October 2017

London 2017

This is the year I turned 50 … Yes I know, I know I don’t .. act it! But still it’s a fact I did. So finances being a consideration and a lottery win not making itself readily available to me, a return the the US of A wasn’t an option, so I decided on a longer visit to my favourite place on earth, London.

So I added a day (4 instead of 3) and the planning began. Jump to:

Wednesday 4th October and I leave Merthyr in my car, and head up the M4. This has been my preferred method of transport for recent trips, as it means I’m not tied to timetables and can pretty much do as I wish. So with the traditional stop off at Leigh Delamere services I arrive in Hounslow. My chosen location to park up and let the (underground) train take the strain.

Now this is where the problems started. I arrived at my chosen car park to be advised “This is not a long stay car park” and that I couldn’t leave my car there for the required 5 days (arriving Wednesday lunchtime I would be returning to the car Sunday morning) I was directed to a multi storey nearby, well I quickly tried two others, the open air one I’d used previously – full, a nearby one – also not long stay, getting to the multi-storey in question – would cost me about £50 – £60 to use. So I check the internet and decided on “just park” as it says it’s local, cheaper and is a big (web) site so I shouldn’t have any problems … or so I thought.

After paying the money through PayPal I read the small print (wrong order I know) and realise I’d just booked to park on someone’s drive, Oops! Still they’d registered on the site so they must be willing. A few wrong turns later, and the dawning realisation I had booked a space without checking how far it was from the Tube Station I needed … oops again! I arrive at the location in the email I had received, and …. there is already a car parked there.

Luckily the lady who the garage belonged to (I was to park in front of it) was also there and was on the phone, trying to find out who was in the spot. Eventually being told another neighbour had parked there I was told to park in front of his garage down the street and this was behind a lockable gate.

So I park up and grab my bags, luckily finding I was a 5 minute walk from one of the other tube stations in Hounslow and I head for the tube. One arrives within a few minutes and (in posh voice-over voice) “THE JOURNEY CONtinues”. Sorry a big Apprentice fan 🙂

I arrive at Tottenham Court Road station and when I reach street level I can see my hotel. The St. Giles Bedford Avenue. So I check in. Oh lets rewind little and prove a point that I NEVER read the small print properly. On the tube on the way in I think I’ll be clever and use the electronic sign in option the hotel offers, as last year I was in a queue for about 20 minutes to get my key.

Now last year I had taken a screen grab of the email, great for the info, of no flippin’ use what so ever if you want to click the link in said email!

So this time I have saved said email to my phone, so I click on the link and voilà!

This link can be used UP TO 24 hours before your check in!” yeah oops again!

Luckily I get straight to check in no queues and I have my key to room 243 on the second floor.

I Drop my bags and head straight out, as all that faffing about with the parking I was a little later than I had hoped.

So I head straight to the Palace Theatre where I had decided to chance my arm and ask about return seats for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘. Now tickets for this show are like hen’s teeth with them going on sale in batches of up to 250,000 at a time (that covered August 2016 to December 2017 and these selling out in a matter of hours.

So I walk into the box office ask for a single seat for both shows, (for those who don’t know, the show is divided into 2 performances, with an interval in each), and get told:

yes fine I can either get you in now, they are 12 minutes in but we can still do it”

I didn’t fancy that,

or we can do you one seat for Thursday night and one for Friday evening.”

So I’m in! I book these, and I’m off first show booked.

Oh side note here, this show, as you may have guessed from the two halves bit, runs a little differently, with no shows on a Monday or Tuesday, on Wednesday they run part 1 as a matinee and part two in the evening, Thursday evening part one and Friday evening part two, then Saturday and Sunday they do part one matinee and part two evening again.

So now knowing what day’s I’m seeing this on, it frees me up to book other shows, so I wander down the street and see a queue of people going into the (in previews) new production of Mel Brooks Young Frankenstein. I go to the box office queue, only 2 people in front of me, the others are queueing to actually go into the performance, ask about ticket availability and get told I can have stalls end of a row for £25 – Result! I join the other queue, stop off at the bar for a drink and take my seat, for the first performance of the trip.

‘Young Frankenstein’ – Based on the 1974 film of the same name, has Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks, Directed & Choreographed by Susan Stroman with Set Design – Beowulf Boritt.

The leading cast beng: Hadley Fraser ‘Dr. Frankenstein’, Ross Noble ‘Igor’, Lesley Joseph ‘Frau Brucher’, Diane Pilkington ‘Elizabeth’, Summer Strallen ‘Inga’, Patrick Clancey ‘the Hermit & Inspector Kemp’ and Shuler Hensley ‘The Monster’,

It tells the story of the grandson of the original Doctor Frankenstein, who while returning to Transylvania to sort out his father’s estate is drawn back into the work of his grandfather.

Now if, like me, you love Mel Brooks films you will know this is not subtle comedy. It is broad brushstroke, word play, physical comedy and madness (in this case in both senses of the word 🙂 )

I loved the show, I thought the cast were great, and played the laughs perfectly. I think most people, at least of my generation, will see the jokes coming a mile off, and this is not a criticism, as you have the triple whammy of knowing what’s coming, hearing it and then loving the fact it was delivered with such great timing and performance. I won’t spoil it by trying to relate the gags, suffice to say all the classics from the movie are there. Stand out numbers for me were: “Please don’t touch me”, “Roll in the Hay”, “He vas my boyfriend” and “Deep Love”.

This show is advertised as a limited run, so I say if you get a chance go and see it.

After this it was time to decide what to see that evening. Now late afternoon this was something new for me, I always book the tickets as early as possible, but I happened to walk pass the Arts Theatre and saw a sign for a show I’d heard of but knew nothing about, so I thought what the hell let’s give it a go, so that’s how I ended up booking to see Toxic Avenger – The Musical

So Hotel, quick change and back out.

Oh that should read – Hotel, quick change, Group INSULT and back out. As this happened, I’m waiting for the lift, the doors open, and I’m faced with really a quite full elevator, but as they say there’s ‘room for a little one’ so I step in, to be greeted with an almost universal cry of “over loaded …. OVER LOADED!” not nice I think, and quite personal too I mean I know I’ve put on a few pounds lately but still, then as I quickly back out of said lift I notice the floor display is flashing “O/L” oh okay there’s a scale built into elevators these days! Gulp!! … the diet starts Sunday

‘Toxic Avenger – The Musical’

Book & Lyrics: Joe DiPetro Music & Lyrics David Bryan, Director: Benji Sperring, Choreographer: Lucie Pankhurst, Designer: Takis

The cast are: Mark Anderson “Melvin / Toxie”, Emma Salvo “Sarah”, Natalie Hope “Mayor/Ma Ferd/Nun”, Che Francis “Black Dude”, Oscar Conlon-Morrey “White Dude”, with Peter Bindloss and Sophia Lewis as Swing(s).

The band:Musical Director/Keyboards – Alex Beetschen, Guitar – Tom Coppin, Reed – Jack Reddick, Bass – Sam Pegg and Drums Bob Carr.

This is another ‘also based on a (1984) movie of the same name’ (and again the original movie wasn’t a musical), this time a low budget ‘shlock’ horror about a shy, weedy guy who gets dropped into a vat of radioactive goo and is transformed into ‘Toxie’ the Toxic Avenger a superhero who decides it’s his place to save his town, the girl and the planet!

This really is the definition of high octane rock musical, loud, brash, very funny and (parental advisory) really quite crude in places. So all in all my cup of tea. I had a ball, stand out songs for me were:”My big French boyfriend”, “Hot Toxic Love”, and the frankly exhausting “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore”. The latter deserving of a special mention for Natalie Hope, I won’t go into more detail so as to not spoil it if you go to see the show. To finish if you like ‘Book of Mormon’, ‘Rocky Horror’ etc. then you will love this show.

Oh t was here I came across the most … forceful usher I’v ever seen (heard) someone, naughty I know, took a photo of the stage before the show started:

No Photography”

a few minutes later another flash and

I SAID NO PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE AUDITORIUM!”

Holy Crap I jumped outta my seat. Audience fault I know but surely a more …. restrained way of giving this customer service announcement could have been found.

So after this very busy day I call it quits, return to the hotel picking up a snack from Burger King on the way, tell you one thing they really do have THE best fries no doubt. Anywho, crash out and suddenly it’s …

Thursday 5th

So with the evening show sorted to be of the the wizarding variety, it was a case of what to do for a matinee and to fill the rest of the day. So I go for a wander filming a little, having brought along a small video camera to film my Friday day activity, more of that later. Whilst wandering I come across the theatre showing ‘Annie’ now I had the soundtrack LP of this when I was a kid, probably thinking about it, making it my first musical … hadn’t thought of this till now, anyway.

This production has been in the West End for about six months, and recently the lead had changed with Craig Revel Horwood (he of “AAAhh-Maaa ZZing Dahhling” taking over as “Miss Hannigan” So I pop into the box office ask about day seats and get the end of a row in the stalls for £20, Result!

Now what to do between 10:30am and 3:00pm, so I pop to The Moon Under Water in Leicester Square and have a breakfast and a pint. Well come on it is my holiday.

So with still a few hours to kill and the weather being great, bright, sunny, not too cold. I decide on one of my favourite pastimes, an open-top bus tour, so I pay my £35 (“THIRTY FIVE POUNDS!!”, don’t remember it being that expensive before) and get on The Original Tour open top bus and we’re off, for approximately a 3 hour circuit of central London. Now this really is a great way to see a city, whether you’re a regular visitor (almost every year for the last 20+) or new. Most offer a “hop on hop off” system where if you want more time at a specific location you just get off, do what you want and then get on the next bus.

I had two different guides, one a factually correct gent who didn’t really interact with the passengers at all choosing to sit in a seat relaying info into a microphone, when he left part way around a young lady took over, who was much more engaged. Oh and when I asked her for an approximate time of returning to Leicester Square she asked where in Wales I was from, when I said “Merthyr, 20 miles north of Cardiff” she replies “Monmouth!” small world in it! and she was very knowledgeable about London too.

I get back to near the Piccadilly Theatre, home of ‘Annie’ and I am set for my second matinee of the trip.

‘Annie’ – Book Thomas Meehan, Music Charles Strouse, Lyrics Martin Charnin. This production opened in the West End (after a national tour) in May 2017 with Miranda Hart leading as “Miss Hannigan”. Director is Nikoli Foster,

For those who don’t know, the musical is based on a comic strip from the 1920’s by Harold Gray. The original Broadway production opened in 1977 running for nearly 6 years. Since then it has been a staple of regional tours and Am-Dram repertoires.

Having never seen Miranda Hart’s TV show I can’t say it was top of my must see list, although I do really like the show. However by the time I find myself in my seat Craig Revel Horwood (Strictly Come Dancing judge) has taken over the role, so I’m looking forward to this.

The show features the classic songs: “Tomorrow”, “Maybe”, “It’s a hard knock life” and many other great tunes. Now with a musical based in an orphanage you really are at the mercy of the young performers in the show, luckily when I saw the performance they were. to an orphan, excellent! The songs above were (and always have been) my favourites, the production was brilliantly staged with some great supporting performances from Alex Bourne ‘Daddy Warbucks’, Jonny Fines ‘Rooster’, Djalenga Scott ‘Lilly’ and Holly Dale Spencer ‘Grace Farrell’. Mr. Revel Horwood is brilliant in the role of ‘Miss Hannigan’

It’s obvious he is comfortable in the part having played it in the recent National tour, but he has a surprisingly (at least to me) good singing voice and puts great gusto into the dance numbers. All in all another “go and see from me”. I’m not mentioning who played Annie or the other orphans as there are three different teams and I’m not too sure which ones were performing the day I saw the show, but as I said they were great. Oh and anyone there … there was something in my eye! …. especially when Sandy was on stage.

Hotel – Change – Evening show.

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ – Original Story J.K. Rowling, Original Story & Playwright Jack Thorne, Original Story and Director John Tiffany, Composer and Arranger Imogen Heap.

Cast: Jamie Glover ‘Harry’, Rakie Ayola ‘Hermione’, Thomas Aldridge ‘Ron’, Theo Ancient ‘Albus’, Samuel Blenkin ‘Scorpius’, James Howard ‘Draco’, Emma Lowndes ‘Ginny’ and supporting players.

Now some general info for those uninitiated. The show is 2 parts (running just under 3 hours each, with an interval during both performances)

This is a play with some music queues, it tells the story of when ‘Albus’ the son of ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Ginny Weasley’ goes to Hogwarts, it features both the original trio (Harry, Ron & Hermione) and their children.

Now this is going to be a very short review as, to give any further information or detail of the story would potentially spoil it for those going to see the show. Put it this way even the programme comes with a spoiler alert warning to not read the cast list until you’ve seen part 2! In fact this show has it’s own hash-tag #KeepTheSecrets and I intend to.

Just being cryptic I will say watch EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE. My seat, a mistake on my part, I was quoted either £85 or £125 for tickets and forgetting this would be for both performances I chose the cheaper. So I was in the grand circle and behind a handrail, the latter not too much of a problem for me as at my height I could look over and around it. But I should have, and will again (although not immediately) return and pay more to be a little closer to the stage. However this didn’t spoil a great show.

Friday 6th

Now another change from my usual trips, I venture outside London, to Leavesden in fact 20 miles north of London, to the studios where Harry Potter films where made. So I leave the hotel, catch a tube from Tottenham Court Road underground station to Euston station from there an overground train to Watford Junction, and there we are met by buses that will take us to the studios. My luck held as I had no waiting at any of the connections, and I arrive at the studios where “the magic happened”.

Now call me immature but as a 50 year old guy I was really excited about this. Arriving over an hour earlier than my allotted slot, So I thought this could have been a problem but it proved not to be, I just joined the queue and when my ticket was checked to enter the attraction (about 30 to 40 mins early they said nothing and waved me through)

In fact I have done this almost totally backwards – seen the movies – then the play – then the studio tour, and as I am sitting here typing just having read the first book straight through in a day! Now to speak nicely to my niece who I believe has the next 3 books.

Now I’ll add a link (if I’m clever enough) to a gallery of photos of my tour HERE , What I can confirm is it’s very well organised, I mean they plan for up to 5000 people a day attending! Although there were queues: to get my (prebooked) ticket 3 people, to get to bag check about 50-80, to get into the attraction 80-100 in front of me, they were well managed and all told I would say from arriving on the bus I was inside the tour within 45 mins, and that included forgetting my digital guide and having to go and get it, and a comfort break too.

So you enter into a room with narrow video screens on the walls where an ‘interactor’ gives you some info on the tour: they suggest you give around the 2 – 3 hour mark for the full tour (about right I did it in just over 2), photos and video are allowed in most of the tour (not the cinema at the start and the ‘green screen’ areas, (they sell you photos in the latter) and then you are led into a cinema to watch a short video introduced by Harry, Hermione and Ron (Daniel, Emma and Rupert).

Now I won’t spoil the surprises on the tour, the first and simplest being the best for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the only thing missing for me was maybe something about the equipment used to make the movies but that really isn’t the target group this tour is aimed at.

I will say I paid extra for the souvenier guide (looks good value), and the digital guide, an interactive screen and audio guide where you can get more info on specific areas, for me not so worth the money, as I found I was so interested in looking at the exhibits that I frequently forgot to press the codes in to get the info, and just found it slightly annoying hanging round my neck with the headphones getting in the way of me filming the exhibits with the 2 cameras (still and video) I had. Oh and there are at least 5 gift shops during the tour and the prices were …. varied from (fairly reasonable I bought 2 fridge magnets, to ye watering £47.95 for a sweatshirt £27 for a scarf, and there were some items well over £100

So I get back to London, realise I have enough time to make use of the other part of my open top bus ticket, a river cruise, so I head to Westminster pier. I then spend a fun and interesting 90 mins ‘sailing’ up and down the Thames between Parliament and the Tower of London.

The evening starts with the final part of Harry Potter, another great show with some brilliant effects, and excellent performances.

After this it was time for another tradition, a visit to the late show at The Comedy Store. This (on a Friday & Saturday night) features “The best of stand up comedy” a show featuring 5 different stand up comics. On Friday we had all great acts, as it can be a little hit and miss as one of the acts, and they don’t tell you which until they’ve finished, is a first timer.

There was minor heart failure for me, as I have ‘my seat’ half way behind a pillar about 5 rows from the stage, so I can see them but it’s harder for them to see me! Well when I got there it was blocked off, so I had to sit ‘exposed’, luckily before the show started they opened up the row so I was safe. A great way to spend the later evening in London, and one I plan to continue on each of my visits.

An aside here, the security situation has definitely made for a different experience, with significantly increased security at all venues, you are ‘wanded’ (not Harry Potter style, metal detectors) and bag searches are more thorough. So it’s worth getting to your chosen entertainment a little earlier than you may have previously. I mean for the Cursed Child I joined the end of the queue literally about a street and a half away. Thought this may have been due to some major building work in the area immediately in front of the Palace Theatre.

So we get to my last day in London

Saturday 7th

Now I knew I wanted to see Wicked, as ‘Glinda’ is currently played by a very talented Welsh lady called Sophie Evans, who has previously played ‘Dorothy’ in the Wizard of Oz. I also knew that getting Day Seats for this show, while not impossible required significantly more dedication and time than I wanted to do this day, as the fans of this show (mostly young, female and …. dedicated, yes dedicated is a good alternative to ‘Rabid’ that I’ve heard elsewhere! )

So I check online and manage to get a seat in the circle for £50 odd so good start. Now matinee, well I headed to the Savoy, and for the second time in two trips fail to get a day seat, not too surprising as it is one of the smaller theatres in the West End.

So I pop over the road to ‘Kinky Boots’, however after standing in the queue for about 20 mins I hear 3 very excited girls saying as they left that they had seats 27,28 and 29. Now knowing that the front row has roughly that many seats, and that they are the main ‘day seats’. I decide, as there are still about another 15 people in front of me, to try somewhere else.

So I head, using maps on my phone, which I swear my brother has got his hands on, as it always seems to take me the most IN-DIRECT route possible, I think it’s his way of ensuring I exercise more. Anyway I aim for Piccadilly circus and the Criterion theatre, home of The Comedy about a Bank Robbery‘. I manage to get a ticket, one of the most expensive of the trip, a bit of a cheek considering this is a play not a musical, but hey. I then have a breakfast at the Moon under the Water.

Then another odyssey begins, trying to find Choccywoccydoodah to collect an order my sister in law had placed. Well another in-direct route in the drizzle, the only ‘bad’ weather of the whole trip and I get there. Collect the mugs and bag she had ordered, now for a not inexpensive store you would have thought that said mugs would have come in boxes instead of loose in the bag. But hey ho I got them, returned to the hotel crashed for a few hours then to the matinee.

‘The Comedy about a Bank Robbery’ – Is the third comedy by the Mischief Theatre company (two of which are currently running in the West End, the other being ‘The Play that goes wrong’). It tells the story (some what unsurprisingly) of a bank robbery. This is again really my type of comedy, broad farce, innuendo – outuendo, (sorry couldn’t resist 🙂 ) giving you wordplay, physical and visual comedy at a breakneck (literally if they got their timings wrong on some of the stunts involved) pace.

Written by: Jonathan Sayer, Henry Lewis and Henry Shields. Directed by: Mark Bell, Musical Director & arranger: Joey Hickman. The cast are: Sean Kearns, Mark Hammersley, Gareth Tempest, Steffan Lloyd-Evans, Hannah Boyce,Tania Mathurin, Chris Pizzey, Miles Yekinni and Jeremy Lloyd. Now there was an alternate on the day I saw the show but unfortunately I can’t remember who, as one of the facets of the show is mistaken identity.

It is set in the Summer of 1958 and a group of non-too clever characters decide to steal a diamond from a small Minneapolis bank. As I say for all comedies it is unfair to recount specific jokes as out of context they loose their effect. Suffice to say I laughed all the way through, it featured some great rock and roll music, some performed by the very talented cast, and I had a great time.

While not quite as funny as their first (‘The Play that goes wrong’) it, for me has the edge on their second (‘Peter Pan that goes wrong’) which in itself was very funny too. Check it out if you get chance.

So, after a quick change, its out to the Apollo Victoria Theatre by Victoria train station. Another reason I didn’t try for day seats, as it would have involved a tube ride there and back.

Now this evening I could have used the tube but decided to treat myself and I took an Uber, was treated to the delights of Saturday evening traffic in central London, but for under a tenner arrived at my destination, went to the wrong side and had to walk around the theatre to collect my ticket, then I head to the bar. Buy a drink, perch on a handrail by the stairs and realise the very long queue is getting longer and I hadn’t ordered an interval drink, so I rejoin the throng and stand there for well over 20 mins waiting to get served. Not the best staffed or organised bar of the trip I have to say.

Luckily I get my order in and head to my seat, Circle, Row O seat 6 on an aisle and with a good view of the stage, if a little further away that I would have liked, however as the ‘ordinary’ price seats in most of the stalls for this Saturday night performance had broken the £100 mark! I decided discretion better part of valour for my bank balance.

‘Wicked’ – Music & Lyrics: Stephen Schwartz, Book: Winnie Holzman, Director: Joe Mantello, Musical Staging: Wayne Cilento.

Cast: (when I saw the performance, were I believe) ‘Glinda’ Sophie Evans, ‘Elphaba’ Laura Pick, ‘Fiyero’ Bradley Jaden, ‘Madame Morrible’ Melanie La Barrie, ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ Andy Hockley, ‘Doctor Dilamond’ Martin Bell, ‘Boq’ Jack Lansbury, ‘Nessarose’ Sarah McNicholas and chorus.

The story is of two friends who meet in University and what happens to them after they leave. Okay, okay so the friends are the Wicked Witch of the West ‘Elphaba’ and ‘Glinda’ the good from the Wizard of Oz. Now the best description I’ve heard of the plot is if you’re looking straight ahead your watching the Wizard of Oz, what’s happening out of the corner of your eye and just out of sight is ‘Wicked’.

I went to what is the third or fourth visit for me as (I believe) for the first time there is a Welsh ‘Glinda’, the sublimely talented Sophie Evans, I have to say the show is showing no signs of its long run. The stand out numbers for me were as always: “Defying Gravity”, “Popular”, “For Good” and “I’m not that girl”.

I would, based on this most recent visit, give a heads up it may not be too suitable for young children, not from any content issues more for the scare factor. As a little boy in front of me was putting his hands over his ears and cwtching into his mum at certain parts, especially when the Wizard appeared or the flying moneys.

Sophie was excellent in the part, the other cast were great, and it still is a fun, entertaining and spectacular show.

So I head back to my hotel via tube, crash and return to Wales early(ish) the next morning.

Another trip over and only the locally booked theatre to stop the depression settling in.

I have (so far) booked for: ‘Cabaret’ next week, Sophie, Kerry Ellis and others in a ‘songs from the shows’ show at the end of October, then the new musical ‘Cilla’ first week of November and ‘Miss Saigon’ for the end of November, oh and I fully expect to book to see Miss Saigon at least another once during its residency at the Millennium Centre.

Hope you enjoyed this review, if you have any questions or just want to chat about theatre my social media and email details are in the links above.

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