July 1999 Pt2

When we last left our hero….He had returned to Wales and to his alter-ego of a mild mannered Civil Servant” only kidding but I got you going didn’t I. Well as I said I have been lucky enough to have two weeks in London recently and this is what happened in week 2.

No Weddings this time just fun fun fun So it started on a Sunday mid dayish with me leaving Wales in shorts not a pleasant mental picture for those who know me I know but, the weather was great and even the way I drive it’s quite a long trip to London from the valleys. Half way I was in for a shock in the shape of a downpour the magnitude of which you would not believe, so there was this large person driving a Mondeo in shorts, no shirt & sunglasses with the windscreen wipers going ten to the dozen and spray everywhere. Well anyhow I got to Addlestone, where the weather was okay. And as is normal we switch to the Monday.

The idea here was to see RENT but upon ringing a friend who lives in the metropolis I found out that this evening was the only night we could meet for that great Welsh tradition a drinking marathon! so we did. I got the train to Waterloo about

5 ish and set about the preparatory arrangements for an evening of this sort, wander round check out the atmosphere [normally look for good pubs at this point but we knew roughly where we were going to go.]

Have a meal essential with the amount of liquid we were about to imbibe and meet at the agreed point at almost the agreed time. Now I met with Gareth and his cousin and we set about putting the world to rights and catching up on old times, won’t bore you with the details but just give you a review of some of the pubs we visited. We started at the Moon under the Water, nice pub, good atmosphere, ideal place to meet as with no music you can actually talk to the person you’re with. Next we walked a little and ended up at the Long Island Iced Tea Shop


[BIG mistake, but more of that later] This place is great, the roofs a little low but that’s the only negative I can think of except for what I ended up drinking, little history lesson for you I CAN NOT drink shorts. I came to this startling revelation on the Island of Rhodes when I woke up on the pavement after a Tequila drinking marathon! Three guesses what I ended up drinking in this particular establishment, yep those horrible little Slammer thingies AND 3 Long Island Iced Teas.

So a little the worse for war we headed on……..to a pub I can’t remember too well except that it was last orders, it was behind MISS SAIGON and the nice lady told us of a good night-club nearby.

The Night-club which is in Covent Garden down steps near the Pizza Hut you may be starting to get an idea of how I was feeling with the somewhat vague details here :o) But it was a good club, and there was an ABBA tribute band playing that night who were great. So I enjoyed this evening immensely and am just about ready now to try another, this being three weeks later and my head having just stopped aching. How I got back to Addlestone I am not too sure other than it involved a Taxi driver who knew the London area only marginally worse than I did.

Wednesday…..I arrived in the city early afternoon with my itinerary already planned, RENT evening performance or MAMA MIA, and to do some of those touristy things I had resisted thus far on my trips during the last 5 years. So I bought a ticket from a booth in Leicester square, as I was at that time under this mis-apprehension that the Shaftesbury Theatre didn’t have a box office, this idea started when I picked up a leaflet and it said tickets available from all good agencies…..and no mention of a box office address or number. It does have a box office by the way. I didn’t pay too much for the ticket as I had heard mixed reviews of this show, so I settled for near the back, a situation I will certainly remedy when I next see this wonderful piece of Theatre.

Before going to the Theatre I decided to do the tour of the BBC I had seen advertised on the net. So I arrived at the booth to collect my ticket, I had booked in advance by credit card as I didn’t know how popular these tours were. I needn’t have worried as people were just turning up and with a tour every 15 minutes at peak holiday times you will get in. The tour was interesting although I must admit to being a little disappointed as with all the write-ups I expected to see some of the “working” BBC but the whole tour was in a separate section of the building with all exhibits being mock-ups. So as I said interesting but not what I had hoped for. They do apparently do a tour of the concrete Doughnut or television centre and I may give this a go next time and see if it’s more reality based. I left Broadcasting House, and knowing my impeccable sense of direction wisely hailed a cab to get me to the Theatre showing MAMA MIA which I hoped to see the matinee of, NO CHANCE, all I can say is if you want to see this show either book well in advance or be prepared to give your credit card a severe bashing…..as I was quoted £50.00 for a restricted view, and this from a reputable ticket booth.

So with time to kill I decided to try an open top bus tour of the capital, now this was great the GRAND TOUR that I took with the firm with the big red buses cost about £12.00 and lasted over 2 hours, criss-crossing London, from the West End to the City, including such sites as Prince Charles home, Ian Flemings home, The War Rooms [which I have reliably been informed is well worth a visit, but to this culturally challenged ingrate is not my cup of tea, Thanks Jan]

(As I’m now adding these reviews to my new site in 2015, I will say I visited this Museum and found it one of the most interesting places I have ever been.)

The tour takes you over Tower Bridge, passed the London Dungeon, and near Buckingham Palace, now with this bus company your ticket entitles you to hop on and off various buses of the same fleet at your leisure so if you want to spend some time at any of these locations just get off have a look and catch the next bus. One word of advice Buses aren’t allowed to drive past the front of Buckingham Palace, so if you want to see what you have seen on the telly you’ll have to get off. Hopefully you’ll have the guide I had who was “really” an actor resting but was very entertaining. Assuring the tourists that the Queen Mother had enjoyed a very nice Nine Hundred & Ninety Ninth birthday the day before and would be 1,000 next year! But he was knowledgeable without being boring and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

When I arrived back at Leicester Square I made my way towards RENT my show for this evening, thanks by the way to those who posted directions on the forum for me I did find it, and yes I was just around the corner from it on a number of occasions when trying to find it previously. :o(

I arrived at RENT and settled in for THEATRE! The show is played on an open stage with the cast just walking on at the start. Now if you don’t want to know the story skip the next few paragraphs, though why your reading a theatre review if you don’t want to know the story is beyond me.

Basically it’s about group of people who live in or next to a derelict building in New York, and it starts on Christmas Eve. The staging of this show is not for traditionalists but I thought was very effective. Parts that stood out for me included: [in order of my diss-ordered mind not preference,] “Tango Maureen” sung by the ex-boyfriend & new girlfriend of one of the female characters, ” I’ll cover You” sung by “Angel” [easily the best character in the show and brilliantly played at this performance by Andy Senor] & “Collins”, “La Vie Boheme” sung by most of the cast which includes a show stopping, literally , moment where we are shown that at least 2 characters are undergoing treatment for AIDS. You may have gathered by this point that this is not another “Sound of Music!”

What it is, is a piece of Theatre for the nineties, that is of the real world, handles difficult and for some uncomfortable subjects in a way that, for me at least, reaffirmed what hopefully I can honestly say is my outlook, empathise don’t sympathise, live for today as it isn’t a rehearsal, and be true to what you know is right and don’t let others ignorance or bigotry change how you look at life. Whoa that got a little heavy and I do apologise.

Anyway back to the show, “Seasons of Love” is a great way to start a second half and the cast on this evening were excellent, I have already mentioned “Angel” also deserving of a mention is Andy Mace who when I saw it played “Roger”, if this is the understudy then it reaffirms that Theatre has some wonderful times ahead, and finally Jocelyn Hughes who played “Maureen” not on stage quite as much as the others but when she is WATCH OUT. I lied and really finally Loraine Velez who was “Mimi” I had seen her in FAME and the commitment she brings to her roles is astounding. All the cast were excellent and those I mentioned specifically were purely my personal favourites. I WILL be seeing this show again soon.

Well to Friday and another day in the city, this time as you may have gathered I really decided to go for it, so I arrived at about 5ish and headed straight for “MISS SAIGON” regular readers may be starting to see a pattern here, I’ve seen this show 9 times including this evening, and have tickets for twice more, the 10th Anniversary and the last night, but I digress, so I’m in London wandering a bit and I see a very large group of people watching a street entertainer in Covent Garden so I wander over, Now I usually watch these entertainers while walking past but for this one I stopped. It was a very striking young lady in a pink mini-skirt escaping from a straight jacket, now this is worth watching for any red blooded Welsh male! and this girl was great, the patter she had with the audience was great and she could indeed escape from one of those things, I saw here the next day as well when she had the “poor” guy from the audience to stand holding the straight jacket as she ran towards him, jumped up wrapped her legs round his waist and turned and waived to his girlfriend. Very entertaining and well worth the £1.00 I gave.

So it was to “Miss Saigon” and while reading the programme I saw for the first time that there was a new cast, I should have remembered as I have a very lovely informer at that Theatre Amy who works there who I’ve been chatting to for a while now, wonderful thing this net you know. So to the show from the amount of times I’ve seen it I think I’m qualified to write a short review this time. For those who haven’t seen it, and why not! ? Go immediately before it closes. It’s about 2 people Chris an American GI, and Kim a girl from the country who has just started working in a Bar for a pimp called the Engineer, That is very short synopsis but the show traces what happens to them at the fall of Vietnam and afterwards. Best parts for me, well all of it really. This was the first show that got me started on Theatre, I had seen TIME before years ago, but this was the one that did it for me.

But in this performance what did I notice, well the lighting of “Movie in my Mind” excellent, The performance of Niklas Andersson as “Chris” for me the best I have seen in years, I’m a sucker for power you know what we Welsh call “Giving it Welly! :o) ” And this Guy certainly does, also his American accent was brilliant. Milton Craig Nealy was the other “major” change in the cast as “John” good but for my money I prefer Richard Lloyd King who just left the role. Cezarah Campos & Joanna Ampil whom I have seen both play the role are excellent, and as I may have mentioned the stand out scene for me is immediately after “Kim” has shot “Thuy” and the look of anguish and the cry they give brings a tear to the eye of this Macho Celt every time, especially when I am in my favourite seat of middle of the front row, so am only about 10 feet away from them if that. bits to watch out for the look on “Chris’s” face when “Kim” tells him what song the girls are singing at their house warming party , “The Fall of Saigon” and “American Dream” and this brings me to Leo Valdez “The Engineer”, his photo in the programme frankly scares me but his performance is for me faultless and I’ve seen 4 “Engineers” in my time including the original Jonathan Pryce [still the best by a whisker by the way] But Leo is a worthy holder to take us the final run to the End, excuse me………………had to wipe a tear away……….:o) So as I said a marvellous piece of Theatre and a great loss to the West End.

Saturday and is London ready? Two things:

1. My last day for a while and

2. Two Welsh brothers at the same time. We arrived at about 4pm nursing the mother of all hangovers, caused by too many cans to mention while watching “Shooting Stars” on video till 3 am that morning. And headed straight for The Thames……foolhardy I know but if Mel Gibson can almost defeat the English single handedly with just Max Factor on a bad day and hair almost as long as mine we can handle a boat trip. This was the final touristy thing I wanted to do on this trip, and as my brother is looking to transfer back to Wales in his job, and so possibly won’t be there when I next go to London we decided to make a day of it.

The Boat trip £6.50 for 50 mins was good it was something I wanted to do, and have now done, I personally could have done with my guide from the bus trips’ sense of humour rather than the “this is what the guide book says” delivery of the lady on this boat, but for tourists it was interesting and gave all the relevant details.

Next it was to food and guess what I had????? … NO Wrong! I decided to push the boat out so we went to Planet Hollywood.

Now I’ve been here twice before and it is a great place to visit, a little pricey at over £10.00 for a burger, but this does come with Fries and side salad. But I love it, and I got to visit my twin Holy Grails……..THE Jacket worn by John Travolta & THE Dress worn by Olivia Newton John in GREASE. So my day was made.

For the uninitiated to go to this restaurant you go to Leicester Square, negotiate the bouncer on the door, a tip don’t go between 12 & 2 or 7 & 9pm or if you do be prepared to queue LOTS :o) With our meal we had the Bucket of Beer 5 bottles of Heineken in a champagne bucket. Great fun, one final tip, upon entering don’t pay too much attention to the decoration & exhibits as your walking to your table or you may end up doing what this Burk did, not only miss the fact that the floor was wet, but miss the 2 foot bright yellow sign telling you of this fact, and kicking it across the floor nearly killing some small child on a nearby table, Oops sorry.

From here with a very quick stop at the Trocadero to check my e-mail call me a yuppie I don’t care].

Then it was to Les Miserables our chosen show for the evening. Upstairs to the Bar, order interval drinks, have a quick one. At this point a quick moan for you, How high are the Theatres going to push the prices of Drinks? When I went to see RENT it cost me £6.00 for 2 cans of Budweiser, Now to those who drink it think how small these cans are. It cost us £5.00 for two bottles of lager at the Palace as well, you know you can NOT put up prices if you really want to it isn’t compulsory. Oh and a question when did they start allowing drinks into the auditoriums of some Theatres? A good idea but one I had not seen before.

Anyway I digress to the show. We had front row circle seats with a restricted view this caused by two things we were the last two seats before the boxes and there was a hand rail in the way, but being the strapping lads we are this wasn’t too much of a problem, being the strapping lads that we are what DID cause a problem was the lack of leg room, but I don’t really see what they can do about this.

The show was excellent I’d seen it about 3 times previously but it was the first time for my brother, Valjean was played on this night by a previous actor as apparently on this day the current Valjean was getting married and his understudy was his best man! Now it really is amazing what some people will do to get a Saturday night off :o).

All the other cast members were very good, with as usual the Inn Keeper & Wife nearly stealing the show. Best bits: “Stars” “One Day More” “Empty chairs at empty tables” & “Master of the House”. One final plea for any Theatres out there please put in Air Conditioning, as we hung out of the window of the Palace Bar we chatted to a family who realised that we were seasoned Theatre goers as we were wearing only shirts [well not ONLY shirts but you know what I mean] take a tip consider this, it was like a sauna in those Theatres during this trip.

And as a wise man ones said……………. “That’s All Folks”………….

Well almost, I returned to Addlestone then to Wales and work. I will be back on the 20th September & 30th October for Miss Saigon and will give you all the details on my return, hopefully of meeting some celebs & Friends, seeing some shows, and I will write a review of the shows & also of the Hotel I will be staying in.

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