Well here we go I thought I would make a Commitment to Rock on down for the first time in Ages to the big smoke again, a place I knew I wouldn’t need a Bodyguard and the weather would hopefully be kind and Boy I wouldn’t need a Jersey and I may even Book a Mormon … okay the last one a tad too far? …
Yes that was what I saw this time: The Bodyguard, The Commitments, Rock of Ages, The Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys.
So this is the trip, I start from Merthyr, thankfully at the correct time this year so I get to the Station with time to spare, park up, get to the platform and with minor trepidation due to the volume of announcements of impending doom (lots and LOTS of works going on over the next few days) which didn’t bode well for my return journey, I boarded the train. First thing no reservation on my seat but I was bigger than the guy sitting there so he moved ;-
I fire up my trusty tablet and catch up on my latest discovery, the excellent comedy series Benidorm by the very talented @DerrenLitten , yes the observant amongst you will have noticed the twitter symbol there, I am an addict now and thought it would be a good way to link to those people I follow or who impressed me by their talent, and who are on this new social interaction site.
We get to London, on time and I head for the underground, and am greeted by a cat being rolled over repeatedly by a steam roller … Oh, no wait it’s one of the staff with headphones on singing at the top of his lungs , well come on he knows how bad his voice is and wouldn’t want to expose himself to it everyday! As Simon would say … “You take singing lessons? Do you have a lawyer? Get the lawyer and sue your teacher.”
One change 10 minutes and I’m in Covent Garden station, where they made an announcement that would have saved me a minor cardiac infarction a few years ago, and it is a tip well remembered, they said: “please note this station is the equivalent of a 15 storey building .. please use the lifts” Okay, so good tip!
I wander out and head about finding my home for the next few days the Covent Garden Travelodge.
First impressions, yes it does look like an office block from outside, but so do most modern “chain” hotels. I check in, the staff are friendly, welcoming and professional. My early check in has been arranged (£10), my room is ready, so to the lifts and room 257 on the second floor.
I am greeted upon entering with a modern, spacious (very, by London standards) well appointed room. I booked a double and still managed to get this room approximately £100 cheaper than my previous hotel, or for that matter most of the other hotels I looked at.
The bed was a double, comfortable and did not suffer from the wafer effect that I encounter at most hotels, the wafer effect? Pillows that you can’t feel and often could slide down between the pages of a book! These were 4 proper plump pillows. The room was spotless and had tea & coffee making facilities. It didn’t have a hairdryer or the mini-
There was a flat screen TV, heater, table, chair and a clothes rail, all, I believe, you could possibly want from a central London hotel.
The bathroom, again all necessary facilities supplied, clean and in working order, there was a shower and again a win, this one had the shower head (just) above mine as opposed (in some hotels I’ve visited) closer to my naval!
I dropped off my stuff and headed out, I had planned on a visit to the cinema, but as I couldn’t find anything I wanted to see I decided on a walk around my favourite city in the world, and to book the evening’s entertainment.
It was here I didn’t spot that I had just entered Jeux Sans Frontieres, (no? … It’s a Knockout?? … Okay to those younger peeps out there Wipeout!?) ;-
Thursday evening was to be my first show of the trip. My traditional start show, the matinee of Blood Brothers having closed shortly after my last visit. So I head to the Book of Mormon, at the Prince of Wales theatre on the corner of Leicester Square, this was one of my “must sees”, the one I didn’t have a ticket for and the one I thought I may have the most trouble getting a seat for.
This proved correct, not only did they not do “day tickets”, they have a lottery where you put your name down for the chance to BUY A TICKET, the only other seats they had Thursday to Saturday were premium at £95 –
So this left tonight (Thursday), Friday matinee and Saturday evening, as I already had a ticket for The Commitments on Friday night. So I wandered a bit and decided on another new show, The Bodyguard based on the 1992 movie with Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. Here I was lucky and managed to get an end of the front row seat (A8) for £24 the row behind being £67.50.
I wandered back to the hotel, changed and to the Theataarrr darlings!
The Bodyguard, is as I mentioned based on the movie, however, it was adapted to include other Whitney Houston songs, after the untimely death of the lady herself.
So you currently have a new (second) cast lead by: Beverley Knight “Rachel Marron”, Tristan Gemmill “Frank Farmer” and Debbie Kurup “Nicki Marron” in a thoroughly entertaining, excellently performed and imaginatively staged nights entertainment.
The story for those who haven’t seen the film, not a pre-
For me standout performances were Beverley Knight, in I believe, her West End debut and the wonderful Debbie Kurup ( @thedebbiekurup ) , a lady I have seen before in the brilliant Tonight’s the Night, who for me nearly stole the show especially during the duet performance of “Run to You”. Tristan Gemmill was also very good, playing the more “acting” role of “Frank” very well. Well very well except for the scene where he is looking into the crowd for the assailant which for some reason caused the memory of Captain Pugwash to pop into my head and I have no idea why, maybe it was the way he shielded his eyes from the lights, and the angle I was sat at, not sure, but I really enjoyed the show, and would definitely go and see it again, and would recommend if you know and like the score that you to go and see it as well.
So to Friday and my busy day, it always is and I plan it this way but it still means a heck of a lot of walking, so I wake up, shower and head out.
It was on this journey I noticed a not very friendly aspect of London, a sign on the entrance to a cafe/diner “No Directions”, now come on London, tourists are one of your main revenue streams, and you can be confusing geographically to the un-
The night before I had looked into the tour I wanted to do, my first choice being a behind the scenes tour of the London Palladium, however this was sold out. Really don’t know why they don’t do this tour more often it appears to be one tour one Friday in a month and not every month of the year, strange really. So I had booked online for a tour of BBC Broadcasting House. Now those that have read all my reviews and who have a better memory than me may remember I did this tour a number of years ago. Of course since then there have been many changes, not least the huge extension built on to the building which features in the opening credits of all news broadcasts. So after wandering about a bit I head down Regents Street towards Oxford Street somewhere along which I am assured the BBC can be found.
Side bar here, I have a Galaxy SIII phone and must take this opportunity to say how CRAP IT IS, I mean it loses signal, averaging 70+% of the day saying “No Network” even when I’m stood next to someone on the same network who has full bars, the apps and internet connection on this trip were frankly painful.
Thanks for listening I feel better for getting that off my chest, why mention it now? Well it was on my way here I tried to use the “maps app” to find the place and nearly threw the **** thing under the nearest big red London bus! Oh and while I’m on a rant how does my phone know I’m unfit??? I mean it gave me directions and said I was ½ mile from my destination then gave me 13 minutes as a guide time, I mean come on I’m unfit not DEAD!
So I find the BBC, check in through security tighter than my last transatlantic flight! Bag search, empty all pockets, wand search, I don’t believe they rang my junior school teacher for a reference but I’m sure that would have been the next step. So after refilling my pockets I head into the media cafe, a glass walled location overlooking the news room and just to the left of where the person stands on the balcony while they do the weather, in fact we got to “see” the weather being done live while we waited.
I had signed up for the 10:45 tour (they run every 15 minutes”) so waited as the 10:30 gathered round a large screen TV with the guide showing them live feeds from different studios, and as a school group from Brixton headed in two by two after what could possibly for a minority have been their first experience of an electronic cavity search. At this point a guide asks me to sign in ready for my 10:45 tour, which I do and am issued my coloured lanyard, only to immediately be asked by another guide if I want to give it back! It seems the tour I’m booked on would have been 13 school children and me, now the pied piper I’m not and I did not have an irresistible urge to undertake a 75 minute tour looking like a munchkin rangler! I quickly hand back my lanyard, sign another piece of paper and join the 10:30 group in which the ankle biters only slightly outnumber those of us old enough to pay a licence fee!
The tour itself whilst interesting was for me disappointing. Why? Well I had assumed, wrongly, as the extension appears vastly larger the original building, that the majority of the tour would be there, wrong. We are taken from our TV screen to a viewing area immediately above the heads of where the BBC news channel studio is, overlooking the area where you can see all the “worker journalists” behind a glass screen acting as a backdrop for the newscasters.
This part I enjoyed, the guides seemed prepared if not overly knowledgeable about areas of the BBC not contained on their ipads and specifically mentioned in the tour script, the young lady especially interacted well balancing her delivery to not talk down to the adults or up to the kids! Then it was a brief interlude at a “practice studio” where volunteers were asked to read the news and act as a weather person, next outside to talk about the fact that a percentage of the cost of the building was allocated on the express understanding it was used for “works of art”, a glance towards the doors of Radio One (to find two young ladies sat on the floor waiting for Ariana Grande (yea I felt old as I’d never heard of her either!)
Then it was into Broadcasting House, to a dressing room, a wall chart timeline of the development of the BBC, to the Radio Theatre, and finally to a studio set up for a radio play, where members of the tour could act their little hearts out or act as sound effects engineers.
I cowered out the way when victim … sorry volunteers were sought but I can tell you one thing the “Narrator/Butler” guy was a plant! There was NO WAY he could be that good, shame on you BBC. ;-
So all in all worth it if you haven’t done it before and have an interest in the history of Aunty, but not so much if you want to see the cutting edge of broadcasting.
Well theatre, and after discovering the comedy I wanted to see again had a Wednesday not Friday matinee as I had initially thought I decided on Rock of Ages, as it is due to close in early November and I had a great time the last time I saw it. The cast was the same, the only change for me was this time I saw the main “Sherrie” Natalie Andreou.
The show remains fun, loud, entertaining and dare I say it a little risqué in places, with some built in add-
Friday evening and my second new show of the trip The Commitments based on (for me) the 1991 film, which in turn was based on the 1987 novel by Roddy Doyle, who has adapted his own book for the stage.
The story is of a young guy “Jimmy Rabbitte” Denis Grindel who starts a band, to play Soul music. He doesn’t sing or play but gathers a rag-
YP (Young Persons) warning here the language is…. a little on the fruity side all the way through, totally in character and not gratuitous but still may not want to take the kiddie winks to this one!
Standout performances for me were Killian Donnelly (@killiandonnelly ) “Deco” and Stephanie McKeon (@Steph_McKeon )“Natalie”. As in so much of the West End these days there wasn’t really a weak link in the production the cast were to a ma.. sorry person excellent. The production made great use of the stage and really evoked the area and era that the show demands, as this really is a show of a place, Dublin, and a time 1980’s.
Stand out numbers for me were: ‘In the midnight hour’, ‘Try a little tenderness’ and of course ‘Mustang Sally’
So second show of a Friday over, and it’s back to the Hotel quick change and back out to The Comedy Store, in fact a little quicker change than I thought as I hadn’t noticed on their website that the Midnight show was now the 11pm show, so I flagged down a black cab and headed to the club
For £17.50 here you get 5 or 6 different comedians, strange that in the Comedy Store! ;-
Enter with me if you will the surreal world of McDonalds after Midnight, it really is another world, and I can tell you with the amount of Security, swearing & staggering some people were doing they had been LOVIN’ IT for a long looong time by then,
I purchased some sustenance and headed to the hotel, in the rain.
Oh hadn’t I mentioned that it has been chucking it down all day, and was still attempting a West End worthy re-
This providing me with the opportunity for a SEVEN from Len. Well that’s the marks I deserved at my height for all the sidesteps, lunges, heel-
Another thing I had noticed earlier in the day, when the downpour was at its height, was the adaptability and indomitable spirit of man, or in this case an Evening Standard seller, this to the uninitiated is a free daily newspaper for London, primarily given away at the entrance to Tube Stations. Instead of shouting “Evening Standard”, or even “Free Newspaper” it became this day “Free Umbrellas” well I know not strictly an umbrella however it was definitely being used by a large percentage as a head cover from the inclement weather!
Saturday, another 2 show day and the last day of my trip.
So I, and to this day I have no idea why, decided to go for a wander to the Houses of Parliament, and maybe take a tour, well all I can say after an uneventful tube journey, well uneventful except when I discovered that I was on the wrong tube 4 seconds before the doors closed, and had to lunge headlong to get off in time, Oh and another thing, advice for the uninitiated, a platform on the tube can be on two different ‘lines’ at the same time, a skill worthy of the old time-
I get to Westminster and OH OKAY… THAT’S WHERE ALL THE TOURISTS ARE, I mean it was packed!
There must have been more 1 & 0’s attaching themselves to SD cards in this small area than the last time Miley Cyrus said she was gonna dance again! … (Digital Photography to the dinosaurs amongst you ;-
which barely moved all the time I was watching it I decided on a stroll and after again having it confirmed a brain is better than a chip, when my directions app tried to send me in the complete opposite direction, I headed back to the West End, taking in some local landmarks on the way…
It was at this point I saw one of the funniest things on my trip, a very alpha male partner bestowing his wisdom upon his female partner “blah blah blah … blah blah blah …” no thought he was speaking so loud the people behind, in front and around him could have taken notes “blah blah blah .. I WILL keep a close eye on” BANG he walked right into one of those low level posts to block cars from entering restricted streets, well at least he won’t be having children anytime soon to bestow his pearls of wisdom on. Ouch!
Back in the West End I return a phone charger I had bought the day before, when I thought I had forgotten mine, I bought this from a stall inside the market in Covent Garden, got it back to the hotel and nothing, nada, not a squeek. So I went back explained the situation and asked for my money back, to be told “you can have another one” I explained I didn’t need another one as I had already bought one as I needed it the night before, what actually happened was I put my right foot into the other pair of shoes I had packed (to go out and buy another one, as by this point the market was closed) and “found” the charger right away.
Either way the pertinent point was it didn’t work. The girl working there was having none of it, saying I could have something else then, “no just my money please”, I explained that as the item was not “fit for purpose” (thanks to Martin Lewis) I wanted a refund, again I get “I can’t do that” so I say okay I want to see who is in charge then, she wanders off I see her talking to someone just around the corner of another stall, who then peaks around sees me, not exactly small as you know, retreats and the girl comes back and says “I will need to check it then”, she does it doesn’t work and miraculously I get my money back! Good Times.
After a long walk a gentleman occasionally must undertake his ablutions and it was at this point I encountered one of Boris’s more unwelcome excesses.
To use the gents in Leicester Square now costs 50p 50p! and for this frankly exorbitant fee what do we get? Well a turn-
Next Show The Book of Mormon Book, Music & Lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone. It tells the story of a couple of Mormon Elders (young men on their 2 year mission to act as missionaries and swell the numbers of the great Coffee haters!)
Now when you see those names as creators you should realise you ain’t gonna see the Sound of Music, this show is the sheer epitome of irreverence, coarseness, vulgarity, and do not take your kids humour. It is also hysterically funny, very well written and brilliantly performed by all involved.
When I saw it there was a cover “Elder Cunningham”, I believe David O’Reilly (@DavidOReilly25) who was excellent. I think all the other cast were as advertised.
I LOVED the show, the songs were brilliantly performed, the comedy was laugh out loud, and standout performances for me the two main Elders “Elder Price” Gavn Creel & “Elder Cunningham” and the wonderful “Nabulungi” Alexia Khadime (@alexiakhadime) the latter having one of the best songs, the wonderful ‘Sal Tlay Ka Siti’ (work it out … think Mormon), Oh and writing this I’m listening to the original cast recording and I have to say Alexia wins by MILES in the performance of this song. Also standing out as numbers were: ‘Hello’, ‘I Believe’ and ‘Hasa Diga Eebowai’ (which I am NOT translating for fear of offending … well almost everyone really!) ;-
Another memorable occurrence at this show was quite possibly THE most potentially embarrassing event of my 20+ year’s theatre going. I was sat next to a very nice lady in her… mid 60’s? with another lady (possibly her mother) in her mid 80’s. Well we get all the way through the show with them thankfully laughing and not storming out at the humour unfolding right in their faces, when at the end (this next bit written vaguely to prevent *spoilers*) the main ‘bad guy’ “General B*tt F*****g Naked” takes part in a reprise of the number ‘Hello’ and sings “Hello my name is Elder B**t F**** Naked” and perfectly on queue the lady next to me turns and totally deadpan, and butter wouldn’t melt expression intact says “what did he just sing?” “Aaaahhh… well… it was I am…” at which point she laughs, turns and repeats it to her mother!
A great show and I can see why it is the hottest ticket in London right now.
Saturday night and my last show. I’d found out on Thursday that One Man Two Guv’nors didn’t have a Thursday matinee, and although this was the last of my planned shows, I really wanted a big send off so I decided to book for Jersey Boys a great, in fact possibly THE great Jukebox musical.
Jersey Boys tells the story of Franki Valli & the Four Seasons, one of the great American 60’s groups. I have reviewed the show before, so will just say that it hasn’t faded in the intervening years. The performances were to a cast member faultless, despite a last minute change in the lead role Ben Jennings played “Franki Valli” brilliantly, in fact to the extent the person next to me thought he was miming, partly due to the slight delay in the screens during the “filmed” sequences and no doubt partly due to his uncanny ability to recreate this most “unique” of voices superbly.
Stand out numbers, well I could list the whole show, this (despite being born in 1967) is MY era. I love the music, but if I had to pick one number it would be one the show introduced me to ‘Fallen Angel’, which in its place in the show never fails to bring a misty moment to this big Welshman’s glasses!
This show was memorable for another reason… the interval, as the couple to my left proceeded to have a heated barney over why she left to visit the ladies before he returned from the gents, it was lots of hissed statements through gritted teeth, hands snatched away, dabbing of eyes by the lady, and emphasised huffing by the gent! Oh well it’s not as if there were lots of people around to share your marital discord!
Well that’s about it, I drop into the Coal Hole a pub on the Aldwych for a pint and then return to the hotel, visiting the bar there for the first time, another quick pint, then pack, sleep, get up and have the return journey from hell.
The train is “on-
I get to Cardiff over 35 minutes late and my car and a thankfully uneventful journey home.
That’s it folks you’ve reached the end, you deserve a medal for following my drivel for all this time! I hope you enjoyed it, I already have a ticket booked for 2014, the launch of the new version of Miss Saigon, and I can’t wait.