London Trip October 2019
My annual pilgrimage to the West End was this year between the 3rd and 6th October. These few days (Thursday to Sunday) meant I was able to see 5 (Theatre) shows, and fit in a visit to the Comedy Store, a Rock & Roll walking tour and a visit to the Tower of London. So not a quiet trip, but a really fun one!
So the journey up was uneventful, well at least until I got to the outskirts of London and came to the realisation that I was going closer into the centre than I had planned, but the Sat Nav was programmed so it must be right … right??
The answer is not exactly, yes the SatNav was taking me to where I had programmed it to, however this numpty had made a slight booboo!
Well it can all be explained like this, after last years journey to the centre of the city I decided I didn’t gain anything, in fact, I lost some time due to the traffic.
So when it came to booking my parking on the outskirts I got my “H”s mixed up. You see my younger brother is a Police Officer, and initially joined the Met, so I had previously parked where he worked in Hounslow, just this side of London, so dodging the congestion and now emissions charges. However, I must have been a little distracted when I typed in the search criteria for the parking as the SatNav was now inexorably taking me to Hendon! Where he did his initial training. So there you have it, as I had booked the parking there, I had no choice but to soldier on and swallow an additional £36 in fees! Oof … not a great start.
One small positive was that the journey in from Hendon was shorter and didn’t require any changes, so I walked to the Tube Station and was soon arriving at Tottenham Court Road.
My hotel was as usual the St.Giles, which as regular readers will know is on Tottenham Court Road, so right in the thick of it, just as I like it. The hotel was, as in previous years, clean, welcoming and a perfect base for my theatre adventures.
So we have Day One. This is always a tricky one, as I usually don’t get to London until lunchtime (ish) and this leaves little time to get tickets for a matinee and evening show.
So I head out on my mission, and having previously thought of a few shows I wanted to see I chatted with a friend Ian who I’d met through MTAS (Musical theatre Appreciation Society) on Facebook, and our joint obsession with Miss Saigon, and he, being a Londoner, informed me that two of the shows were (relatively) close to each other. So my journey was Tottenham Court Road to the Strand. I immediately found the home of Waitress the Musical, and was lucky enough to get a Day Seat for that evenings performance for £25 seat C31 in the stalls. #GoodTimes. Then it was from one of the new musicals on the block to a true classic Fiddler on the Roof. This I found a street or two lower down on Northumberland Avenue at the Playhouse Theatre near Embankment Station.
Here I was informed that they didn’t do day seats … however the Stalls seats had come down in price, so I got Stalls E11 for £52.50 (average stalls seats in the West End are currently around the £75 mark). So, with both shows sorted, I found a nice pub The Princess of Wales on Villiers Street and managed to have a pint, to let my heart rate settle a bit after the mix up with the parking and the rush to get the seats.
So we have the first show of the trip.
Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favourite musicals, although strangely I had never seen it on stage until a few weeks prior, with a great production by the local Tredegar Operatic Society. So I was excited to see this new production.
Fiddler on the Roof – Based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, Book: Joseph Stein, Music: Jerry Bock, Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick had an original Broadway production (opening on the 22nd September 1964, and running until 1972!) Directed & Choreographed by Jerome Robbins, and originally produced by Harold Prince.
This new West End run is by Chocolate Factory Productions, Sonia Friedman Productions, Michael Harrison Entertainment, Adam Blanshay Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions and Playing Field (I just realised in this production there was nearly more Producers than cast!). This production choreographed by Jerome Robbins & Matt Cole and Directed by Trevor Nunn. It stars: Andy Nyman ‘Tevye‘ Maria Friedman ‘Golde‘ and Anita Dobson ‘Yente‘ (the latter unfortunately not performing at the matinee I saw, the role being played by Gaynor Miles) with a full and very talented supporting cast.
The auditorium at the Playhouse has been transformed so you are IN Anatevka, with cast members walking onto the stage and interacting before the show (officially) starts.
The story is of ‘Tevye‘ a milkman in a small village in the Ukraine, his wife Golde and their 5 daughters and how the changing times impact on the Traditions they hold so dear.
As I say I originally only knew the movie starring the great Topol, but this new production has all the heart, humour and power and I personally loved it.
For me the stand out songs were: ‘Tradition’, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’, ‘Sunrise Sunset’ and ‘Far from the Home I Love’ and, of course, ‘If I were a rich man’ come on you didn’t think I was gonna leave that one out did you. The cast as I mentioned were excellent and the way they used the auditorium to make the most of the space was great. If you like “classic” musicals check this one out while you can. It really is a fun, moving and uplifting show.
So after show one, it was a quick trip back to the hotel, grabbing something to eat on the way, quick change then back out for show 2, and it is one of the newer shows that have transferred from Broadway to the West End.
Waitress – Book: Jessie Nelson, Music & Lyrics: Sara Bareilles, Director: Diane Paulus, Choreographer: Lorin Latarro and was based on the 2007 film of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly.
This production starred (when I saw it): Lucie Jones ‘Jenna‘, Marisha Wallace ‘Becky‘, Olivia Moore ‘Dawn‘, David Hunter ‘Dr Pomatter‘, Joe Sugg ‘Ogie‘, Tamlyn Henderson ‘Earl‘, Andrew Boyer ‘Joe‘, Mark Willshire ‘Cal‘, Kelly Agbowu ‘Nurse Norma‘ and Annabelle Jones ‘Lulu‘ plus supporting cast.
I must admit I knew little about this show before I saw it. I mean I’d heard the social media discussions about the “stunt casting”, I knew the ingredients “Sugar, Butter, Flour” and I’d heard one or two versions of “She Used to be mine” 😉 … none holding a candle to Lucie’s wonderful performance, but more of that later.
The story is of ‘Jenna‘ a young waitress in a local Pie Diner, with a remarkable talent for baking, but a sadly terrible marriage, who discovers…
(**SPOILERS** … from this point on .. You HAVE BEEN WARNED)
at the start of the show that she is pregnant, by her husband who she no longer loves. It also tells of her fellow waitresses and friends ‘Dawn‘ and ‘Becky‘. ‘Jenna‘ falls for her new doctor ‘Dr. Pomatter‘, ‘Dawn‘ very nervously falls for ‘Ogie‘ and ‘Becky‘ … well I’ll let you find that out for yourself, as most of the previous spoilers you will “trip over” on the internet with any search for this show, but I did NOT see that coming!
Stand out numbers for me were: (of course) “She Used to be Mine”, “Bad Idea” (and it’s reprise), (thanks for the heads up Meryn!), “Never ever getting rid of me” and “Everything Changes”. However I downloaded the album before I left London and listened to it on the journey home, and all the songs are great.
Now to the performances, well I know Lucie, well I don’t KNOW her, we are both Welsh, but it’s not THAT small a country. I know of her, having seen her in concert a few times, and also in ‘Rent‘, ‘Legally Blonde‘ and ‘The Wedding Singer‘, so I knew she could sing … but in this role she SINGS! I’ve spoken to a few other musical fans on line and more than one said they had seen the show before and either liked it or thought “Meh” but seeing Lucie in the role they were blown away. As was I, I mean the intensity, the comedy timing and did I mention …
THE S I N G I N G.
It was a revelation, I loved the show and would go back in a heartbeat.
So after grabbing a drink at the Flying Horse just around the corner from my hotel, I had something to eat from the local fine dining establishment McD’s 😉 and retired to my bed.
Day 2 of the trip and the first “full day” in London. The plans for this day were: a tour of the Tower of London, a Walking Tour of the (Rock & Roll) History of London, an evening performance of “Les Miserables – The Staged Concert” and a visit to the late show at the Comedy Store.
However all these plans were nearly for naught, due to an incident before I even left my hotel room. I awoke early as is my want when in the big city I love, and headed to partake of my ablutions, don’t worry it doesn’t get too graphic!
So regular readers cast your mind back to previous reviews and can you guess what I may be singling out as my bone of contention, or indeed what area of my room could have caused me a problem? No not the hair-dryer, I managed to NOT blow this one up! It was that inverted Tardis that they put in hotel bathrooms, that small read VERY small glass enclosure, it looks small from the outside but when you get in it … it’s EVEN SMALLER! But it wasn’t the dimensions this time, I mean I have lost 5 and a half stone since January, this has absolutely nothing to do with this story I just like telling people 😉 , no it was the usually derisory trickle that is expelled from the shower head, which I was expecting as I switched it on … well lets just say, do you remember that scene in Rambo: First Blood where the hero is hosed down by the nasty sheriffs? … well … the force of the flow of water from this, frankly possessed, shower head pinned me to the opposite wall of the cubicle and it was only with the assistance of two passing cleaners and a burly concierge who heard my cries that I managed to extricate myself from my predicament. I then treated said aqua expelling serpent with the respect it deserved during future interactions.
So I dressed and headed out towards the Tower of London, I had never been particularly interested in visiting this Royal Palace previously. However after seeing both seasons of the Channel 5 documentary series I realised how much more it had to offer than the Queen’s jewellery collection and a tall building. So I looked into it, and discovered being a member of the sports & social club for Civil Servants I was eligible for free entry. So realising how far it was from my hotel I let the Tube take the strain and was soon collecting my ticket and joined the queue for entry about 4 minutes before they opened the gates.
Now having seen the series I knew two things: One, I wanted to do the tour with the ‘Beefeaters’, and two, if you want to see the Crown Jewels get there early as the queues can be Nuts! So spotting on the way in that the first tour was at 10:00am this being 9:00am I headed straight for the Jewel House and had a look around, visiting a few more towers and areas of the compound, and checking the one thing at the top of my bucket list for a visit to this location … I met (some of) the Ravens!! 🙂
I made my way back to the Moat where the tour was due to start. Now for all future visitors you really HAVE to do this tour, it’s informative, but also SO MUCH fun, the personality the Yeoman Warders (the official name for the staff mos people call ‘Beefeaters’) bring to their job is excellent, put it this way, I would happily visit again to do another tour with a different ‘beefeater’, as they all put their own slant on the basic information that they impart to the audience. The gentleman I toured with this time was great.
Here are some photos I took…
So after this in the morning, where I managed to rack up about 18000 steps, I headed back to the hotel for an hour or so before walking the short distance to Tottenham Court Tube Station to meet my guide for the walking tour I was doing this afternoon.
Now if you read my 2018 review you’ll know I did one of these last year too, with the same firm www.walks.com the great thing as I mentioned last time with this firm is you don’t pre-book, you just turn up at a specific location, usually a Tube Station entrance, at a specified time and find a guide there holding up a bunch of leaflets and give him £10 cash. So if you’re caught up, or just don’t fancy it, you haven’t lost anything.
This time the walk I did was “The London Music Tour – History of Rock & Pop” and as are most of the walks it’s about 2 hours in duration and was fun and informative. Our guide certainly knew his stuff, if he was a little short, why do I mention this? Well it impacted on me. You see as we leave one location he would say something like “now we’ll head down this road here, follow me.” Not too much of a problem you would think, but think again, we are in central London, a very busy place and as our group this time numbered about 12 you always had a few stragglers, or members who missed the lights on the crossing etc. So at one point, one of the others in the group came up to me and said “I’m so glad you’re on this tour!” Nice I thought wondering why as I hadn’t said a word to them by this point, to which he immediately added “’cause we’ve lost him (the guide) twice but can always see your white ponytail over everyone else’s head!”
We visited some great locations: Denmark Street (the U.K.) ‘Tin pan Alley’, the shop that once housed a demo recording studio where a young unknown from Wales recorded a demo track of a new song potentially for Sandy Shaw – and ended up keeping it and having a minor (wink) hit … that being Tom Jones and “It’s Not Unusual”, the theatre now a cinema once owned by Brian Epstein (the Beatles manager) where some truly awesome concerts were housed, The Ship pub which was used by patrons and performers at the Marquee Club to get a drink as the venue didn’t (initially) have a licence, St. Martins School of Art – where it was a wonder any ‘art’ was made as 90% of the student body seemed to end up in the music business and finally the 100 club still a live music venue which opened under a different name in 1942 but has been the 100 club since 1964.
Here are some pics from the Tour…
So to the only show I pre-booked on this trip, Friday night’s show, “Les Miserables – The Staged Concert”.
The background to this show is Les Mis has run in the West End continuously since it opened in October 1985, it has been at 4 (main) venues: The Barbican, The Palace, The Queens and the Gielgud, with other concert versions at the Royal Albert Hall and the O2 arena. It will re-open at The Queens (now renamed the Sondheim) in December this year.
So when they realised the Queens needed renovating, Cameron Mackintosh decided to put on a staged version a few doors down, and in doing so keep it continuously running, and to do this he brought in ‘The Dream Cast’: Alfie Boe (at certain performances John Owen Jones) ‘Jean Valjean‘, Michael Ball (from the original cast) now playing ‘Javert‘, Carrie Hope Fletcher (who had previously played ‘Eponine‘ nearly 1000 times) as ‘Fantine‘, Matt Lucas ‘Thenardier‘, together with Bradley Jaden, Rob Houchen, Shan Ako, Lily Kerhoas, Katy Secombe, and a supporting cast of extremely talented performers who had previously been in Les Mis, including a friend of mine Sarah Lark who I’ve known since she was playing ‘Annie’ in local productions in South Wales.
This concert is of course a production by the incomparable Cameron Mackintosh, of Boublil & Schonberg’s Les Miserables, is directed by James Powell & Jean-Pierre Van Der Spuy.
What can I say, it was magical, I was in the front row, the performances were mesmerising, the power and the emotion were “turned up to 11” and even Carrie who posted that she was full of a cold, and sadly had to miss a few later performances as a result, knocked it out of the park. I honestly can’t single out any performances as, as you would expect, with a cast of this calibre, they were all faultless. I mean I’m not a fan of Matt Lucas, he seems a nice guy, but I just don’t get his humour, but for this he was great, and had the audience in the palm of his hand. A great show, only slightly let down by the fact that they had run our of fridge magnets, my latest collecting addiction!
So from a West End legend to a tradition I’ve kept for the last 5 years or so, a visit to the late show at The Comedy Store.
This starts at 11:30pm and runs till about 1:30am. You get 5 acts, usually all professional ‘circuit’ comics, they do occasionally drop in a newby trying out for the first time, although they never tell you till afterwards. The night I attended the comics were: Ian Moore (MC), John Lynn, Jo Caulfield (who I vaguely remember seeing on TV a few times), Sean Collins and Jeff Innocent, the latter for me being the stand out act of the night, check him out, he is really funny.
So I wander back through the still packed streets to my hotel, grabbing a meal on the way and crash for the night.
Saturday, Day 3, last day of my trip. Another 2 show day, and another one where, with the price of West End tickets these days I am really hoping to be lucky with Day Seats again. So having arranged to meet with Ian who I mentioned earlier to see a matinee, him having recently seen many more West End shows than me …. **sobs** .. not that I am at all bitter and twisted. We agreed that I would try and get day seats for Come From Away, which although he had seen about 3 times before he was up for seeing again. So I make the short journey from my hotel to the Phoenix Theatre Box Office and join a queue of about half a dozen people, so I am relatively optimistic I may be lucky, as usually the whole front row are the Day Seats. So I chat to some of the other people in the queue about shows we’ve seen or are planning to see. So there you have it, it is a myth that London people don’t talk to you … okay so all the people I spoke to were tourists, but I have spoken to Londoners in the queue before.
The Box Office opens and I am able to get two Day seats at £20 each for the matinee performance. So I immediately head further down the road to chance my arm at the other show I really fancy seeing, and am lucky to get a day seat for the new production of Noises Off, not a musical this time but a farce.
So two shows sorted and a few hours until the first of them, I head to another home from home, the Moon under Water pub in Leicester Square, where I have a nice pint and cooked breakfast.
Come From Away – Book, Music & Lyrics by: Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Directed by: Christopher Ashley, Music Supervision: Ian Eisendrath, Musical Staging: Kelly Devine.
The Cast on the afternoon I saw the show were: (oh and all the cast are listed as “character name(s) and others”, as they all play multiple roles.) Jenna Boyd ‘Beulah’, Nathanael Campbell ‘Bob’, Mary Doherty ‘Bonnie’, Roberts Hands ‘Nick/Doug’, Helen Hobson ‘Diane’, Jonathan Andrew Hume ‘Kevin J / Ali’, Mark Dugdale ‘Oz’, Emma Salvo ‘Janice’, David Thaxon ‘Kevin T / Garth’, Cat Simmons ‘Hannah’ and Rachel Tucker ‘Beverley / Annette’
Come from Away tells the true story of the people of the small town of Gander Newfoundland (population 10,000), who found themselves playing host to 6,5000 people from 38 aircraft when U.S. Airspace is closed on 9/11.
I must admit I knew very little about this show before seeing it. I had seen one or two clips online and thought they were okay. But NOTHING prepared me for the effect seeing this show live had on me.
To give some background, I was stood on top of the World Trade Centre a week before 9/11, and I was actually supposed to be there a week later, but I had a Wedding Video booking so moved my holiday forward. I was back in work when the planes hit the towers, and people kept coming up to me and saying “weren’t you there last week?”, it obviously had an effect on me the same as every other right thinking individual on the planet. But for me it was a week or so later when I remembered the lady who served me in the gift shop near the top of the tower and would obviously not have been able to get out. I couldn’t get her face out of my head for days.
So I took my seat in the front row. One side note for anyone thinking of going for these seats, they tell you in advance that the stage is high, and a first for me, make you sign the back of the ticket to confirm you have been told, and that you know you can’t move.
So this show is 1hr 40 minutes with no interval. I think this adds to the impact and urgency of the storytelling. As I mentioned earlier all the cast play multiple roles, and were to a man/woman remarkable. To switch characters multiple times in the same song, but never leave you confused as to who they are is a skill that was awe inspiring.
I found myself holding back tears almost from the outset. The natural way they characters talk, they are real people not caricatures. They were ordinary people going about their daily lives who found themselves in an extraordinary situation. The reason for this situation is that Gander has what used to be one of the largest airports in the world, as planes needed to refuel there during transatlantic crossings before the jetliners we have today.
The story is told by a wide variety of local people: The Mayor, Police Chief, ‘Bonnie’ who ran the local animal shelter, then the “Come From Aways” on the planes: The Pilot ‘Beverley’, the shy English guy, Texan divorcee, the gay couple all of these real individuals or composites of a few people but all based on the stories told to the writers when they visited Gander to talk to the people involved.
For me stand out numbers were: “Me and the Sky”, “38 planes”, “Prayer” and “Finale”. Now I realise I’ve kept on about how moving this show is, but that’s not to say it’s not funny too. I really think the Newfoundlanders have a similar sense of humour to us Celts. I mean check out the ticket the Police Chief gives to speeders.
This is looking like my new addiction, I really am trying to figure out how I can get back and see it again … and again! I have the Cast recording and have listened to it numerous times since I’ve got back.
So emotionally drained and hands ringing from clapping at the standing ovation that was SO richly deserved, we head to the pub opposite. Then Ian heads home and I have a quick change at the hotel and back out for the last show of the trip.
Noises Off – Is presented by: Playful Productions, Killimanjare Theatricals, Karl Sydow, Tulchin/Bartner and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Associate Producers: Norel Productions Ltd. & TML Enterprises. Designed by: Max Jones and Directed by: Jeremy Herrin. Written by Michael Frayn and stars: Sarah Hadland, Richard Henders, Lisa McGrillis, Anjli Mohindra, Lloyd Owen, Adrian Richards, Daniel Rigby, Simon Rouse, Meera Syal, Suzy Bloom, Abby Cassidy, Keiran Gough and Jack Wharrier.
It tells the story of a theatrical company putting on a play called “Noises On”, it is 3 acts, all of which are the ‘same’ first act of Noises On, however Act one is from front of House on the night of the dress rehearsal (less than 24 hours before they open), Act two is the same scene but from ‘Backstage’ a few weeks into the run, and finally Act 3 is the same first half of the show from a performance on the last date of the tour. Now add to the ‘normal’ farce that they are attempting to put on, the fact that various members of the cast are or were having flings during the show, one cast member likes a drink .. or six! and chaos ensues.
This is a very funny play if put on properly and this cast led by the wonderful Meera Syal were excellent, I won’t try and explain specific moments, just go and see it if you get a chance, Oh and don’t forget the Sardines!
So there you have it, a few hours sleep then the, thankfully uneventful journey home, and another trip is over. I have two shows booked so far to the end of the year, although, all being well, I can see a few more being added. I’m desperately trying to figure out how to get back to see Come From Away again, and am missing this great city already.