September 2016

As I seem to be starting a lot of my reviews recently this was a different type of trip, who knows maybe different is the new normal! :). Anyhow why different? Well firstly I drove to London, having done this both ways in a day for the final day of Miss Saigon back in March, I knew I could do it. Also it gave me the flexibility with travel times and it worked out  A LOT better as I found out the day before I was due to travel they had closed the Severn Tunnel for essential maintenance, resulting in all train journeys (for the next 6 weeks) now taking 40 minutes longer.

So this is what happened…

I walk my little (not really if you saw him, I’m 6’3” and he can stand on his hind legs and look me in the eyes!) friend Scooby at 6am, shower and start the drive in what can only be described as Gods rehearsal for “Noah 2 – the second wave!”

With a brief stop at Leigh Delamere services I drive straight through to Hounslow, a location I know quite well as my brother used to work there. Okay lets rephrase that an area I know OF as my brother used to work there, as although I have been near it, and even through it once or twice, all the time my brother worked there he lived in a different area and I stayed there most of the time. So when I got there it took me nearly as long as the 170 miles from Wales to find a suitable parking space! Eventually I did, left the car and jumped on the Tube at Hounslow Central, and began the 40ish minute journey to Central London.

Arriving at Tottenham Court Road Tube I headed for my home away from home the St. Giles Hotel, now regular readers will know I’ve stayed here the last few times I’ve been in the capitol and really can’t fault the place. It’s cheaper than most of the other central London hotels, without compromising on quality. When I walk in there is a long queue for check in, now note to self, when the hotel is kind enough to send you an email with a link enabling you to check in on line, DON’T take a photo of the email thus rendering the links inoperable… DOH!

So luckily they are an efficient bunch on reception / check in and the queue was dealt with quickly. My room (454 on the fourth floor) was ready, despite it being 12 and the hotel having check in from 2. The room is a double en-suite with all the usual amenities, hair-dryer (those who know me know why this is so important), fan, safe, TV etc. A very clean, secure and welcoming environment that I will have no qualms about using for all my future trips. So I drop my bag off and head out.

A couple of things, I hadn’t pre-booked any tickets for this trip, well I had for Madame Tussauds, but as this isn’t a “show” I’ll come back to this later. As although I had an idea of what I wanted to see, I also wanted to check if my luck with Day seats held (it did partly) and so I head to the Aldwych Theatre and manage to pick up a day seat for the matinee (£39.50 instead of £67.50) of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. First show booked so back out into the precipitation ’cause it REALLY was precipitating it down by now, and off to the next theatre.

Luckily it was only literally down the road, unluckily I was greeted by the one thing I didn’t want to see, a “House Full” sign. So regrettably I didn’t get to see the wonderful Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl. So dilemma, what to see on a Saturday night in London…

Well I posted to a great Facebook group I am a member of “The Musical Theatre Appreciation Society” (MTAS) for suggestions and then promptly booked a ticket for a show across the road again, well it was raining, although this was not my reason for choosing the show, as this particular production had been garnering raves on said page for months, and a friend I work with who goes to the theatre almost as often as I do also recommended it.

So there you have it I book for Kinky Boots, again regrettably no day seats. I wasn’t really expecting any as at 6am when I was getting ready to leave Wales another member of “MTAS” posted she was sat outside the theatre waiting for the box office to open (it opens about 10am) dedication or WHAT! So I managed to get a seat for £52.50.

So at this point I head back towards the Aldwych for the matinee of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.

Now I saw this show during my last visit, at that point only recently having “discovered” Carole King. Since then I’ve bought the soundtrack CD and the Greatest Hits of Ms King so you could say I’m a fan.

To the show … well strangely enough for a show titled as it is, it tells the life story of the lady in question! Covering her early (professional) years writing SO MANY hits with her husband Gerry Goffin through to the stratospheric success of the Tapestry album.

If you go to see the show, and I recommend EVERYONE does, you will be treated to songs including: “He’s sure the boy I love”, “It’s too late”, “Some Kind of Wonderful”, “Will you still love me tomorrow”, “Beautiful”, “We gotta get out of this place”, “Walking in the rain” and “Natural Woman”. I should also mention a major part of the story is the friendship between Carole & Gerry and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil who wrote in the next door office to them, and wrote some of the great hits featured.

Now when I saw the show I saw an alternate in the lead, Joanna Woodward playing “Carole”, now this lady was brilliant. I was hoping to see Cassidy Janson who is the primary Carole but I must say within 3 bars of the first song I did not think of her again, hopefully I’ll catch her another time, as I saw her in a cabaret show with Sarah Lark a number of years ago.

Joanna on a two show day gave it her all, and inhabited the role, (in my opinion) nailing the accent and performance style of Carole King. All the rest of the cast were faultless and carried you on a roller-coaster journey through the life of one of the true greats of the music business.

So after this show it was back to the hotel a quick shower and change then out again … INTO THE RAIN … and show two and a new one for me.

Kinky Boots, now I know it’s (loosely) based on a true story, and I know what that story is, in about 3 sentences: A local shoe manufacturer in Nottingham is going out of business when it discovers a niche market (making women’s boots for men) and that keeps them trading.

So knowing nothing of the musical, I entered the foyer passing by the famous boots cut out which you can stand behind and have your photo taken in the eponymous footwear, and before you ask no I didn’t …. well I was on my own and even my arms aren’t THAT long!

So I enter to my seat in a thankfully air conditioned auditorium, as although it was still precipitating it down outside it was also BOILING making the ¾ length leather coat I was wearing a BAD decision.

So to the show itself. Well this is a musical based on a movie based on a true story. So you enter the world of “Charlie Price”, who we first meet as a young boy visiting his dad’s factory that makes Gents shoes, at the same time your introduced (at a different location) to “Simon” a young boy who will in time become “Lola”.

The story quickly moves to Simon leaving home with his fiancé when he is older not wanting to join the family business, unfortunately soon after his father passes away and he is forced to return to sort out the business. At first deciding to close the factory before a chance (and painful) encounter with “Lola” gives him an idea.

I won’t go into more detail of the story as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone wanting to see the show, and my suggestion is to go, as from booking with some reticence I loved it. I found the story really had heart, the performances were brilliant and the musical numbers inventive and wonderfully performed. The leads Matt Henry “Lola” and David Hunter “Charlie Price” are wonderfully aided by a great cast with special mention going to Elena Skye “Lauren” and Alan Mehdizadeh “Don”.

When discussing this show with friends on the MTAS board I said it was one I didn’t feel the need to go out and buy the soundtrack of right away, but I do feel myself wanting to listen to it more (thanks YouTube) and think certain songs may grow on me. (Quick Update, whilst writing this review I have been listening to clips from YouTube and now plan to buy the CD)

In a performance setting, as in whilst I was watching the show, stand out numbers for me included: “Not my father’s son”, “What a Woman Wants” “History of Wrong Guys”, “Hold me in your heart” and “Soul of a man”

As I mentioned the single word for me that sprung to mind during and looking back at the show is heart. I mean (and again no spoilers) their 6 step guide is certainly something to (if not live by) certainly aspire to. So all in all a great show that I would definitely hope to see again.

So it’s back to the hotel, drop off my programmes and head back out to my third performance venue of the day,

The Comedy Store. Now as I have mentioned before this has become a tradition for me, a great way to round off an day in London. The show now starts at 11:00pm (it used to be midnight) and you get just over 2 hours of live stand up comedy. Usually featuring 5 acts, don’t let the compère fool you, he will usually tell you 4 and then they throw in one beginner who is trying stand up for the first time, you will never know which one until after they’ve performed. This night, 10/9/16 we had 5 great acts, and with a  few beers and my usual seat being ready for me I had a great night, and it had even stopped raining as I walked back to my hotel in the early hours. #GoodTimes.

So it’s Sunday and unusually for me I am not heading straight back home, as this being a shorter than usual trip (I normally do Thursday to Sunday). I am seeing a show today too, well at least I am hoping to, as I haven’t  booked any, and there are only really two I want to see. One of those Jersey Boys doesn’t start till 5pm so is my second choice this trip and The Lion King. But I digress, firstly  I had pre-booked a ticket for that great tourist magnet Madame Tussauds. By pre-booking I paid about £22 instead of £37. So next question how to plan today, well firstly I have to check out of the hotel, secondly the divine entity has decided to mix it up a bit, it is now all blue skies and sweltering outside, so wearing my leather coat would kill me. So, another positive for the St.Giles they have a service where you can leave a bag with them when you check out, they only charge £1 for this and they didn’t charge me any extra for my coat either!

So I venture out, and to my next puzzle best way to get there, so I try something new, Uber and as I was linked to this from inside the Google Maps App I also was given a discount code of a free trip (up to £20), I’ll let you know if this works out as I never take anything for granted till I get my credit card bill!

But I enter my destination get a “real time” update of the arrival of my ride and a confirmation of my driver (with a photo) and the make and registration of the vehicle. He arrives in a nice new clean car and I must say it was a very professional service, one I would definitely use again.

So I’m outside Madame Tussauds I join a queue, and must admit no real waiting I’m there for about 10minutes but it’s 9:50 and my entry is for 10:00 so I enter and the high pressure  up-selling wins again …

Lady on reception: “Would you like a programme it’s £6”

Me: “Okay thank you”

How can you win against those sales skills …. really!!

So up some stairs and into a lift and upon exiting you enter a world of Wax!

So here are some photos of my visit.

It’s hard to say much about this money making venture, I mean the figures are certainly impressive, and I think some of my fellow visitors enjoyed it more as they got to take selfies with their favourite celebs. Me I can’t stand having my photo taken, so I wandered around and enjoyed my visit. Now I will say I no way believe it would be worth the £37 entrance fee, I almost begrudged the £22 I paid. Now that sounds a little curmudgeonly, as I wasn’t forced to visit and did enjoy looking round, it’s just for what’s there I felt it was expensive. I did enjoy the Tour of London and 4G Super Hero exhibits so all in all worth a visit, but a little overpriced for me, god help if I was a family with a few kids!

So I take the Tube back to Central London, then letting my impeccable sense of direction kick in again, get off one stop too early, promptly walk a complete circular route away from then back towards where I was heading … The Lyceum theatre home of The Lion King.

On my way I check out online what ticket availability was like only to be greeted with “Sold Out” on all sections. So there you have it, or at least a less seasoned theatre goer may have thought, however I head straight to the box office. REALLY chance my arm asking for day seats, none left, not surprised as I said this is one of only two “big Musicals” running in the West End on a Sunday, but I am able to get a single end of row seat in the circle for £47 giving me this view …

So I go for a wander around, almost bump into Christopher Timothy (All creatures great and small for those of my vintage, Doctors for those slightly younger) as we cross a very busy road, have a McDonalds for breakfast … Don’t Judge I’m on holiday and the diet starts tomorrow! 🙂 Watch some cyclists (which may or may not have included Sir Bradley Wiggins) whiz past me

Did a bit of sightseeing in the glorious weather

Then it’s to the last show of my trip.

What can you say about Disney’s The Lion King, which for me should really always be called “Disney’s the Lion King” as this really is the epitome of Disney: big, brash, colourful, squarely aimed at children and EXPENSIVE. I mean looking on their site “Premium seats” are £127.50! other seats being £92.70, £90.50, £72.70, £60.20, £50.20 and £40.20 all these are through the Disney link on the website (which they say are the cheapest with the least booking fees), so as you can see from what I paid (£47) the Box office work on a slightly different scale and so do other sites selling tickets. Add to this when I bought a programme and Brochure as I always do the first time I see a new show (subsequent visits I just buy programmes) I was told the programme is £5 (I think) and the brochure £10!!!!

So to the show itself, well it certainly is a spectacle, a real feast for the eyes, and as someone who hasn’t seen the cartoon, I can confirm you don’t need to know anything of the story before seeing it. The cast when I saw the show were excellent, I mean their athleticism is awe inspiring, I will say just two words of explanation THE GIRAFFES!

The story for those who’ve been living on Mars for the last 20 plus years is of “Simba” (Nicholas Afoa) a young Lion Cub, who runs away when his uncle “Scar” (George Asprey) (unbeknownst to him) kills his father “Mufasa” (Shaun Escoffery) and manages to persuade him that his fathers death was his fault. Along the way you are introduced to a range of colourful characters including: “Timon” (Richard Frame), “Pumba” (Keith Bookman), “Nala” (Ava Brennan) and “Ed” (Mark McGee). You also have (I assume) all the songs from the movie, including ones even I’ve heard of: “The Circle of Life”, “Hakuna Matata” and “Can you feel the Love Tonight”.

Now whilst watching the show I was indeed carried away by the performances and the emotion of the show. Despite the best efforts of some of the worst behaved audience members I can ever remember being in a theatre with. I mean in front of me a couple were on their phone before and during the interval, NOTHING wrong with that …. I’m the same.

However next to them was a young woman checking her phone NON-STOP throughout the show: Facebook, messages, texts, Websites (I was right behind her so I could see) ALL – THE – TIME, add to this one parent LEANING OUT OF ONE OF THE BOXES to TAKE PHOTOS OF THE SHOW! Come one people it’s LIVE THEATRE the cast can see you, not to mention the other audience members trying to enjoy the show. Also look how much you paid for these tickets to then not watch the show!

So, after venting, back to the show. I’m glad I saw it, cast great, but not really one I feel the Love (sorry 😉 ) to see again. I know I’m not the target audience, and although as I said earlier I was carried along with the story, but it didn’t have the big emotional impact I thought it would. Why did I think it would? Well put it this way I’ve never seen Bambi, Black Beauty or any films with animals in, as I can’t stand seeing any animal suffering, even cartoons. So I was fully expecting to have “something in my eye” at points in the show, and despite the best efforts and wonderful skills of the performers I didn’t have that primal reaction.

To reiterate in slightly less words: Great spectacle, great performances but not a must re-see for me.

That’s it for this trip, I head back to the hotel, collect my stuff, Tube out to Hounslow and drive back to Wales.

I have more theatre planned, a local production “All Shook Up”, then Christine Bianco this week, and I’m always looking for touring productions. So till the next show….

Keeeep going to the theatre …


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