to help our young people. As we watched the poets struggle with obstacles such as fund raising, nerves and censorship, there were always figures in the background urging them on; not telling them what to do, but telling them that whatever they chose to do, they would be supported.

As we flocked out of the cinema, there were collection buckets for donations to help this year’s team raise enough money to compete at Brave New Voices. I put everything I had in my purse in that bucket, and was thrilled to see £5, £10 and £20 notes being thrown in left right and centre. Leeds Young Authors, as far as I’m concerned, deserves every penny anyone throws at it. Arts and creativity may not matter to our government, but so many of us have seen the good things they can do within a community.

I honestly can’t recommend this film enough. Keep an eye out on the website for future screenings, or alternatively you can pre-order the DVD on Amazon now.

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Leeds Pub Quizzes: Dock Street Market

When: Mondays at 8pm

Where: Dock Street Market, Dock St, Leeds

The cost of a round: Bizarrely, licensing problems meant there was no alcohol on sale that night, so alcoholic drinks were purchased from the off licence. Soft drinks are £1.50 but the most popular menu items are the teapot cocktails, which range from £12 to £16.50.

The quality of the crisps: Kettle Chips, usually a very respectable choice but they’d sold out of salt and vinegar which was very disappointing.

The cost to enter: It’s free!

The questions: Eight or nine rounds of six questions with standard subjects such as sport, general knowledge, geography and literature. Musical intros are NOT my strong point, but luckily my friends are slightly cooler than I am so all was not lost. The questions started easy in each round and got significantly more difficult; a nice balance, I thought. They did tend towards the kind of question where you either know it or you don’t, rather than the type where you can make an educated guess or where you’re racking your brains for half an hour because you know that you know it. I don’t know which is more frustrating, though!

The experience: This was different to your average pub quiz because Dock St Market isn’t a pub, really; it’s more like a college café that happens to stay open at night and serve booze. It was quite chilled out with a friendly crowd, and it’s quite a small venue so it felt pretty cosy. It was a nice change of atmosphere, really. The drawback was the limited seating. We were lucky to get a table! But, you can’t penalise a place for being popular, so I’d just advise getting there early. The quizmaster spoke clearly, which is a huge plus for me, and it was all quite light hearted and laid back. The food is delicious; one of us who hadn’t eaten ordered a goat’s cheese salad which was just incredible. The game of bingo in the middle is inspired, and very rowdy, although I do apologise for the false alarm when I claimed I had a full house. I didn’t. With prizes for team names, the quiz, a bingo line and a full house, it’s fairly hard to go home empty handed, although we managed it.

The verdict: Overall I had a cracking night. Dock St Market has a great atmosphere and is really friendly and fun, and the bingo game added a nice twist to the evening. 4.5/5

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Mary Shelley at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Not only am I a bit of a bookworm, I’m quite stubbornly feminist, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go see Shared Experience’s new production, Mary Shelley, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The poster, featuring a dishevelled Kristin Atherton as Shelley staring insolently into the camera, sparked in me a curiosity about this woman, who at just 19, wrote a haunting, classic novel about man’s fascination with creating life.

From the very opening scenes, all eyes are on Atherton, who plays a vibrant, irrepressible Mary, full of dreams and aspirations, and nursing a fervent admiration for the mother she never knew. She’s energetic and wilful and smart, as one would expect the offspring of the feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical political philosopher William Gibson to be.

The setting is fairly domestic, to begin with: Mary, her half sister Fanny and her step sister Claire are reunited when Mary returns from a visit toScotland. The house is all abuzz with news of a visitor: the young, handsome, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who admires Godwin’s politics and wishes to help him out of his debts. Of course, we all know what happens next: Mary and Shelley fall in love, and despite Shelley’s wife and children, decide to go away to be together. When Godwin’s lack of support becomes clear, the pair are forced to run away in the dead of night, taking Claire with them.

It is in the crucial scene where Godwin tells Shelley that his running away with Mary is impossible, that we see his struggle. Years earlier he wrote freely about the affairs his wife (Mary’s mother) had, and then went on to encourage Mary to read all about them. Yet faced with this real, liberal daughter, a product of the upbringing he gave her, willing to run away with a married man, we see how much society has worn his ideals down. He is more sensitive to the pressures of society, and the realities of business than Mary ever will be. He shuts Mary out of his life, and refuses to have any more to do with her.

After this point, Mary seems to fade into the background a little. Perhaps because we never see her talking to anyone outside her family, she seems to lose some of her spark. Poverty and motherhood have matured and changed her. She becomes eclipsed by the other dramas happening around her, and we get caught up in the stories of Claire and Fanny. Claire is played marvellously by Shannon Tarbet – she’s flighty and bubbly and incredibly self-possessed, Meanwhile Flora Nicholson’s Fanny is perfectly kind, gentle and proper. Fanny is overshadowed by both her sisters, and as she becomes increasingly torn between the two halves of the family she almost becomes invisible. I felt for her the most. Her story is the least well known, but it’s the most relatable and the most human, and it’s so sad.

The set is limited but inventive. Shelves packed with books dominate the stage, and a long dining table at the front serves whichever purpose it is called upon for: it is at various times a bed, a boat, a desk or a gravestone. The oversized, eclectic furniture and the imposing bookcases give the whole stage a gothic feel that matches the story so well.

At just about three hours, this isn’t a short play, but it didn’t feel anything like that long. I was completely absorbed in the story and the characters all the way through, which is very rare for me. I never watch a film all the way through, and even at good plays I’m generally clock watching towards the end.

Not everything was perfect; there were moments that rang slightly false, and I would have liked to see a little more of Mary and Shelley falling in love, as it was all a bit sudden for my liking. Regardless, I’d give this a hearty five stars, and recommend it to anyone.

Mary Shelley is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in the Courtyard Theatre until 7th April 2012.

 

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