Friday, 30 September 2011

Theatre Review: Othello

Clarke Peters as Othello and Dominic West as Iago

Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello has to be one of the darkest and most sinister but also one which shows the playwright’s incredible talent to mix his character’s motives and acts into one superb plot.

Othello, perhaps should be re-titled Iago since this character is perhaps the most prominent throughout the play and the plot is created around his jealousies, his motives and actions and how they bring about the demise and misery of so many of the other characters. The chief of these being Othello, a Moor and commander of the armed forces of Venice. Iago despises him not only for marrying Desdemona, a lady whom he had once sought favour with but also because Othello passed over him for promotion as his new lieutenant and instead chose a Florentine by the name of Michael Cassio. An embittered Iago having had his pride wounded twice, now seeks revenge and plans Othello’s downfall by any means using anyone at his disposal to help him in his quest. This is a story of prejudice, jealousy and lies and how one man’s overwhelming desire for revenge leads him to commit the ruthless and heinous acts that he does. The tragedy of the piece lies in the deaths of those who were deceived by the man they blindly trusted.

Dominc West as Iago and Clarke Peters as Othello. Photo by Geraint Lewis

It also raises the question of Othello’s character and whether he was an honourable yet tragic hero for putting his trust in his adviser or a vulnerable and tragic fool who unwittingly takes part in the murder of his wife. It is also however a story of love; the love between Othello and Desdemona, the love between Desdemona and Emilia and how their loves progress throughout the play. Love may be blinded in some instances but in the end I do believe that love conquers all – even if it was in death.

This latest production of Othello at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, features the brilliant talents of Dominic West as Iago and Clarke Peters as Othello and is supported by the superb Lily James, Gwilym Lee and Alexandra Gilbreath as Desdemona, Cassio and Emilia respectively. These central characters interact wonderfully with each other and I found myself totally engrossed in the plot and the development of each character. I enjoyed watching Othello start as the well respected commander in love with his new bride turn slowly into a mad and jealous husband who goes out of his mind in jealousy through the web of lies and insinuation spun by Iago. Desdemona was a sweet and beautiful breath of fresh air whose innocence, trust and love of other characters led to her ultimate death and indeed I found her death scene quite upsetting and disturbing. Emilia provided some light relief to an otherwise dark and sinister plot with her quick and witty lines and it was touching to see the love that she had for her mistress. Iago from the start declares himself to be the villain of the piece and Dominic West played him to perfection. There was something about his performance that drew you to his character and although you knew you should despise him for what he had done, you could not help but admire his shrewdness and cunning and wonder at the blindness of the other characters to his deceit.

Lily James as Desdemona, Dominic West as Iago and Clarke Peters as Othello. Photo by Johan Persson

I think this was perhaps the first time I have ever seen a Shakespeare play performed in traditional Elizabethan costume and I thought that this combined with the relatively unobtrusive set made for a great setting. This play is relatively long (almost 3 hours) and owing to the subject is quite draining but the excellent performances from the actors meant that you were totally engrossed in the plot and were on the edge of your seat waiting to see what happened next. Even if you were familiar with the story I think you would be upset by some scenes but it all made for great theatre and a performance I would recommend not just for entertainment and the great use of language but the questions it will raise afterwards which will be great topics for conversation and debate.

Othello is showing at the Crucible until Oct 15th 2011. For more information see: or contact the box office for the few remaining tickets available 0114 249 6000 

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Restaurant Review : Cattle Grid, Leeds

Anyone who loves a great steak would have to go a long way to beat what’s on offer at Cattle Grid in Leeds.

Cattle Grid, the brainchild of Steve Novak and Shaun Gray opened its doors in August of this year and is already proving a huge success with diners. It offers top quality food at affordable prices in a very relaxed atmosphere with attentive and friendly staff and a menu that makes your mouth water just reading it.

The restaurant in Leeds, is their fourth venue (and the first outside of London) and is located near to the famous Corn Exchange building on Assembly Street .Whilst many of the building’s original features are still in place, the interior has been given a face lift and is very contemporary and modern, very airy and clean and yet very inviting. It all makes for a relaxed atmosphere and a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience and my first visit to Cattle Grid was definitely that!

The menu is relatively straightforward offering variations on the 3 main menu choices, Pig, Cow and Burgers. Of course, further reading of the menu reveals this to be; Ribs, Steaks and Burgers - and there are salads and tuna for those not as carnivorously minded. You can chose your cut of steak from 10oz Rump, Sirloin, Bone in Sirloin, T-Bone and Rib eye or 7oz Fillet all of which are cooked to your specification and come with an order of double-dip fried chips and a serving of watercress. Add to this your optional choice of topping such as green peppercorn sauce, herb and garlic butter or their own special Harissa sauce and also your choice of side order and you have a meal that delights just about all of your senses in one go.

My visit to the restaurant was part of a social media and bloggers event and I was fortunate to meet one the owners, Steve Novak. Steve was very charming and friendly and not only entertained us with stories of his business ventures so far but also gave us a great insight into the restaurant business, the costs, sourcing suppliers and ensuring  you get the best quality products at affordable prices. It was refreshing to meet someone so openly honest and yet someone who clearly has a great passion for what he does and takes a pride in making sure every little detail of your dining experience is attended to. Although not a chef himself, Steve knows what he likes to eat and has a good head for business – you might say that this guy knows his onions – or in the case of Cattle Grid, his onion strings!

The service in the restaurant was of a high standard and the staff were not only efficient but also very approachable and friendly. They were there whenever you needed them to be but were not intrusive to your meal. Whilst each meal was cooked to order, it didn’t seem like you were waiting too long between courses and yet you didn’t feel rushed either.

For starters I had a portion of baby back ribs. They were coated in a special Cattle Grid glaze which was tangy with a bit of a kick to it and not too sweet. The meat was very tender and fell easily from the bone as you ate it. I have not always been a great fan of ribs but as these were recommended by Steve and are one of their highlighted menu choices I was determined to try them. They were absolutely delicious and a real delight from start to finish.

For my main course I chose the 10oz Sirloin, medium rare with herb and garlic butter .As mentioned before, the meal came with a serving of fresh peppery watercress and a portion of double- dip fried chips. My companions and I also shared a portion of onion strings (Cattle Grid’s own version of onion rings but cut into strips and fried in a light tempura batter) Cattle Grid coleslaw and garlic mushrooms. The chips were light and crispy and the peppery watercress was a refreshing change to the rather bland salads you find in other restaurants. The mushrooms were soft without being mushy and contained just the right amount of garlic to compliment the mushrooms without taking over the whole taste of them. The coleslaw was light and yet creamy and not too sharp or full of onion. The onion strings were again very light thanks to the tempura batter and were not too sweet or too sharp, but just right. The steak however was in a class of its own. At first glance I didn’t think I would manage to eat it all, but one bite of it made me determined to finish it whatever the cost. It was a beautiful cut of meat and cooked to perfection. It was soft and tender and the garlic and herb butter added to the succulent taste of the steak and on reflection, I have to say was the best steak I have ever tasted!  

Having over-indulged on my sumptuous main course I did not have the room or the energy for dessert but there were some very tempting offers on the menu including waffles and ice cream or crème brulee, all of which were reasonably priced and looked delicious.

Overall, without drinks I would estimate that you would spend approximately £20-£25 per head. When you see the size of the portions and taste the quality of the food you will know that this represents great value for money as it is of the same high standard you would expect from many top London restaurants but at a fraction of the price. They say that you get what you pay for but in this case you get so much more – this is not just a meal, it is a dining experience and a gastronomic delight all in one. Cattle Grid also offers a lunch time menu and has a special offer on for their Leeds restaurant only at the moment.Every day between 12pm and 5pm you can get a slow cooked beef sandwich or Hog Roast sandwich, served with chips and a can of soft drink for just £6!

I would thoroughly recommend this restaurant to others and I will definitely be going back there again myself. My thanks to Emma Bearman for organising the event, to Steve Novak and Clancy Walker for their hospitality and to all the staff at Cattle Grid for such a wonderful and tasty meal.

For more information on Cattle Grid, its venues and menu go to

Friday, 2 September 2011

Review :The Winter's Tale

Having enjoyed seeing Richard III and A Comedy of Errors performed by the all male cast that make up The Propeller Theatre Group; I was eagerly anticipating their forthcoming season featuring Henry V and The Winter’s Tale. However, a chance opportunity to see The Winter’s Tale performed earlier last month on a midsummer night, by The Stamford Shakespeare Company, in the beautiful grounds of Tolethorpe Hall was an opportunity not to be missed.

Tolethorpe Hall was acquired by the company in 1977 and they performed their first production of Hamlet in the same year. The grounds boast a natural amphitheatre which has since been converted into a canopy covered auditorium but still has the benefits of an outdoor theatre. It is ideally situated in the grounds allowing visitors to picnic before the performances, or indeed enjoy a cooked meal inside the hall. The fact that the theatre is outdoors means that performances can use the natural surroundings (and lighting) as part of the staging and the canopy covering means that whatever the weather, the show will go on.

This was the first time I had seen The Winter’s Tale and although I had read a synopsis of the play before hand it wasn’t one I was terribly familiar with...the only quote I could think of from it was the stage direction “Exit pursued by a bear”. Nevertheless my love of Shakespeare took over and I watched eagerly as each scene unfolded. The open air aspect of the theatre really added to the magic and intimacy of the performance and despite the rain gave it a very realistic setting.

For those of you unfamiliar with the play, The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s later plays and whilst originally classed as one of the comedies, some have re-categorised it as a romance whilst other critics consider it to be one of the problem plays because of the mixture of intense drama in the first three acts combined with the comedy and happy ending of the final two acts.

The Winter’s Tale tells the story of King Leontes of Sicilia and his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. Polixenes has been staying with Leontes as his guest in Sicilia but after 9 months decides to return home. Leontes tries desperately to persuade him to stay but to little effect. He then encourages his wife, Queen Hermione to persuade him. She is successful in carrying out his request but Leontes, puzzled by how easily Hermione persuades Polixenes to stay when he had failed, becomes consumed with jealousy. He believes that Polixenes and Hermione are having an affair and that the child she is carrying is not his but Polixenes. He orders Camillo to poison Polixenes but instead the two of them escape and flee to Bohemia. Hermione is arrested and gives birth prematurely to her daughter whilst in jail. Leontes considers killing the child but instead orders Antigonus to abandon it elsewhere. At her trial Hermione’s innocence is declared by the Oracle who also predicts the death of Leontes son if he doesn’t believe Hermione. Leontes defies the Oracle and then hears news that his son has died. Hermione faints and is reported to be dead. Leontes then promises to mourn his dead wife and son every day for the rest of his life. Meanwhile Antigonus has carried out Leontes’ wishes and abandoned his daughter, Perdita in Bohemia; he is pursued and killed by a bear. Perdita is found with a large sum of money by a shepherd and his son and is taken home raised as one of their family.

Sixteen years pass and in Bohemia, Polixenes and Camillo become aware that Florizel (Polixenes' son) is in love with a shepherdess. In disguise, they attend a sheep-shearing festival and confirm that the young Prince Florizel plans to marry a shepherd's beautiful young daughter (Perdita, who knows nothing of her royal heritage). Polixenes objects to the marriage and threatens the young couple. Eventually, with a bit of help from the comical rogue Autolycus, Perdita's heritage is revealed and she is reunited with her father Leontes. The kings are also reconciled and both approve of Florizel and Perdita's marriage. They all go to visit a statue of Hermione kept by Paulina. Miraculously, the statue comes to life and speaks, appearing to be the real Hermione, who went into hiding to await the fulfilment of the oracle's prophecy and be reunited with her daughter.

Although the Stamford Shakespeare Company is an amateur company, there were many parts I thought were performed to a professional standard. The dancing, choreography and costumes were all excellent and whilst some performances from the cast were slightly underwhelming, it was on the whole a very enjoyable show. I liked the fact that unlike other amateur performances I have seen, the actors were cast in age appropriate roles thereby adding to the credibility of each character and their relationship to each other. There were excellent performances from both actors playing the Kings and the young actors playing Florizel and Perdita also were worthy of a mention.

I did enjoy both the production and the visit to Tolethorpe Hall and hope to return again next season to see further productions. It is a truly beautiful and picturesque setting and is also steeped in history as I found from notes on The Stamford Shakespeare Company Website....
 “Tolethorpe was the birthplace, circa 1555, of Robert Browne who became the leading and most active campaigner for the Separatist movement seeking a separate church from the Church of England at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Also known as the Brownists, Shakespeare referred to the movement in a line in "Twelfth Night" of Sir Andrew Aguecheeck: "I would as lief be a Brownist as a politician".
It was Browne's followers, mainly from Lincolnshire and East Nottinghamshire, who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 to become the Pilgrim Fathers of America. Their first harvest is commemorated on Thanksgiving Day. Browne could be said to be the Father of the Pilgrim Fathers linking his home, Tolethorpe Hall, with the birth of America. Descendents of the Browne family of Tolethorpe were among the pioneers of the early days of America, especially in Baltimore, Maryland, and Watertown, near Boston, Massachusetts. The names of two of them, Richard and Abraham, Puritans who arrived with Wintrop's fleet in 1630,are recorded on the monument to the pioneers at Watertown. Browne's son, Edward, was one of Lord Baltimore's gentlemen who surveyed Baltimore and the State of Maryland.
The oldest house in America, preserved and open to the public was built in 1698 at Watertown by Abraham Browne, the grandson of the early pioneer, mentioned above. The first shot in the American Revolution which drew British blood was fired by Solomon Browne on Lexington Green in 1775.
The last member of the Browne family to live at Tolethorpe Hall was Countess Mary Pomfret who, died childless in 1839. It was the end of 300 years of the Browne dynasty at Tolethorpe.

For more information on the Stamford Shakespeare Company and their forthcoming productions, please see