October 2014

Visited London again in October and had a great time. This is what I saw and what happened. Journey began with a drive to Cardiff, as when returning on a Sunday as I would be, there are virtually no trains or busses between the capital and my home in Merthyr. So I packed the car and left early enough, read VERY early, 7:30am early for a 9:55am train. So I get to Cardiff at about 9:00am …see why I left so early!

I parked the car put my card in the machine and after pressing a few buttons am informed I have reached the maximum duration I can book, so assuming that meant a week, as THAT’s WHAT THE SIGNS SAY is the maximum, I press the button, and am promptly given a time to exit the car park while I will still be in Paddington station waiting for my train to arrive! So I call customer services and am given a number to ring on Sunday morning just before the ticket runs out to extend the booking over the phone.

I decide rather than just sit on a platform to go for an early morning wander round Cardiff, so I do. Getting back to the station about 9:40am, I get my bag and as I’m going through the gates the guard says “get on the next train”, strange I thought as I was under the impression there was another one before mine, and as anyone who has read my last review would know you can’t use these tickets on different time trains, anyway I climb the stairs to hear the following message “the train now arriving at the platform… is the delayed 9:25am to London Paddington … passengers with tickets for the CANCELLED 9:55 train please board this one!” Great, close call, but I managed to get a seat, two actually, and the rest of the journey was thankfully uneventful.

We arrive at Paddington and I get the tube to Tottenham Court Road. Now I was originally heading for Covent Garden, as I was supposed to stay at the Travelodge there, but the day before I had done a quick check on the St. Giles Hotel website and found they now had a single room available and £30 cheaper for the duration of the trip, so I contacted Travelodge and asked their cancellation policy, I already knew I could cancel up until 12:00 mid day on the day or arrival with no fine, but needed to know how long to get the money refunded. So to cut a loooong story short, the agent on the “chat” service told me instantly, so I booked the St. Giles. Only to then be told by their phone customer service (after I’d failed to be able to cancel on-line as I’d been advised to do) and eventually said chat agents line manager he was wrong and it was 3 – 5 working days! Needless to say I went bat sh*t crazy, at this frankly appalling customer service by a national company, eventually they apologised and gave me a £50 voucher for a future stay for my inconvenience. One of the aspects that REALLY annoyed me was being told the reason I couldn’t cancel on-line was a problem with the apostrophe in my surname, now there was no problem with said apostrophe when I logged in, booked or GAVE THEM MY MONEY!

Anywho … so I get to the St. Giles and my room is ready, compact and bijou as I believe they say but totally functional and suitable as a base for my trip, this is a hotel I will visit again.

I venture out, remembering my way this trip, and head straight for the Prince Edward theatre and chance my arm by asking if they have any day seats left. They do, I get one (£20) when people next to me NOT asking about days seats are quoted prices up to (I kid you not ..) just south of £100!

So first show booked I go for a wander and to decide what to see for the evening show. Now there are a number of shows previewing at this point, and despite my natural preference to revisit something I KNOW I will like, especially at the prices charged these days, I decide to try something new.

So I whip out … Oi!… wait for it… my trusty smart phone, and plan my route to the Adelphi theatre, home of the new show “Made in Dagenham”, this is a brand new musical based on the 2010 film of the same name. For those not familiar with the plot it tells the true story of a group of female factory workers at the Ford plant in Dagenham who went on strike for equal pay.  

The musical stars “Bond Girl” Gemma Arterton as “Rita O’Grady”, Adrian der Gregorian “Eddie O’Grady”, Isla Blair “Connie”, David Cardy “Monty”, Heather Craney “Clare”, Sophie Louise Dann “Barbara Castle” oh and special mention to Mark Hadfield as the frankly hysterical “Harold Wilson”. Book is by Richard Bean, Music David Arnold and lyricist Richard Thomas.

This is a brand new show, with original songs. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I found the performances across the board excellent, even though I spent two days thinking I saw alternates in the lead role, as I was a little way back in the stalls I couldn’t be sure, and I’d seen a sign on the way in but didn’t have time to stop to read it! However, thanks to the wonders of Twitter I am reliably informed

I did actually see Ms Arterton and Mr de Gregorian, and they were brilliant. I thought the performances were this good even when I thought I saw the alternate in the role so the stigma of stunt casting can be dispelled right here.

Stand out numbers for me included: “The Letter”, one I can’t for the life of me remember the name of featuring Harold Wilson.

Oh and special mention of a real tour de force by Sophie Louise Dann as Barbara Castle.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening and a show that I genuinely hope gets a long enough run for me to be able to visit again.

So first day over I head back to my hotel, tired but buzzing from being in a city I honestly believe I could never get tired of.

Friday, day 2 of the trip, first full day in London.

Regular readers may know this is usually the “quieter” day with “only” 2 shows! So still unsure of the best shows to see with such a wide choice, and with the realisation that the purchasing and wearing of new shoes (both pairs I take with me) was not such a good idea. I fire up the nearest free wi-fi hotspot and sit outside to decide on my entertainment for the day, now you may be wondering outside in October?? … well I can go one better, I took a ¾ length leather coat, and a long black coat, and as a last minute thing jammed a short black jacket in. Well guess what, for one of the days I wore just a t-shirt, well not JUST a t-shirt but you get the picture! On the other days it was either my “suit” jacket or the short black one, as the weather was glorious and WARM!

So research done I decide, to assist my rapidly deteriorating feet, to pay full price, no day seats available here, for The Book of Mormon, a show I’d seen before and really enjoyed. This was one reason to book, the other was the Comedy Store my late night entertainment, 11pm start, was

literally across the road from it. So I wouldn’t have to go back to the hotel in between.

This decided I head to book for the cinema for the afternoon, look around, and the London Film Festival was on, but nothing I really fancied seeing, okay let’s be honest I didn’t even look. Don’t know why, but I settle on The Equalizer with Denzel Washington at the Vue Leicester Square. Book my ticket, and we jump to me entering the screening room, about as high up as you can get in said establishment without being sat on the roof!

I settle into my seat, alone, and I mean alone, there was no one else in the room. Eventually two other people arrived, we wait up to 20 minutes after the show should have started, and nothing, another customer enters asks if the trailers have been shown, we say no he leaves, comes back 5 minutes later “you may as well go downstairs there’s a technical problem they’ve cancelled the showing” Nice of them to tell us!

Duly refunded I look around again for an alternative show to see, and decide on “The Rewrite” with Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei, a rom-com about a once lauded now failing script writer who is forced to take a job teaching writing at a provincial university in the US. I really enjoyed it, I must declare an interest here as I’m a sucker for these type of movies, and where as not laugh out loud hysterical all the way through, it was amusing, heart-warming (Yea! I’m a softie I know) and an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.

Friday evening, oh go back a bit, after the movie I went to a Subway for lunch, or at least I was headed to a Subway between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue, when I view a scene ahead that was to develop into a “Rob special”! There was a exceptionally inebriated individual standing dead stop in the middle of the pavement ahead, with people, who are not looking where they’re going, almost smashing into him. When I say dead stop it was not dead still as his right leg was attempting a solo impression of the King of Rock & Roll, apparently without the rest of his body being aware of this, he was requesting remuneration to allow him to continue what looked like his challenge of drinking in every hostelry in the capitol in one day. Well anyway, as I come level with him, there is a lady heading right for me, but head down staring at the floor so as not to make eye contact with said ‘street entertainer’. However the problem is she is SO determined not to make eye contact with this gent she doesn’t see me till I have to stop dead about 4 inches in front of her so she doesn’t crash into me. At this point people are piling up behind me as I’m now blocking the remainder of the pavement NOT taken up by said dishevelled Elvis. At this point you would think she would look up apologise or even just walk around me, but no she stands stock still staring down 3 inches in front of me, which to the casual passer by now means it looks like she is standing staring me right in the nuts! Eventually using all the suave music & movement (you wouldn’t know unless you were in primary school in Wales in the 70’s) skills that would have got me a “SEVEN” from Len, I side step said staring lady and Elvis impersonator and continue on my journey.

So Friday night and I’m at the Prince of Wales theatre for the evening performance of “The Book of Mormon”, now I won’t bother putting a full review on here as if you look back about 3 reviews you will find the review of the original time I saw it. It will suffice for me to say the current cast do the show justice, giving excellent performances and it’s just as funny, irreverent and down right nutty as I remember. Oh and Alexia Khadime (@alexiakhadime) is still gorgeous!

After the show I wander into Leicester square and find the Slug & Lettuce a pub just off the main square and have a pint there, good atmosphere somewhat smaller inside than I expected but somewhere I would definitely visit again.

So back to the Comedy Store, I’d bought my ticket earlier when I arrived for Book of Mormon so it was a case of wander in buy a pint and grab “my seat”, this being a very good view of the stage right behind a pillar! How can it be both? Well said stage is small with a microphone stand at the front, where most comics stand, so I can see it, but I am partially obscured from their view, always a good thing in a comedy club.

As was the only fault with this club on previous visits, there is no way of finding out afterwards who you saw, so all I can say is the host for the evening was very funny, and the blind comedian, no not a joke he actually was blind, was good too.

I wander back to the hotel about 2:30 in the morning and the weather is still warm and dry, I get to bed and am awoken by a bleeping … quick check of the watch tells me 8:00am, but I can’t tell where the sound is coming from, I open the door not too much sound out there, then I realise “Oh Great!” it’s the fire alarm, as I can see the smoke detector in the room flashing. SO I dress, bump into two German gents by the lifts, and luckily one of them had spotted where the fire exit was. This was a lesson to self, READ THE SIGNS in the room, something I ashamedly must say I never used to do. Anyhow I join about a hundred or so other not so happy campers outside and we congregate until we are joined by a few hundred more. One complaint here, and I know they were busy inside finding the source of said alarm, but someone telling us what the hell was going on would have been nice!

Eventually people start wandering back in, it’s one of those well if she’s going in I’ll follow jobs, and I overhear one staff member telling a guest that it was a fault (thankfully) and they had to go room to room on the first two floors to find out which one had “tripped”

So I’m up now so I shower and head out. I was considering “Memphis the Musical” but to be honest had been underwhelmed by the short performance I had seen on “Sunday Night at the London Palladium”. So I stumped for “The Play that Goes Wrong” for a matinee and “Forbidden Broadway” for my final Saturday night show.

With time to kill I wander to Covent Garden, my first visit this trip, then head to the Nell of Old Drury for a drink before the show, I like this little pub. I had some good times there meeting a nice young lady who worked at the original production of Miss Saigon as a dresser, and other fans at the 10th Anniversary performance. Another advantage being it was just up the road from the Duchess Theatre, which was another one off my list, as to the best of my memory I’d never been to this particular establishment before.

The Play that goes Wrong, is a farce, which started in a very small “above the pub” theatre, and due to it’s popularity transferred to the West End. It tells of the ********* Polytechnic theatre group, putting on one of those “who dun its” think budget Agatha Christie. But let’s just say none to successfully!

I found the whole show hysterical, the cast were brilliant, throwing (literally) themselves into the performance with gusto! A very funny way to spend a few hours, and a version is currently touring the UK with I believe “Peter Pan that goes wrong” which I hope to see when it reaches Cardiff.

After this show it was back to the hotel, quick change, and out. As earlier whilst wandering I had updated Facebook and received a message from a friend from days gone by … i.e. when I worked in Cardiff. Who now works in London, so we arranged to meet for a pint before my final show.

So we’re at The Coal Hole, a great pub on The Strand, which I have visited a number of times before, I’m stood there quietly melting into the floor, this weather is unbelievable for this time of year. Anyway Andrew arrives and we have a great chat catching up on our respective careers since the great days of the WFPC. (Don’t ask it’s secret! 😉 ) His stratospheric mine more … undulating! All too soon we bid each other goodbye and I head off for the Vaudeville Theatre, just across the road, conveniently enough. Home of Forbidden Broadway. Now for the uninitiated this is a review style show where 4 cast members do comedy versions of famous Musical theatre songs, and also funny songs about musical theatre shows and performers. Honestly the more you know about musicals the more you will enjoy the show.

The cast when I saw it were … Anna-Jane Casey, Christine Bianco, Damian Humbleby and Ben Lewis.

All to a man (woman) excellent. It really was a shame to see the theatre literally half empty. I had again booked a day seat £20 and front row. So had an excellent view and a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I know I was on to a relatively safe bet, as I’d seen the show twice before. Once on Broadway during my first visit over the pond, and then at the Menier Chocolate Factory when they did a UK based version a few years ago.

So that’s it folks, a great trip, feet destroying excluded. Since I’ve been back hearing more and more positive reviews for Memphis, so may well give that a go if it’s still running when I’m next there. I also really want to see “Beautiful – The Carol King Musical” so finances permitting I MAY be looking at using that £50 voucher spring next year.

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