August 2000

Well here we go another trip over and even by my standards I managed to fit in quite a few shows, arrived mid day Thursday…. left 10am Sunday and fit in 5 shows. Quite a cross section too, COOKING WITH ELVIS, CATS, THE KING & I, MAMA MIA! & THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. So, here we go, hang onto your seats for the next “exciting” instalment of a Mad Welshman in London…

Arrived at Paddington at about midday to find glorious weather and no queue for the Taxi’s, the first I should have guessed as I’d packed (on the strength of the Weather in Wales) A Leather jacket and Mac so the weather was bound to be fine really wasn’t it.

Well let’s start dispelling the myths early this time shall we, I got a Miserable Taxi driver, now in their defence I should say this is the only miserable one I’ve come across in all my trips, but it really does make the journey more fun if they can string two words together after ” where to Guv.” and before ” We’re here, that’ll be….” I mean he switched the Microphone they have off and the radio on so I just took in the sites while he took me on what suspiciously looked to me like a tour of all the traffic blackspots between Paddington and Villiers Street, where I was staying this time.

Here in lies another story, Villiers Street, regular masochists who read this nutcase’s ramblings will know that I stay at the Regent Palace, well basically, not after last time! I mean the music played all night didn’t help but the straw that…. well you know the quote, was the fact that when I rang them to book for this time they told me the rooms where now £70 odd pounds per night for the first 2 nights and £49 for the remainder, well considering this was not on suite and the rooms when I first stayed there about a year ago were about £50.00 (Side bar here – They still have a sign outside saying rooms from £49.00 I don’t how???) I thought no way, so I surfed the web and came up with the Royal Adelphi Hotel Villiers street, £68.00 per night but on suite. So I arrived there.

Well they said they were close to Charring Cross Railway Station, I didn’t realise they meant that from my Window I could literally have thrown a can through an opposite Window and hit the conductor of the 7:45 from Inverness :o)

Before I put you off though, I didn’t hear one train in all the time I was there, the rooms were basic but clean, serviced every day, television, heating, Tea Making stuff all included and the staff were very friendly, and basically, all remaining the same I think I’ve found my next home in London.

I dropped off my stuff and ventured out, and this time with a Video Camera. This may not mean much to people that don’t know me, but since I’ve run my own Video Production Company for the last 16 years I haven’t taken a Camera with me on holiday for the last 14 years. I mean the words Bus … Man’s… & Holiday spring to mind. But I made an exception. In fact I bought a new camera and made an exception, one of the little hand held jobbies and took about documenting ” My London ” the Theatres and Pubs I visit, of course including my spiritual home KFC ;o) and other local landmarks.

So I apologise to anyone that was in London over the last few days and was nearly trampled by this 6’3″ Idiot wandering not looking where he was going as he was too busy filming.

Well to the Show, COOKING WITH ELVIS, is a VERY black comedy written by Lee Hall starring: Frank Skinner ( Stuart ), Joe Cafferey ( Dad ), Sharon Percy ( Jill ) and Charlie Hardwick ( Mam ). This is the total cast, nobody else appears on the stage at any time except a tortoise, don’t ask…

Anyway the story, “Dad” an Elvis impersonator has had a serious car accident and is wheelchair bound and totally unable to react to the outside world. His Wife is looking, constantly, for outside ” affection” and his Daughter “Jill ” is addicted to preparing and eating food, The story starts when “Mam” brings home “Stuart” someone she has picked up at a club, now to go into anymore detail of this show would result in two things:

1/ Spoiling it for anyone wishing to see it, as you really have to see how it develops, because basically you wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyway!

Well to the Show, COOKING WITH ELVIS, is a VERY black comedy written by Lee Hall starring: Frank Skinner ( Stuart ), Joe Cafferey ( Dad ), Sharon Percy ( Jill ) and Charlie Hardwick ( Mam ). This is the total cast, nobody else appears on the stage at any time except a tortoise, don’t ask…

Anyway the story, “Dad” an Elvis impersonator has had a serious car accident and is wheelchair bound and totally unable to react to the outside world. His Wife is looking, constantly, for outside ” affection” and his Daughter “Jill ” is addicted to preparing and eating food, The story starts when “Mam” brings home “Stuart” someone she has picked up at a club, now to go into anymore detail of this show would result in two things:

1/ Spoiling it for anyone wishing to see it, as you really have to see how it develops, because basically you wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyway, and

2/ This review getting the literary equivalent of an 18 certificate. Lets just say what ever you do do not take the kids, they’ll spend too much of the time explaining it to you :o) or anyone who thinks that “Comedy isn’t what it used to be since the Lord Chamberlain lost control of what goes on in the Theatres.”

The subject matter in this play is definitely adult only, and covers sex, disability and for that matter food in a way that is both frank & not to everyone’s taste (oops, pun not intended) but very very funny.

All I can say to those that have seen it is I really agreed with “Jill” when she said “Thank god I cooked the….” :O)

I left the Theatre amused, tapping my foot to the excellent music both performed as part of the show and played before, at the interval and after the show, but also with a lot to think about. You can’t single out any one member of the cast as it’s an ensemble piece. I mean I went to see it because of Frank Skinner, but the other cast members, and for that matter Mr. Skinners performance, meant that I forgot who he was within the first few moments and just enjoyed a very different afternoon’s entertainment.

After the show I filmed some more of London taking in some of the Theatres I’d visited over the years and found myself in front of CATS, and thought well if not now when, and I went and booked for that evening.

So we jump to my arrival at the Theatre, a glorious evening, I’d had a meal and a drink and entered what must be the most modern looking Theatre in the West End. I’d been near before as next door at the Talk of London is where I go to see the West End Care Cabaret’s. But I’d never been in there.

First thing to hit me was escalators, great for a lazy oik like me, and it was to the Bar, buy a programme, brochure, order an interval drink and then into the auditorium, which was as I’d expected (having seen the Barrymore on Broadway interview with Elaine Paige there) except more, it really must be one of the most strikingly designed sets in the West End, being performed almost “in the round”, the “Cats” appearing in the most unexpected places, as Cats do come to think of it.

The current cast include Chrissie Hammond “Grizabella”, Mark McKerracher “Old Deuteronomy” and Cambell McKenzie “Mr. Mistoffelees”

There is another person I would have liked to have mentioned but unfortunately I can’t remember his characters name, and therein lies the problem I found with this show.

As it’s based entirely on the poems of T.S. Eliot I found the “story” difficult to keep up with, the set pieces were very well staged and the numbers ” Memory” (which was the reason I didn’t see this show for so long, as I hated it, ……Long story it goes back to my childhood….. my parents bought the single and played it so much it drove me up the wall :o) Which I must now say I loved in its context in the show,) a wonderful performance and interpretation by Chrissie Hammond, and “Mr. Mistoffelees” including a marvellous solo dance by Cambell McKenzie which really got the audience going.

In fact it actually made two of them put their cameras down for a minute. I mean I’ve never seen a crowd so blatantly ignore the requests about cameras. they ran the “use of recording equipment, cameras….” announcement twice before the show and twice during the interval in 3 languages and I saw one of the front of house staff stop one person with a camcorder, and he didn’t notice the guy sitting about 4 blocks over from me with his in a bag at his feet. I mean if your going to try and do this type of filming wouldn’t it be sensible to cover the red “recording” light on the front of the camera with black tape or something. NOT that I’m condoning this type of copyright infringement.

The problem I found was that the set pieces were excellent, but I didn’t find that the story developed it just “jumped” from one set piece to another, and as well done as these were, it didn’t click for me. I mean I can honestly say I enjoyed it but it would not be one I would like to see again, let alone over and over again as I have with certain shows. Sorry all you CATS fans out there, but think of it this way if I’m not taking up the seat there’s a better chance of you getting it :o) Oh and one last complaint, not about the show though, who’s idea was it to put the heating on FULL in the Theatre on the one days summer we’ve had this year. It was like a sauna in there!

Friday morning. Rob does “Tourist” again and goes on one of the Bus tours, excellent value £15.00 you can get on and off the bus as often as you like, the price includes a boat trip as well and is valid for 24 hours, but you can also be lazy like me just sit there and have someone tell you about the History of the place for two hours.

From here it was straight to the ODEON Leicester Square to see the X-MEN, a typical summer blockbuster, get a big drink, take your seat and let your brain idle in neutral and be entertained. All I can say about it is roll on Pts’ II III IV V VI VII VIII I hope.

Back to the Hotel, quick change, and to the Rainforest Cafe where I was meeting my companion for the rest of the Trip, the lovely Nikki a German friend of mine who is as addicted to Theatre as I am. Different Theatre in some cases, for example she loves CATS, but we agree on most shows, yes that’s right we were the two people who liked NOTRE DAME DE PARIS and wrote to say it as well :o).

We skipped the Rainforest Cafe when we saw the prices and headed for our evening’s entertainment THE KING & I.

We arrived at the Palladium and the first thing that surprised me was that all the photos outside, signs, posters and programmes etc. etc. etc. (Oops I keep doing that don’t I :o)) still show Jason Scott Lee as “the King”, in fact I only saw a poster giving the name of the person who’s taken over, on the way out of the Theatre, bit of a shame really as he stepped in at short notice and has apparently played the role on Broadway previously and was very good, and you may have realised by now that unfortunately I can’t remember his name sorry about that.

Elaine Paige “Anna Leonowens” appeared that night and was well…….. Elaine Paige. Her voice is excellent, although dare I say it not particularly

suited to these songs, and the apparent age gap did jar a bit. It is nice to see that an “old” classic musical can hold its own in these days of “spectaculars”, and this really is a classic which as it was not contemporary when it was written, doesn’t “date”.

The supporting cast were great but I think my problem was that although I never saw him perform the role “The King” will always be Yul Brynner. But an entertaining evenings entertainment all the same.

Saturday Morning – And as we should have expected considering we had the only pre-booked ” Touristy” thing planned, it was chucking it down, and we were off to the Millennium Eye.

An experience in itself as we are both scared of heights, the closer we got the bigger it got, until…. “Whoa! This may have not been such a good idea” But we did proceed, I got to the collection point for pre booked tickets swiped my card and ……… nothing, minor cardiac arrest later I tried my other card and ” thank god for that ” :o) we proceeded through the queues, you can’t really say we had to “queue” as such, as it was continuously moving and within about 10 minutes of getting our tickets we were at the foot of the wheel and were ushered into what looks like a bigish Garden Shed.

We were told to stand in the yellow circles, well I thought, this is gonna be fun, either I’m gonna meet Captain Picard or it’s a weight test and I’m gonna end up in the Thames in the next few seconds, but suddenly Flash Flash and I’d been pictured, well almost.

The Wheel does, unlike the impression I had, stop occasionally, mainly if anyone with mobility problems wants to get on, otherwise you just step on as it slowly moves past you and then your off, up to at the top 450 feet, offering you spectacular views of this great city, even in the rain :o). When we got to the top we were all milling around in our little plastic bubble, filming, taking photos of the view and each other (sorry Nikki ;o) ) when ………………… a phone rang! Well it just goes to prove you can’t escape them anywhere now.

The ride goes very quickly and it doesn’t feel like 30 mins. The “carriages” are air conditioned / Heated, equipped with CCTV cameras in fact the only thing it could have done with was either a narration using the speakers they have there or a guide to point out some of the ” best bits”. When you leave you pass a wall of screens showing you the photo you’d had taken, it’s mocked up to look like it was taken from outside the “bubble” in mid flight the only problem I had was they cut the top of my head off! So all I can say is if your over 6ft tall duck!

Then it was back to the West End as we had a busy day ahead. MAMA MIA! for a matinee and The WITCHES OF EASTWICK for the evening performance.

We decided sustenance was needed so we wandered for a while chatting about the Wheel and putting all the problems in modern musical Theatre to rights, including complaining about all the “negative for the sake of it” postings that seem to have infested most of the Theatre forums recently. And we found ourselves at the Nell of Old Drury and decided on a “traditional English pub grub” type of meal so we had American Hot-dogs and French Fries :o)

Then To MAMA MIA! Well the word phenomenon is used lightly these days but this show must be one, I mean still selling out all performances, playing in Canada, and soon to tour the U.S. But mostly it’s just a great fun show and the perfect remedy to the terminally depressing spectaculars of late.

Now here I’ve got to say something, I love MISS SAIGON, LES MEISERABLES and NOTRE DAME DE PARIS, but to be a good musical you don’t HAVE to kill off half your leads these days. And MAMA MIA! as fluffy, lightweight and simple as it is it is also FUN! and the music is great, made greater by the enthusiasm that the cast put into it, they are having fun and that transfers to the audience.

We were in the second row something I didn’t realise when we booked the tickets last October, one thing I did know, but half the other members of the audience obviously didn’t was the very loud start to the overture at the start and after the intermission. Well I enjoyed it and I’ve never seen so many people jump so high without the aid of an electrical charge.

As seems to be becoming a habit with me I saw the Understudy “Donna” this time Louise Davidson but as previously she was excellent, so were all the cast members, in fact I think that Michael Simkins “Sam Charmichael” had the edge on the original, the show was again almost stolen by the character of “Rosie” Lesley Nicol a wonderful scene stealer. Also worthy of a mention was Julie Atherton “Sophie” a very pretty young lady [oh god I feel old saying that] basically she was gorgeous, ahh that’s better, to hell with the age gap I say ;o) who was wonderful in this role and surely has a very bright future in front of her. I don’t know what more I can say about this show except, when we left the Theatre it had stopped raining!! Now what other show could do that :o)

We wandered, chatted, had a KFC [a soul mate I have found ;o)] then went to Drury Lane. Now you’ll know by now I couldn’t bring myself to even visit this Theatre after a certain MISS left there so this show really had a lot of living up to do, I mean it was because of these three witches that I lost my favourite show, so I was ready to write a scathing review that would cause Cam Mack so much distress that he would immediately close the show and at his own cost re-stage MISS SAIGON and guarantee it for at least another 290 years ………. But ……I liked it :o(

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK is based on the John Updike novel of the same name, or more to the point based on the film based on that book. It stars IAN McSHANE, LUCIE ARNAZ, MARIA FRIEDMAN, & JOANNA RIDING, supported by ROSEMARY ASHE, PETER JOBACK, CAROLINE SHEEN, STEPHEN TATE & I must mention SARAH LARK, I mention her not only because she is great in the show, but because, tenuous link coming up here, I knew her before she came to London, well knew may be a strong word I saw her in some shows in Wales, and as I’m never going to become famous and she most certainly is, if I mention this now it’ll look great when she’s a REALLY BIG star.

Later Home of Witches, when I saw it the 
Show was at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

WITCHES is a musical comedy in the tradition of American Musical comedies, it’s not “sung through” which in itself is a departure from most major recent productions. There are some really good songs, stand out ones for me “MAKE HIM MINE”, “SOMETHING”, “DANCE WITH THE DEVIL” and “WHO’S THE MAN” the latter proving that the decision to cast Ian McShane was the right one, he may not be a singer or dancer in the traditional sense but his stage presence really carry’s the role and basically he “chews the scenery” wonderfully.

I don’t think I’ll be spoiling it if I tell you a bit about the “surprises” in the show, as to 3/4’s of the population their not a surprise anyway. The two bits I knew about, the flying and the Church were good, the flying I thought was better, yes you can see the wires but I don’t see how they could do this any other way with the area they cover, on Saturday only two of the Witches flew, but Maria Freedman especially was having fun with it, admonishing a guy a few rows in front of me for trying to look up her dress :o)

There are some other effects in the show which I won’t mention as they came as a surprise to me and I think they are better this way.

All in all the cast were very good, the music was well suited to this type of production, and the set complimented the “simplistic” lifestyle of the people of Eastwick.

So an enjoyable evenings entertainment. I think for it to continue they will have to keep a charismatic DARRYL, not necessarily a Star but someone with the personality and comic timing to carry it off. I’ll definitely visit again in the future. Wouldn’t you just guess though I have one complaint, not about the show though, the seating. Considering ” the auditorium has been remodelled improving the sight lines” I for the first time in my Theatre going experience had trouble seeing the stage. This may have been partly due to the fact that I was sitting immediately behind a man who made the Incredible Hulk look annorexic! But it did give me an insight into what it must feel like to sit behind me in a show :o)

Well it was a Saturday night and after walking Nikki back to her accommodation I returned through Soho and Leicester Square which was really buzzing at that time of night. One complaint, why not keep more of the pubs open later, to find a place for a quiet drink after a show is damn near impossible, as it’s “closing time” I mean you’re not likely to get complaints from the neighbours in central London are you. So hint here Licensing officers of the metropolis, not everyone out at that time wants to eat or dance, how about leaving a few pubs open for Theatre people to meet in and chat over what they’ve just seen. If anyone knows of anywhere like this that I don’t know about, please let me know for my next trips.

The next one hopefully will be New Years Eve. Not before then as the withdrawal symptoms for the American Dream has driven me to raiding the piggy bank and booking a trip to New York in December, well it is closing on the 31st, I can’t make it then so I’m catching it once more, after that I’ll have to (gulp) wait for the British tour.

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