October 2012

To London I have been, sorry I’m trying to lose weight so I thought I’d try a little Yoda! Okay poor joke to start but hey regular readers know me by now.

Well it has been a while, in fact about 3 years! Well who’d have thunk, for someone who used to visit multiple times a year. Well there’s a couple of reasons: one I discovered the wonder of the sun, well come in I live in Wales so we don’t see it that often. As a result  visiting Majorca a couple of times recently. Then there’s the money, I mean the price of Theatre tickets these days is nuts. Although I was quite lucky with this during this trip, but more of that later.  

So the trip starts Thursday 19/10/12 at my home in Merthyr Tydfil. Unusual place to start, well for my reviews, anyway, but this is where the “fun” started. Typed the Postcode of the car park at the rear of Cardiff Central Railway station into my SatNav, yes I know I’ve been there hundreds of times before, but it’s a new SatNav, and I wanted to test it. Well lets just say fail at first hurdle. I had the postcode but as I didn’t know the NAME of the street, it couldn’t find it.

So after about 5 minutes sat in my car outside my house with my dog looking at me wondering “what the hell has the Muppet forgotten now!” I set off, first half A470 good, second half “OH ****” bumper to bumper traffic and very slow moving. All I could do was stare at the clock moving on while I wasn’t. It was at this point that I came to the glaring realisation I’d left it too late to start the journey!

When I eventually got to Cardiff, with the traffic having maddeningly speeded and slowed just to dangle the possibility of making it, I got there with 3 minutes to spare. Only to find no space in the car park. So I drive around for a while, eventually finding another car park, would be nice if they put signs saying “Other spaces at the front” or something similar, and then it’s to the booking office to buy a new ticket. The £59 one in my pocket now only useful as a bookmark!

Discretion (or finances) being the better part of valour I decide on standard class and board the train. I must say there is nothing wrong with these seats, and I would seriously consider this option in the future.

After a thankfully uneventful trip we arrive at London Paddington.

A quick tube ride, and yes thankfully the Oyster card I have doesn’t run out with lack of use, Oh that should be a painful tube ride as I fail to remember that I’m taller than the edge of the carriage, step back, Bang! Ouch.

Then it’s a stroll along the Strand to my home for the next few days the Strand Palace Hotel. First thing I notice the scaffolding my brother mentioned when he visited a few months prior has all gone, must admit I can’t see much difference from when I stayed there about 2 years ago.

The nice gentleman tells me I get a complimentary upgrade from a Club single to an Executive single, and that my room is ready. Good as even though I caught a later train I was in London by 12:30 and check in is at 2pm.

I had enquired about arranging an early check in, but to confirm this they wanted an extra £30! Check in is painless and professional, with upgrades and options explained clearly. All in all a very satisfactory experience.

The main differences I notice when I get to my room (678) is a flat screen TV as opposed to the portable the last times I stayed, complimentary water, sewing kit, shoe shine and a fluffy dressing gown / & slip-on slippers in the wardrobe.

The room is  functional, spotless, if a little compact and bijou is the phrase I believe. How compact? Well put it this way ,when I was combing my hair in the bathroom I had to put one elbow out into the bedroom or the other into the shower cubicle! I also nearly took the top of my head off when stepping into the shower as the bar was A LOT lower than I expected. For once the shower head was above my head (but only just), I just had to do aerobic exercises resembling aeroplane diving manoeuvres to reach anywhere above the chest or below the knees!

So enough of the room, back to the trip.

As is my want I quickly unpack and head out to the TKTS Booth, for my first ticket of the trip, for the matinee of Blood Brothers.

Now regular readers will notice this is almost becoming a tradition, unfortunately soon a no longer possible one, as Blood Brothers is closing at the Phoenix after a run of almost a quarter of a Century.

After this it was time to start planning the rest of my trip. I mean I had a list of shows, and other places to go but decided not to pre-book and just take my chances when I got there.

So with time to spare, and having been told at the TKTS booth that Rock Of Ages had taken an upturn in sales since it’s closure had been announced. (This has subsequently changed as on certain sites on t’internet it says that the show will return to a new home early next year). I headed to where I thought this theatre was and you know what … NO!  I FOUND IT!

YES YES YES, for the first time in living memory my sense of direction didn’t let me down.

I had found the theatre; I wandered in and asked about ticket availability. Here my luck really kicked in, I was told that there was an “end of row” seat (my personal preference, long legs you see) available as one of their “Day Seats” , these as it says on the ticket are a selection of seats, quite often front row, that they sell on the day to callers at a reduced price. So basically I had a seat in the front row for the princely sum of £20! The row behind being £65. Now I will say here that I’m 6ft 3 and I couldn’t see the floor of the stage, so you will be looking up!

So ticket purchased I head to a local Subway and grab a sandwich then to the theatre and…

Blood Brothers

At this performance the main roles were played by: “Mrs Johnston” – Vivienne Carlyle, “Narrator” – Phillip Stewart, “Mickey” – Mark Rice-Oxley, “Eddie” – Paul Christopher and “Mrs Lyons” Abigail Jaye. For those who don’t know the story, and if you don’t what the hell are you doing reading a Theatre Review site! ;O)

Blood Brothers tells of two twins, separated at birth and how their lives intertwine without them knowing they were brothers.

The show has many stand out songs, and it’s widely agreed it has “the best last 10 minutes” check out the touring production to see why. The show is a treat and should be seen, although why by quite SO MANY school groups I don’t know. I mean there were so many school kids at the performance I saw you’d think they’d rooted behind every bike shed and smoking hide-out in the country, and bussed them all in!

I must say that the cast weren’t the best I’ve seen. They were perfectly acceptable but no one stood out with the spark I saw in say, Niki Evans’  “Mrs Johnston”. Ms. Carlyle did have an unusual way of projecting for the bigger notes that was quite distracting.

I head back to the Hotel, crash for a while then head to…

Rock of Ages – This is the musical transferred from Broadway, on which the film starring Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta Jones, Alec Baldwin & Russell Brand was based.

It tells the age old oft told story of boy meets girl in sleazy Rock bar on Sunset Strip in mid 80’s LA. They fall in and out  and in Love  again whilst simultaneously trying to further their respective careers and save said bar!

It features a selection of some of the best 80’s Power Ballads, Rock songs and hair styles, made me feel at home! I mean I actually let my hair down, no I literally  … I let my hair down, and people didn’t look at me the way they normally do when they see style I have.

The cast in this show were GREAT. Recently having taken over from the original London Cast we had one performer I knew, one I THOUGHT I knew and the rest were new to me.

The Person I knew was Tim Howar who played “Stu” in Tonight’s the Night

OKAY OKAY Stop here … as I type this at Didcott Parkway (I’m on the train on the way home) I look at the programme for Rock Of Ages and realise the person I “knew” was playing a completely different part and I didn’t even recognise him, and the character I thought he was playing was played by a completely different actor! Oh and the other one I thought I knew I DIDN’T so there you have it, So we’ll start this again…

The Cast were “Drew” Ross Hunter, “Sherrie” Jodie Jacobs, “Dennis” Daniel Fletcher, “Stacee Jaxx” (and I STILL can’t believe I’m typing this) Tim Howar, “Lonny” Simon Lipkin (who I would have bet money was Tim Howar),They were all great, so as to a man/woman were the supporting cast.

Stand out performances for me were Simon Lipkin as “Lonny” who acts as a minstrel telling the audience and driving the story forward, and Jodie Jacobs as “Sherrie” who has an AMAZING voice. The music was my era all power chords and flowing locks and that was just the guys!

Stand Out Songs – “We Built This City”, “More than words”, “I wanna know what love is”, “Final Countdown”, “I can’t fight this feeling” and of course “Don’t stop believin’“. A really great feel good show, where you can buy beer IN THE AUDITORIUM as the show is going on … progress or WHAT.!

Although of course I couldn’t, why not? Well when I took my seat, and saw the first audience member limbo passed me, … limbo?? Well right in front of me about 4 inches below stage floor level, which meant about 4 ft off the ground was a plate of LED Lights (modern take on footlights) so with my long legs pointing towards the stage and this light sticking out about a foot and a half from the stage it made everyone’s journey a little … interesting.

OH YEA and then we get the helpful member of front of house staff who asks me to ensure I’m seated by the start of Act 2 … strange I thought, okay I had my hair down but I’ve been to the theatre before! and anyway this really is theatre 101, but then he concludes by saying  “because they’ll be using a flame thrower over your head then..,” Exsqueeze me!! WHAT??”

So if you like your shows loud, fun, bawdy (ask the mother of two in the front row when I saw it!) you will love this show, go and see it!

So first day in London over, a McDonalds for supper, Hey I’m on holiday! And we get to …

Day 2 Friday 20/10/12 – This is my one show day, so I go for a wander in the morning, taking in the atmosphere and changes since my last visit…

Oh! … M&M’s …REALLY ?? Are they THAT popular, I mean this place is frickin’ HUGE and about as central in London as you can get!

During my travels I also decided on my show for the evening  Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus of Disapproval. So I wander to the Theatre ask in the Box Office and HOME RUN RIGHT OUTTA THE PARK, another day seat and this one £10, row behind being £53.50  

One thing I forgot to mention is the Strand Palace now has complimentary Wi-Fi so I was able to plan my celluloid interlude before I left my room, and very efficient the service is too.

So after walking for a while it was to VUE Leicester Square.

With the pickings a little light this trip, and Mr Bond not making an appearance for a few more days it was to Looper, the new Bruce Willis movie. Well it’s Sci-Fi and I like Sci-Fi, It’s Bruce Willis and I like explosions, so what could possibly go wrong… Well to be honest nothing really.

I mean the film isn’t GREAT, it killed a few hours and quite a few of my remaining brain cells trying to work out the “timey wimey turney worney” plot (script credit to Doctor Who writers, a BBC Wales Production), ;o) but it was okay.

Deciding to make the most of this day even though there was only one “show” booked, I decided to try something a little different. So I headed to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, current home of Shrek the Green Ogre musical. However this wasn’t the reason I was there. Rob had decided to book for a Theatre Tour, and where better than the place it all started for me. The spiritual home of Miss Saigon.

The Theatre Tour costs £9.00 and lasts approximately an hour. They do not (or at least did not when I attended) do the tours in costume as their Website illustrates. However this for me did not detract one little bit, in fact I found it better as you could enjoy the tour without concentrating on who the tour guide was supposed to be portraying.

The tour participants gather in the foyer and then your taken to the central area between the King & Prince’s sides (this is explained in the tour), where you get a short but very interesting history lesson on the development of Theatre and the role of the building your in. You then visit various locations around the building including the Royal rooms, Auditorium, back stage, under the stage (unbelievable), the stage door area and then back to the Foyer. As you would imagine there is a lot of walking and this theatre has over 1500 stairs so consider this when booking!

When I attended a very pretty blonde lady took the tour and her personality and knowledge were first-class, relating facts and anecdotes throughout the whole time and all without the aid of so much as a notepad. At one point even managing to give the young lady sat next to me minor heart failure in a small dark tunnel! ;o)

All in all an interesting, entertaining way to spend an hour, reasonably priced and very well executed all round. You can find more information on their Twitter feed @DruryLaneTours or their Facebook Page Facebook.com Drury Lane Tours

Well worth a visit, and tell them @WelshRok sent you (my Twitter name in case you didn’t guess!).

After a short break it was back to The Harold Pinter Theatre, just off Leicester Square, and an evening with PALOS (Pendon Amateur Light Operatic Society).

A Chorus of Disapproval is set during said Am Dram company’s rehearsal and performance of The Beggar’s Opera.

This production stars: Rob Brydon (fellow countryman and star of “Gavin & Stacey” and “The Rob Brydon Show”) as “Dafydd ap Llewellyn”, Nigel Harmon “Guy Jones” and Ashley Jensen “Hannah Llewellyn”

The story revolves around the relationships that develop and implode during this time.

Now the truth, firstly the seat I had wasn’t great, with a fair amount of the stage obscured by props and actors. The show itself whilst funny wasn’t really my cup of tea, or more to the point sense of humour. I did enjoy it, but it was not say… Noises Off funny. The performances were great, with all the cast equipping themselves brilliantly, but would be top of my must see list.

A strange thing I noticed reading the programme was I have seen another Ayckbourne play, quite a few years ago called Comic Potential which starred Matthew Cottle who also appeared in this production. For me Comic Potential was the funnier show.


Now Friday wasn’t strictly a one show day, as I was now headed to somewhere I had heard about but never been. An event known as the Show Off Piano Bar. Situated under Cafe Koha, which can be found in a little alley between the Wyndham’s Theatre (currently showing Dreamboats and Petticoats) and Leicester Square Tube Station.

This is an attempt to bring something that flourishes in New York to London’s West End. That being a Piano Bar where Musical Theatre performers and fans can go and listen to or sing the type of music they like. There is a selection of sheet music, a piano, a piano player (always handy) and a Compère. Think Musical Theatre karaoke with live music.

Well I got to the venue, you have to either book in advance at their website www.showoffpianobar.com  or their Facebook page www.facebook.com/showoffpianobar, or pay on the door at performance time. I found this little gem out when I called there earlier in the day. Apparently the cafe have nothing to do with the show only renting them the room.

If there are tickets left (well you don’t actually get a ticket you just pay the man) you descend the stairs to either heaven or hell dependent on your love/tolerance for Musical Theatre :o).

I found it fun, entertaining, almost as much watching the crowd as the performers. It is loosely structured, two halves and the quality of performance varies from sing-a-long enthusiasm to professional.

When I was there stand outs for me were the lady who sang “The Wizard and I”, a short dark haired lady singing just as I got there so I didn’t catch the name of the song, she was wearing a spotted?? dress, but she sang brilliantly, and the compère  and pianist deserve mention as they were very good as well.

So to Saturday and to Boldly Go Where (This) Man had (not) gone before.

So I venture to the ExCel Arena for the inaugural Destination Star Trek London event. This was a first in two ways, the first event of it’s type in over 10 years in the capital, and the first time ever in Europe that the Captains of ALL 5 series were on stage at the same time.

I didn’t actually go for the Captains there were a few autographs I wanted to get and I wanted to experience an event of this type.

So my journey began with some trepidation as I knew it was a little way out, and I also knew that on the main day of a big flagship event they had decided to take the Docklands Light Railway out of action in that area! So great, a change to a route I didn’t really know in the first place. So using the App I loaded onto my phone I planned my journey, got on the right platforms for the right tube trains until I got to  the last Tube station then I caved and instead of waiting for the bus I took a Taxi.

One thing here “How can you tell a Londoner on the Tube?” … “the paper” I hear you cry … nope …. the look of disdain when you drop your bag on their foot maybe? … nope, it’s the backwards glance … the what? Well when a Londoner rises from their seat on the tube there is a slight and almost imperceptible backwards glance, as they alight, to ensure they haven’t left anything behind. This is in sharp contrast to the look of sheer terror on the face of some tourists from the platform as the doors close on the train with Jnr. still inside obliviously playing on his Nintendo!  

Arriving at the venue the first thought I had was I’m gonna need a Transporter to get round the place, I thought it was going to be big but this place is HUGE. I walk and walk and walk, ask about how I get in and am told to keep walking.

Then I get to the entrance and enter a world of wonder …  yes I wonder how the hell those people managed to make those costumes, they were great.

The atmosphere was brilliant, people just commenting as others walked passed on their costumes and asking to have photos taken with them. Ages literally from 1 to  William Shatner! Sorry Bill :o) There were Autograph areas, areas where you could have your photo taken with cast members, two bars: “The Federation Area” and “The Klingon Area”. Stalls selling: memorabilia, autograph accessories, magazines, promoting websites.

Also there were talks you could book to see  and possibly ask questions of: cast members, producers and other Star Trek related individuals. As well as Photo opportunities: Have your photo taken on the “original Enterprise Bridge”, Stunt shows and many other attractions.

I personally didn’t attend any of the paid talks / shows as my aim was to visit, check out this type of event, and get a few autographs. So as soon as I got into the hall I found where the individuals whose autographs I wanted were based and obtained a ticket.

It works like this, you go an buy a photo of the star in question, then get a ticket with their name on it and a number. At the entrance to where you queue to meet them there is a whiteboard with numbers on, and when your number comes up you step inside and join the next shorter queue, part way along paying for the autograph you want, and in doing so get another ticket. When you meet the star you hand over the ticket, get a few minutes/seconds (depending how busy they are) to chat whilst they sign the item in question and then move on. The costs vary from £15 for some of the lesser known cast members and Producers, to £40 for William Shatner. Personally I headed to Brent Spiner “Lt. Comm Data” and Rene Auberjonois “Odo”. They cost £25 and £15 respectively plus the photos £3 each. Both were friendly Rene even saying I didn’t look old enough to remember one of his early series “Benson” in case your interested. :o)

I enjoyed the day, I think if I attended something similar I would have to budget more and allow a full day to see some of the shows/talk

Yes it really is a licence to print money for those involved. However in fairness the stars I met were friendly and welcoming, where else would you be able to meet this many individuals from a show or film that interests you, and get 100% guaranteed genuine autographs.

After about 4 hours there I decided, or at least my wallet did that I should move on, so I headed back to Central London and time being on my side managed to book for an additional show, a matinee, so I booked for The National Theatre’s production of One Man Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

This show is BRILLIANT … there succinct enough for you ?… okay maybe a little more detail…

The show is written by Richard Bean, based on “A Servant of Two Masters” by Carlo Goldoni, with songs by Grant Olding. The story is updated to the early 1960’s (the original being written in 1746) and transposed from Venice to Brighton.

It tells of “Francis Henshall” Owain Arthur who finds himself working for two “Masters/Guvnors” at the same time. I won’t spoil the story by giving too much more than this away,

but I will say the plot includes: Identical Twins one male one female! … oh and one of them is dead! .. or is he? Gangsters, murderers, waiters, romance, and in the performance I saw Hummus … Don’t Ask! ;o)

The cast were to a Man/Woman brilliant. The performances energetic and spot on. Jodie Prenger  (she of “Nancy”  I’d Do Anything talent show fame) plays “Dolly” and was the only “known” (to me) member of the cast. Owain Arthur was the original lead James Corden’s understudy, and he fills the role brilliantly, his talent for physical comedy is awe inspiring.

Also deserving of a mention were the band “The Craze” who played before the start of the show and during scene changes, they were Brilliant! I for one will be checking out their album, especially if it is of the era they performed for this show!

So there it is proof if proof be needed that I am a fan of “Low Comedy” (Low comedy is described as “a type of comedy characterised by horseplay”) basically what would now be described as Farce. Personally I LOVE farce and this is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen.

So although you cannot fault the pedigree of Mr Ayckbourne, my preference is for broader, more physical, lower comedy.

One Man Two Guvnors is touring soon, check out it’s website  (www.OneManTwoGuvnors.com ) for details and go and see it. I certainly am when it comes to Cardiff!

So to Saturday night, the last night of my trip so the last show. I had looked around and decided on the new Bill Kenwright production of Cabaret. Starring Pop Idol Winner Will Young as “Emcee”, Ex-Eastenders and Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan as “Sally Bowles”, Matt Rawle as “Clifford Bradshaw” and the wonderful Sian Phillips as “Fraulein Schneider”.

It tells the story of a struggling author who travels to Berlin before the Second World War and of Sally Bowles a nightclub singer who he meets there. Music by John Kander, Lyrics Fred Ebb.

I’ve seen various incarnations of this show over the years, from Am Dram to the last major London Production back in 2006 with James Drefuss as “Emcee” and “Anna Maxwell Martin as “Sally Bowles”.

I will say it is not to everyone’s taste, as I could hear during the interval when some of the audience were complaining about the nudity and even the performances of some of the cast. However I thought the production was great, I believe that this show benefits from a harder edge, it is not your cuddly Seven Brides for Seven Brothers type of show, after all the central premise plays out against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazi’s in 1930’s Germany!

Sally isn’t meant to be the worlds greatest singer, if she were she wouldn’t be at the Kit Kat Club. The decadence on display in Berlin at that time is now legendary, so it’s not a “take your granny to a musical” type of show! Okay they had played up the homosexual aspect of Clifford’s character even more than the last production I saw, but it’s in the story and it’s part of life, get over it. I mean if you want The Lion King (Nothing against that show) go and see The Lion King. If, however you want thought provoking, entertaining and wonderfully performed Theatre then you won’t go far wrong watching this production.

Stand out numbers for me: “Wilkommen”, “Mein Herr”, “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret”. Stand Out performances well, Will Young, Michelle Ryan and Sian Phillips, not to take anything away from the other cast members but these people really shone for me.

Oh and the ending was still as powerful and moving as when I saw it 6 years ago.

So after the show, in the rain, well it wouldn’t be London without the rain now would it, I visited a few hostelries and partook of a pint or 3. Oh and whilst we’re on the subject Umbrellas! Please Ladies and Gents spare a thought for us loftier souls, above your head is my eye-line I was Duckin’ & Divin’ Like a Good un up here!

Then headed to my room.

Sunday, return home and start thinking of when I may be able to visit again. Hopefully sooner than 3 years this time. I mean Book of Mormon looks good,  The Bodyguard sounds interesting. I still love the atmosphere of the place as much as always, and I will always find shows to see or see again, as live theatre to me is not really a luxury more a staple of life.

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