April 2004

I WAS THAT MAN…which man? What’s he on about this time?? …Read on…

I came to London to see two shows mainly, and in both of those I had a specific member of the cast in mind, not the only reason for seeing them but a definite bonus if I was lucky. I found out after booking the second that the cast member I wanted to see in the first was not performing for a few weeks, so that one bites the dust.

So we start Thursday mid morning, I arrive in London check into my hotel a change this time I’m at the Thistle Trafalgar Square, which despite its name doesn’t over look the square. It is in fact in a side road just off the square. I immediately head for the TKTS booth, my plan to try and get a ticket for the new musical JAILHOUSE ROCK which is still in it’s preview run, prior to an opening later this month.

I’m lucky, so ticket safely in wallet I decide on the first of the movies I want to see.

The first theatre of the trip as mentioned was JAILHOUSE ROCK and this is at the Piccadilly theatre.

There in lies a tale, I’ve seen a few shows there: ROMEO & JULIET, NOISES OFF and SPEND SPEND SPEND and I always thought it to be a smallish theatre, so when the guy in the TKTS booth told me “you’re a bit high up” I said no problem. WRONG! My god I needed oxygen for the stairs, had a nose bleed as I got to my row then had to negotiate the people already there. Not normally a problem but when your that high up and the back of the seats in front of you only come mid calf high and your looking down and down and down, I was a jittering wreck by the time I got to my seat.

STARSKY & HUTCH, is a new big screen version of a TV show from my youth. The cast are headed by Ben Stiller “Starsky” and Owen Wilson “Hutch”. The movie is one in a series of films from old TV series that seem very popular at the moment with SWAT, CHARLIES ANGELS and a proposed version of THE A – TEAM amongst others. The film itself is a fun way to spend a few hours, although I must say that paying £12.00 for the ticket was not my idea of fun. Okay it was my fault as when asked where I wanted to sit I didn’t think the choice may incur extra costs, something I found out to MY cost. This cinema being the ODEON Leicester Square, yea that’s right the really big one where the film awards and numerous premiers come from, but to be honest for that price I want a ticket to the next awards show sitting next to Keira Knightley!

To the show… well I liked it. I liked the second half a lot more than the first, mainly due to the fact that although a self confessed ELVIS nut, I’ve never seen the film, and generally prefer the latter work of “The King”. The first half concentrated more on the Rock-a-billy sound or what in Britain would be called skiffle ( in the sense that there were no amplified instruments ) and a lot of the sounds were made “on stage” by the performers. This wasn’t really my cup of tea, but when it came to the section when the character Vince came to record his music or play it live outside the Jailhouse the show really came alive. Stand out numbers included: “Always on my mind” “Burning Love” and “The Wonder of you”. I believe none of which were in the original movie. What the producers of the show, who incidentally were the ones who also created the long running BUDDY have done is to add songs to the basic premise of the movie. Very effectively I believe.

The show is still in preview at present with a planned first night later this month. But showed no glitches the night I saw it, at least not any I could see.

The cast led by Mario Kombou making his West End debut as “Vince Everett” (The Elvis Role) Roger Alborough “Hawk Houghton” and Lisa Peace “Peggy Van Aulden” were to a man excellent and one of the loudest cheers at the end and deservedly so was for Gilz Terera as “Quickly Robinson” who really brought a lot to a role that could have just been a “token inmate with heart”.

At the end Mario comes out from the curtains asks if people want more and then you have an encore which is more like a concert than part of the show. This idea seems very popular now with MAMA MIA & TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT amongst others doing it as well, to great effect.

So all in all a good way to spend an evening, now if they did another show based on my favourite Elvis movie THAT’S THE WAY IT IS then I would be there like a shot, and yes I know that was just a movie based on a tour in the ‘70’s.

So we get to Friday, and this is where I came to a startling conclusion… I wasn’t prepared to pay the prices that theatres are charging now just to see a show. If there is a show I want to see then yes I’ll pay it, but unlike in the past … a free afternoon … just enough time … I’ll squeeze in a matinee… and then FIND something to see, I thought no and decided on the cinema instead.

Well with many tickets having broken the £50.00 barrier and the TKTS booth changing from half price to some money off or even full price with booking fee added I’ve eventually been forced into being more selective.

So again I queued at TKTS and got a ticket for ANYTHING GOES. Now I’ve seen this show many times before as Am Dram, but never professionally. So as the cast were getting uniformly excellent reviews (at least the ones I saw) (OKAY they were on the boards outside and they weren’t gonna put bad ones there now are they, but hell I’m trying to make a point here.) I thought I’d give it a go and see a “classic” of its type.

Again a warning from the ticket seller “you’ll have to look up a bit, the seats in the front row”, a phrase soon to come back to haunt me but more of that later, I think well I’ve been in the front row for MISS SAIGON there many times and it’s okay so I take the ticket, £25.00 not too bad I think.

Then to kill the time I decide on the cinema. There were a few movies I wanted to see but none of them seemed to be showing so I decide on giving the new “classic” by that well regarded “thesp” “THE ROCK” a go.

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is a typical boys film, lots of implausible fighting, a pretty girl, comedy “partner” and big action set pieces, not exactly a date movie, but a good way to kill an hour or so. A review of this is not necessary… well basically it’s in the line above, and the movie delivers on all promises.

Back to the Hotel me thinks as I leave WARNER VILLAGE (soon to be renamed VUE, no I don’t know why either) a then I notice a sign at the Mezzanine, the little multiplex built onto the ODEON, stating that THE LAST SAMURAI is still showing there. So I head to the box office and ask when it’s showing today, 1:15pm he says, I look at watch 1:08pm, oh what the hell go on then, so I head into a little room up a lot of stairs with a screen marginally bigger than my TV at home. Okay so I treated myself before Christmas and my screen at home is a 43” rear projection jobby but you get the point… there weren’t many seats I mean it couldn’t hold more than double figures at the most.

Now this film is a completely different animal, thought provoking, violent yes but on a different planet to the last movie. Tom Cruise is excellent and the actor Ken Watanabe who plays the Samurai leader brought all the honour and tradition that the role demanded.

The story is of a survivor of the “Indian Wars” in the USA who now a drunk, is forced to turn up at fairs and make public appearances to promote guns. A sergeant (played wonderfully by Billy Connolly) who used to be under his command approaches him about a job. Basically he is hired to train the Japanese army to defeat the last remaining Samurai. While doing this he is captured and the film then charts his journey of self-discovery.

Friday night and it’s ANYTHING GOES at the Theatre Royal Drury lane

I was lucky seeing most of the cast only Sally Ann Triplett “Reno Sweeney” and Rachel Stanley “Erma” not performing that evening.

As I’ve mentioned I’ve seen lots of amateur productions of this show but this is the first professional production, and professional it was, the set was excellent, using the now seemingly compulsory revolve, the performances wonderful especially deserving of a mention was Simon Day as “Lord Evelyn Oakleigh” a wonderfully comic performance. The songs including many that are classics: “ I get a kick out of you” ”You’re the top” “It’s de-lovely” and “Blow Gabriel Blow” are energetically performed and the cast seem to be having fun. John Barrowman who I haven’t seen since Hey! Mr Producer seemed to fit effortlessly into the traditional leading man role, and really gave it his all and in the costumes: with tie and jacket, shawl, skirt and hat … don’t ask just go see the show, must have lost a few pounds during the performance.

I decided on a late night and after returning to the hotel for a break and to change it was off to the COMEDY STORE for the midnight show. I’ve been before and found out this time there was a comic I new from television appearing. Ed Byrne who does the Carphone Warehouse adverts talking about “Moblie” pronounced “moblee” his mobile phone. This wasn’t the reason for going I knew he had won awards in the past for his stand up so I thought I’d go along.

Well after negotiating the bottleneck at the box office window “ you brought the tickets.. no you did… yes I DID… but not enough for all of us ”, I entered bought a drink and tried to find a seat where I could see them but they couldn’t see me. I achieved this and waited for the show to start.

The show itself was unrepeatable, not because it was blue, which it was in parts but because to repeat in written form comedy especially stand up doesn’t really work. So I’ll just relay a few things that happened:

It was the first time I’ve seen a female heckler thrown out for being too drunk.

It was the first time I’ve seen 3 comics and a compere seem to do the “tag-team” audience members, in that one comic makes a gag about someone the next finds out where they are and continues the theme.

It was the first time in ages that I’ve heard a comic arc an act and finish on a profound point that I found really thought provoking.

The comic who’s name escapes me started on a one line throw away gag about old people in the street and how they walk slowly and make younger people think “ oh for Christ sake put a bit of effort in”. His act then continues seemingly un linked till at the end he says something along the lines of “ amazing how you always think the grass was greener…”if only I knew yesterday what I know today”… “it was better yesterday”… “I was happier yesterday”…and your walking down the street believing how terrible your life is and how much better you want it to be… And there are older people who would want to be young like you today…in your place today… and your going along and pass an old man on a walking stick in the road and he thinks, “Oh for Christ sake put some effort in”

A great evening, and I wander back to the hotel after visiting that magnetic north for all inebriated people the world over … the fast food restaurant. In this case McDonalds. Which was WAY TOO close to my hotel for comfort :o)

By the way a little bet to myself here, I’m trying to stick to a diet, in fact I NEED to stick to a diet… no I’m not telling you how much I weigh but I will tell you how much I’ve lost next time. So hopefully it’ll act as an incentive to keep me on the straight and narrow.

Saturday and the only two show day of the trip. I queue, this time for almost an hour for a ticket at the TKTS booth for BOMBAY DREAMS. I spent the time chatting to a nice couple from Essex, setting the world to rights.

This made me think about the similarity between Theatre fans and Dog owners ( I’m both by the way )… what I hear you ask? Well it’s always said that dog owners talk to other dog owners, and I’ve found it’s the same with theatre, you have a common interest yes, but I mean when was the last time in a restaurant you started to chat to people on the next table, you have a common interest – food, but it isn’t done (much).

This really became a day of firsts, First two show day, first tube caught this trip, and first show seen that I’d seen before. So after playing reverse hide and seek with the maid in the hotel… well I put do not disturb so she didn’t …then I went out and put please clean the room…and she didn’t (she was at the other end of the floor by then)… I return to the room as I left it…I hear her outside so go to the pub downstairs… changing the sign to please clean again… I return see a sign with a tick on it thinking must mean the room is done, open the door and nearly knock the poor woman out the window! Yea the room could best be described as compact and bijou.

Anyway after Carry On Hotel I head for the tube. Get a travel pass and begin my odyssey, well it is an odyssey for me with my sense of direction. Catching the tube from the nearest station involves a change to get me to my destination and I make it … JUST.

I exit the station see the Theatre for TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT, think to myself “well the other one is round the corner”… take the wrong corner and proceeded to take a tour of the finer points of the outside of Victoria Station. Eventually circumnavigating the whole place and getting back to where I started outside the tube station! And RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the theatre I wanted, BOMBAY DREAMS at the Apollo.

I decided on this show as I heard it was closing and wanted to see it once more before it did. What it actually did for me was confirm what I’d thought for a while; you really should see a show twice. I quite liked it the first time (which was just after it opened) but this time I loved it. It was vibrant, colourful, different, wonderfully performed. The current leads being better than the originals for my money. And a brilliant way to spend an afternoon, especially when at the interval I managed to move from the theatrical equivalent, for people of my size, of a battery hen coup to the end of a row where I had leg room.

Now this was something I never used to do, I had a ticket I stayed there no matter how uncomfortable, but as time has gone on I usually check out spare seats around me and swap when possible which makes for a much more comfortable and therefore enjoyable theatrical experience. I really hope if this renovation of the theatres by, that well known building firm of Messer’s’ Mackintosh and Lloyd Webber comes off. That they include seating like in new multiplexes, okay less seats means less money but also less chance of economy class syndrome for people over 5’ 5”!

I did a quick return to the hotel between shows, and noticed a few things: They’ve pedestrianised the top part of Trafalgar Square and they have people sitting In glass boxes there, now I know the pigeons can be annoying but why the glass boxes??

Another tube ride and I’m back where I started for TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT the only show I pre-booked and paid full price for. When I get to the theatre I buy a drink and start chatting to a very nice young lady who was collecting tickets on one of the doors, As it turned out she was a performer who had just finished her formal training and was working there while auditioning, all I can say is if her talent is half as developed as her personality then she will go all the way and I wish her all the luck in the world. Really should have got her autograph come to think of it :o)

This was the 3rd person I’ve heard of, and the second this trip, who seem to be working front of house in between roles and I think this shows great dedication and determination to continue their chosen career. When I was in ANYTHING GOES two girls selling ice cream were talking about auditions one saying she was hoping for a call back from Jerry Springer the Opera.

So to the show, TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT, this was the show I enjoyed the most from my last trip and definitely wanted to see again. So after sitting rear of the stalls and in the Circle I decided the front row seemed like fun, it was always full of fans of the show, as seems the case in a lot of the shows I’ve been to over the years, so that is what I booked.

As I took my seat I came to a horrible dawning realisation, and this is where the “I WAS THAT MAN” quote came from.

Firstly for any of you there Saturday night I chose the seat for the leg room and the fact I was expecting good atmosphere there, it had NOTHING to do with the costumes worn but the female members of the cast, ok almost nothing. Anyway the realisation? Well that I was the ONLY person in the front row! I returned to the door and asked if they normally sold the front row to a bus trip or something, only to be told that it was the last of the full price tickets to be sold, as you had to look up so much. Oops! Oh and thanks to the person who sold me that ticket for the heads up!

So I returned to my seat trying to look inconspicuous, all 6’3 and ponytaled me. I’d been told that Hannah Waddingham wasn’t performing that night, another disappointment, as she was one of the reasons I initially went to the show. My only complaint with that wasn’t that she wasn’t performing, everyone is entitled to a night off, and hell I didn’t tell her I was coming :o), but that that no announcement was made about it or the other substitution that evening, nothing in the programme and no “ at tonight’s performance the role of…” nothing.

The show itself was as I remembered: funny, loud, brash, sexy, entertaining, wonderfully performed, sexy… oh did I say sexy twice? Well I LIKE sexy!

A question, When Is the cast recording going to be released? The performances are brilliant and I want something to keep. Oh and another, where were all the fans when I was there, and why weren’t you in the front row? Do you realise how much of a burke you feel waving your arms in the air when you’re the ONLY PERSON IN THE ROW, AND THERE IS NO ONE INFRONT OF YOU EXCEPT THE CAST. Especially at my height I was almost up to the waist of half the cast on the stage when I stood up, and within 3 feet of them as well as there is no orchestra pit.

My train at least turns up this time for my return journey although it did include a 60 minute extra section as we were diverted round Gloucester I believe, but don’t quote me on that I’d almost lost the will to live by then. Oh finally to REALLY put the tin hat on it I was greeted by a welcome home note on my windscreen demanding £20.00 as I’d overstayed by a few hours in the car park. Really thanks, just what I’ve always wanted! I thought I was booking for a 24 hour block NOT time related, add to this the fact that I had the go begging for change as they not only charge £6.00 per 24 hours but provide machines that only accept coins! How many people do you know carry 18 £1 coins on them as a matter of course .

Anyway I’m back, in fact I’ve been back 3 days now and am heading to a local theatre tonight to see ZIPP advertised as 100 musicals in 100 minutes, should be fun.

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