Friday, 10 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Chopstix, Leicester Square

Imagine Alien, the classic sci-fi Ridley Scott-directed movie starring Sigourney Weaver.... re-enacted on stage by a bunch of Dorset bus drivers. Imagine them fluffing their lines, giggling (themselves) over the special effects and reciting some of the most famous scenes in a thick West Country dialect - but then imagine an audience who loved every minute, chanted the character's names as they died, offered stage direction ("project your voices more, we can't hear you!) and gave a standing ovation at the end. And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have the one-night-only performance of Alien On Stage at the Leicester Square Theatre by Paranoid Dramatics, who are indeed based at the Allendale Community Centre in Wimborne, Dorset, where they work as bus drivers. 
When I heard about this I knew we had to go - my boyfriend is a big sci-fi geek and since he moved in with me has steadily been "educating" me in the classics. So we've worked our way through all the Alien films, all of Star Wars (which I had seen before, but -whispers- never really liked), Predator, Predator 2, Predators (the plural, and confusingly the third in the series), Alien vs Predator, and Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. What I want to know is, when does he have to start watching the collected works of Drew Barrymore and Reece Witherspoon?
I have to admit though that I've thoroughly enjoyed having my movie repertoire broadened (possibly with the exception of the Star Wars one with Jar Jar Binks). I wasn't sure what to expect when we arrived at Leicester Square to see the show, having read that it was being performed by an am-dram group. They stuck to the script religiously - even when their microphones failed and we couldn't hear them, or something was lost in translation in the thick dialect- and closed the curtains repeatedly for minutes at a time while they shifted scenery backstage. 

The actors brought real heart and soul to the characters, so much so that when Dallas, the captain, was shuffling along the heating ducts towards the alien and (the audience knew) certain death, there were shouts of "No, Dallas, go back!" and "It's behind you!" (there were times when this felt more like a pantomime) and when he died there were glorious chants of "Dal-las, Dal-las, Dal-las". The chest burster scene was highly anticipated and as Kane entered the dining room, having apparently recovered from his close encounter with a face hugger, the outline of a large contraption underneath his t-shirt was glaringly obvious. 

As the audience began to laugh good-naturedly, Kane also began to laugh, and it took the cast a few seconds to compose themselves. When the alien burst from his chest it was somehow still unexpected, and cleverly done. Similarly, I had been expecting the full-size alien to be made from a few painted egg boxes and a bit of bubble wrap, but the costume - designed by Pete Lawford - was very impressive, and when it first appeared - not on stage but unexpectedly behind the audience, leaning over an unsuspecting couple in the back row - also quite frightening.
By the end of the production the cast and crew had the audience eating out of their hand. Any heckling was good natured throughout- I suspect from people who had seen the show before, as it was performed in the same Leicester Square venue for one night last year - and the way that they turned a movie set in outer space full of special effects (even if these were 70s special effects) into a stage show was nothing short of miraculous. I even began to wonder whether some of the deadpan delivery and wooden acting was playing up to the audience as there was a degree of self-awareness and tongue-in-cheek behaviour. And I don't mean to say these people were bad actors - they are far better than I would have been - but they were quite different from the usual performers you see in Leicester Square. By the end of the show the group of bus drivers from Dorset had most definitely won over their audience, and took their bows to a standing ovation and pleas to "do Aliens [the sequel] next!"
At least the show was rather more successful than my dinner plans. My boyfriend and I intended to go to the Big Easy, which I had been looking forward to for weeks if not months, but he ended up having to go into the office to work that day. I headed to Covent Garden in the afternoon but as I arrived, found he was still in the office with no idea when he would leave. As it got to the time of our restaurant booking, I had to call and cancel, and spent the next hour and a half browsing around the shops in Covent Garden. I then realised I only had about twenty minutes to get some dinner to headed to Leicester Square and thought Burger King would do at a push - but instead stumbled across a noodle takeaway and restaurant called Chopstix

My boyfriend doesn't like Chinese food so we never go to Chinese restaurants together; with that in mind I decided this would be a good opportunity, even though I wasn't expecting the highest quality. The food is ready-cooked and keeping warm in big glass containers, each labelled with the name of the dish. The food is served in a cardboard box - even if you are eating in - and is priced at £5.50 for a base of either noodles or rice and one 'topping' (e.g sweet and sour chicken) or £6.50 for two toppings. I was after plain rice, but only saw egg fried rice or white rice with peas, so when I asked the server if they had plain rice he pointed to the latter. I said I didn't like peas and he said he would try to pick them out while serving me a portion - you can't fault him for trying to problem solve. I went for noodles instead, which were delicious. The sweet and sour chicken less so - it had a fairly manufactured taste. But it was hot, and filling, and fast - I finished my meal with a few minutes to spare and made it to the theatre just in time. Luckily so did my boyfriend, who had managed to leave work and made it to the show.

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