October 2004

This trip starts when I arrive, just, at Cardiff station for the train. After the journey from hell from Merthyr where I live. The traffic was nuts, and a journey I do in 35 minutes every morning about an hour earlier, takes over an hour and 20 minutes, leaving me 4 minutes to decamp from the car an rush like a bat out of hell to the platform getting there 3 minutes before the train.

I arrived in London Thursday mid morning after an uneventful train journey at 11.30 and by 12:30 I’d bought a ticket for a matinee, checked into the hotel and was “on the streets”.

This trip was primarily to see the last two performances of one of my favourite shows Tonight’s the Night. Showing at the Victoria Palace. But first on the trip was the chance to book a last minute matinee. So I visited the TKTS and managed to get a ticket for BATBOY – The Musical. This was a piece of luck as it was one of the shows I wanted to see this trip.

The show is housed at the Shaftsbury Theatre and is a little further out than the majority of West End venues, but as it turned out, not as far as I’d feared and handy for me, as after the show I needed to get to Hammersmith for the evenings entertainment and Holborn tube was nearby with a direct line to Hammersmith.

A headline in a sensationalist newspaper in the States inspired BATBOY – The Musical, you know the type “Double Decker bus found on the moon” etc. This was originally an “Off-Broadway” production and it has transferred with its star Deven May to the West End.
The story tells of a part boy part bat creature found in a cave on the outskirts of a small American town, it’s captured and taken to a local Vet to be destroyed. But the Vet’s wife decides to keep the boy and raise it as her own child.

The best description, and one, which has been most frequently used to try and describe this show, is a cross between the
Rocky Horror Show and Little Shop of Horrors and it does indeed have similarities.

A “fantastic” storyline, larger than life characters, and an underlying heart or message of tolerance. Obviously not for blood drinking plants or part bat creatures though ;o)

When I saw the show you entered to a dark theatre with the sound of dripping water. One of the first things I noticed was that the theatre had erected a false wall, reducing the stalls by I think half. Unfortunately this didn’t help, as this was the smallest audience I have ever been in, in the West End. There must have been less than 40 of us in the stalls, I couldn’t see in the circle but it sounded empty.

I really liked this show, yes it may not be to everyone’s taste, and frankly I was surprised by the demographics of some of the audience, although that’s probably prejudice on my part, as they seemed to enjoy it.

Deven May wasn’t performing at the matinee and I must say as he wasn’t a “name” I didn’t particularly miss him due to the calibre of his alternate. Stand out performances were: Thomas Goodridge as
BATBOY who went from grunting creature hanging upside down in a cage (while singing! …Neat trick if you can do it… and he did it very well) to an eloquent advocate for Bats rights! And Emma Williams as “Shelley Parker” the Vets’ vampish daughter. The cast, doubling up roles often across sex as well as type, were very good and added greatly to the overall feel of the production. Stand out songs were “Let me walk among you” and “mine all mine”.

The staging using a small revolve and extensive use of video screens was both effective and no doubt intendedly (not sure if there is such a word, but it’s what I mean) unsettling at times.

Now this show has announced extended booking to the New Year and where as I firmly hope this will happen, I can’t but think that it might be either wishful thinking or a marketing ploy.

This show reminded me of one way in which I really believe London is lacking. They need an equivalent of “Off Broadway”, i.e. smaller professional venues where shows like this can develop without the need to fill large Theatre’s. I’m hearing rumours of one or two and the one I know of Jermyn Street is ideal, but we need more. Preferably ones who remember to get the bar licence before opening night as well! ;o)

Thursday evening was comedy time. I’d booked to see Billy Connolly at the Carling Apollo Hammersmith, and after a minor mishap, managed to get there. Well to get to where I could see it is more the facts. It was there glowing in the dark like some alcoholics dream (Carling in big letters get it??) but do you think I could see how to get there. Not a chance. Eventually I followed a crowd, found the well-camouflaged entrance to a subway (underpass if you prefer) and got to the entrance.

The Apollo is a MONSTER of a theatre. I’d only been there once before to see Summer Holiday a number of years ago and then I was in the stalls. Now I was in the Circle and quite a few blocks back at that.

Here in lies my only grumble with a great show. Why did they not invest in cameras and large screens at the side of the stage? I mean Billy ain’t short of a bob or two, his promoters have sold out 18 nights in this aircraft hanger of a venue. God I would have filmed the performances for a few hundred, an autograph and a few beers! Okay they’d have to put up with some shaky bits when I couldn’t stop laughing but that aside I think it would have been worth the money.

As it was, I’m sure it WAS Billy Connolly I saw, the humour, language and meandering style confirmed that, but for all I know the figure on the stage could have been a stagehand in a wig and Billy could have been talking from his dressing room or indeed Scotland.

A great night out followed by a taxi ride back to my Shangri-La… KFC for my Supper!

Friday I awoke in the big smoke, Hey… that rhymes!


Anyway I looked for a matinee and managed to get one of only 3 remaining seats for MAMA MIA!
I was happy… for precisely 47 seconds, till as I’m walking out I hear:
Punter – ” What time does the show finish?”
Box Office Person – “7:35 approximately”
I leave wondering why that bothers me. I mean all (most) shows start at 8:00pm don’t they? …walks … checks ticket for
The Woman in White that evening… Expletive!!

I try for a while to sell the ticket to all the half price booths in Leicester Square with no luck, then I chance my arm by ringing the theatre and asking them what their procedure is, expecting penalty costs and loss of money. Luckily they were brilliant, they took back my ticket and returned my money in full. Thank you very much. Okay I was lucky, as the rule is they sell your ticket only if all theirs are sold first, but hey I was happy with it.

So with an afternoon to kill I decide on the cinema and the latest film from the Working Title stable. A British Rom-com called “Wimbledon” which stars Paul Bettany (Love Actually) and Kirsten Dunst, (she of the upside-down kiss with the arachnid… in Spiderman).

The story tells of a down on his luck British tennis pro, who gets a wildcard entry to Wimbledon, and a top flight highly focused American tennis brat entering her first tournament at the home of tennis, and the relationship that develops.
It’s funny, heart-warming and total escapism.

It has some nice set pieces including the tennis practice that proves to be hazardous to the health of nearby umpires, although I must say faced with an offer like that I think I might have missed the target as well. And boasts a great supporting cast featuring amongst others Bernard Hill and Robert Lindsey. It’s a great feel good movie; if you don’t catch it in the cinema then buy the DVD.


Friday night I go to see The Woman in White. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical.

It stars Maria Friedman “Marian Halcombe” and Michael Crawford “Count Fosco”. Who lead a cast featuring amongst others Edward Petherbridge “Mr. Fairlie” and Oliver Darley “Sir Percival Glyde”.
The story is freely adapted from the Wilkie Collins novel of the same name, and tells of a ghostly woman in white who has a secret, she first appears to a young artist as he is on his way to a job as an art teacher for two half sisters, The show is set in Victorian times.

Much has been made of the scenery for this production as it is basically computer generated images projected onto a large curved screen, which itself revolves to various locations around the stage, once you’ve got over the initial “newness” of this approach I found it very effective. Okay at the start for the cast members to have got to the top of the stairs in the time the scenery took to get there they would have had to sprint never mind walk briskly, but this minor foible aside I liked the effect, and I felt that it added to the sweeping nature of the story.

Musically many have mentioned the fact that Andrew Lloyd Webbers score sounds similar in parts to sections of his older works and yes I fancy I did hear a few bars of refrains from Whistle down the wind in a few of the numbers, but this is something that has happened since long before Lord Lloyd Webber was in long pants!

Maria Freedman was as usual excellent, in the role of
“Marian” the elder sister and her voice suited the big numbers wonderfully, I fancy she may have had a few voice problems on the night I was there but her professionalism shone through and her performance was captivating.

Michael Crawford who in some sections of the press has been described as underused, and playing ONLY a supporting role, was brilliant as
“Count Fosco” the scheming, animal loving friend of “Sir Percival Glyde”

I felt that he brought humour and consummate professionalism to a role that in anyone else’s hands could have been JUST a supporting one. Okay he isn’t on stage as much as Maria for example, but when he is all eyes are on him and together their comic timing compliments one another perfectly, and adds to some wonderfully amusing scenes. One thing to mention, Michael’s big number is almost overshadowed by a rodent, go and see the show and see what I mean, suffice to say, Roland (the Rat geddit??) doesn’t take stage direction very well.

Oh and one major point, the voice is still there. Even though he is completely unrecognisable in fat suit and prosthetic face make-up, to such a degree in fact that I thought for the first 10 minutes of his performance it was an alternate performing the role. During his big number he hits one of those respiration-defying notes that he did years ago while singing
“Gethsemane” in a Royal Variety Performance. Wonderful.

Jill Paice deserves a mention as
” Laura Fairlie” the younger sister, her voice is excellent and her performance well above what one could hope to expect from someone making their West End debut.
Angela Christian as
“Anne Catherick” (the Woman in White) was also very good although I found some of her top notes a little grating, although this could quite possibly just be me and have been part of her performance of a disturbed character.

The other cast carried the show along comfortably with Oliver Darley bringing the necessary mixture of menace and suave sophistication to his role.

Stand out numbers for me were:
“I believe my heart”; “All for Laura”, “Evermore without you” and “You can get away with anything”. I’m just waiting now to buy the CD when it’s released to hear it a few more times and then hopefully get to see the main cast again, during their run.

Saturday was a strange sort of day. I’d been looking forward to this trip for ages and to seeing this show again, but knowing that it was also the last day of this show brought a strange mixture of emotions.

I arrived at the Victoria Palace after one of my journeys again, well I popped into Leicester Square station to confirm that I could get a tube from Embankment to Victoria, and was told “no”, “oh” I said I thought I could, “No, nothing runs between those stations, you’ll have to go from here”. So I buy a ticket, and head back to the hotel to change. Only when I’m leaving do I decide to get a second opinion, so I wander to the Embankment tube station an ask the gentleman in the information booth there, “Yes, no problem all trains from platform 1 here stop at Victoria”. So all I can say is it really would help if the information staff at Leicester Square actually had a passing knowledge of the tube routes they work on!

So to Victoria, I’m early so I head for the pub. I think it was called the Stage Door well it definitely overlooked it anyway. So there I sat watching all the cast go in, signing autographs as they went, and me without the bottle to go and ask for one, even though I COLLECT THEM! The Show for those who might not know was
Tonight’s the Night. Now partially re-branded, as “The Rod Stewart Musical” which was a great fun night out featuring the music of the great man and a fun re-telling of the Faust legend with gags and direction by Ben Elton.

I’d seen the show 3 times previously, and 2 of those times were on the same day, so I knew I was going to enjoy it. The cast was lead by: Tim Howar as “Stu”, Hannah Waddingham as “Satan” Dianne Pilkington as “Sweet Lady Mary” and Catherine Porter as “Baby Jane Golden” special mention should also go to Michael McKell as “Stoner” a brilliant characterisation of a frazzled British rock star, and Howard Samuels as “Jorge” ( pronounced hor-hey) Rod’s “little treasure”
The story as I mentioned is the old Faust legend, the devil leaves Hades and upon hearing Stu say that he wished he had the courage to ask Mary out she persuades him to sell his soul to her and in exchange for Rod Stewarts.

The Musical features all Rods greatest hits from
“Maggie May” to “I Don’t wanna talk about it” via “Sailing”, these songs are great in that in a lot of cases their not sex specific so can be sung by both males or females. There are some great set pieces and across the board faultless performances. Including at these last two performances an appearance by Penny Lancaster Rod Stewarts current girlfriend, and all I can say is when she appears during the number hot legs it could have been written for her, I mean she is GORGEOUS, and for a model who hasn’t appeared on stage before I thought she gave a very good performance, I mean she was in tune and kept up with the dancers, delivered a few funny lines with good timing, and from the fact that after the evening show she was outside the stage door signing autographs seems a thoroughly nice person, oh and yes another one I bottled out of asking for an autograph :o)

It really is a shame that this show ended at just under a year, I really think it deserved a much longer run. Okay there were a few circumstances that didn’t help:

1 – Being out at Victoria
2 – Charging the first, that I came across anyway, £50+ tickets

Both performances on this day, as yes I did see it twice, were excellent for many different reasons. Between shows I tried to organise a get together for fans of the show, and although we didn’t get masses, the people I met were very nice and I hope to keep in contact, as it’s great to meet with people with the same interests. Oh and it doesn’t hurt that the lady I met was very pretty.

So that’s basically it, a train journey home and all being well it’ll be a short stay as I have a ticket for
The Producers in December, so I’ll be back looking at a new show and hopefully revisiting a few “old friends” as well.

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