Well looking back over some of my older reviews, I realised I have a tendency to start them by saying “well this has been a little different”.
So jump to my latest trip, September 2020 and this is DIFFERENT!
As we all know 2020 has turned into the year from hell. Especially for those involved in or who love the Arts. Obviously the pandemic has affected all aspects of our lives, but I can’t think of many sectors who have been basically closed down without any coherent plan to reopen, like live performance has.
So we get to September 2020 and I’ve worked, in my main job, all the way through Lock down, and to be honest I’m knackered. All I can say is thank god for this job though as my business (Video Company) is non-existent, I haven’t filmed anything since January.
So my year usually revolves around monthly (or almost) trips to my local theatres in Cardiff and a trip to my favourite city in the world once a year to see as many shows as I can cram into 3 days, Usually 5!
At this time, after the hotels being closed for the majority of the first part (not tempting fate using Wave) of the pandemic, there were some deals thanks to Rishi Sunak dropping the rate of VAT for the hospitality sector. The flip side of this was the ever increasing risk of local lock-downs and the glaring reality that the theatres were still closed.
So having spent money on quite a few streamed performances since March I was thinking of what else I could do to get some ‘me time’. So I remembered enjoying the walking tours I’d done previously and wanting to do the one on Jack the Ripper. The problem usually being it runs when I’m almost always in a theatre, So I think okay, I can support my favourite place, get a break away from the office and have some fun.
So a few weeks earlier than usual I manage to get a great deal on my home from home, the St.Giles Hotel. £165 for 3 nights. So I summon all my optimism, in small supply by this point in the year, and book. With minor heart failure when days before the trip Merthyr (my home town) becomes the Frankfurter in the hotdog between two local lockdowns in Caerphilly and Rhondda Cynon Taff, we get to the day, last Wednesday, and they hadn’t posted guards on the town limits so I head off in my car to London.
The journey was, thankfully, this time uneventful, with Rob entering the correct area into the satnav and managing to get a parking space in the car park of the underground station. So I hop on the tube and 4o minutes later exit into a strangely quiet underground station in central London, a few stops away from where I wanted to be, not sure what was happening with Tottenham Court Road station as almost all the tube journeys I planned from there ended up starting or ending at a station a few stops away, the station looked open, but hey it’s exercise I suppose.
I get to the hotel, mask up, hand sanitiser at the door, and am advised how it works in this “new normal”. My room is sealed, it will be cleaned only if I request it. I can collect new towels from reception if that’s all I need. There are screens at reception and the staff are masked.
I must admit I felt totally safe and at home, I get to my room and see I’ve been given a twin so more room. I drop off my bags and venture out.
The main priority is food so I head for my hostelry of choice the Moon on the Square. Okay so I know the owner of this particular chain, was from all that I’ve read a bit of a d*ck to his staff during the pandemic, but I like it, so I head there not expecting to get in. I mean there are people about, nowhere near as many as you would normally expect, but still numbers. However I get there, scan a barcode at the entrance (this is a big thing these days) with my mobile, tip here, install a barcode scanner app before you get there will save you a lot of time. I am taken straight to my table, asked if I have the Wetherspoons app, I do, and I order using this. My first pint coming quicker than if I’d walked to the bar and ordered myself.
From here I just wander around a bit taking in the, all be it subdued, atmosphere. Then it’s back to my hotel quick change and a tube ride to Tower Hill station to meet my guide for the Jack the Ripper Tour. As it turns out their plan to restrict the tour to a maximum of 15 people wasn’t needed as there were 3 of us on this tour, two ladies who were travelling together, me and the guide, a very knowledgeable American, if my poor accent skills are correct.
This tour was by London Walks (www.walks.com) who I’ve done other walks with, they’re great as you don’t pay till you turn up for the walk, so if your running late or just change your mind you haven’t lost anything. They do now suggest you reserve your spot, but this is also free.
The tour itself was interesting, and the guide very knowledgeable. She had a tablet with her and was able to show some extremely grisly photos from the time, to set the scene. There are some truly spooky places in that area, not helped that even at 8pm on a Wednesday evening it was alternately deathly quiet and then you turn a corner and there are some pubs with crowds who obviously hadn’t mastered the skill of counting to 6!
This was the first tour I’ve done, that didn’t loop back to the starting point. So I was mightily relieved when our guide told us the nearest tube station was at the end of the road. So it was back to central London and a quick pint in another or my favourite pubs The Flying Horse, literally around the corner from my hotel. A quick take away and back to the hotel room around 11:00pm.
Thursday, and my first full day in London. I started with a wander to the London Eye. I’d pre-booked entry as part of a package deal with the “Big Bus” tour company. Where for £62.10 I got a 2 days hop-on hop-off bus tour, a return boat trip to Greenwich (**More to follow on this) and priority entry to the London Eye.
Now I will admit I was a little nervous about this, as this was to be my first time being temperature checked before being allowed onboard. Now as you may or may not know, I am hot! … well I’ll rephrase that, I usually feel I run hot, almost always being the one who is warm when others are cold. So having walked a fair part of the route on a lovely sunny day I was a little nervous but they pointed their little gun thermometer at my forehead, Oi who said a big enough target! 🙂 , and apparently I’m obviously not as hot as I thought I was!
So with social distancing in place in a pod advertised as holding 25 there were … 2 of us! So great views, better than the last time I went when the overcast weather put pay to our chances of seeing to far even from the top. A really fun thing to do, but not cheap.
After this I wandered along the South Bank of the Thames, lovely area in glorious weather and a place I remember from a number of movies including the under-rated ‘Man Up’. Now I’d love to tell you I was sightseeing but I was really trying to find the bus pick up point, as I found out later, I’d walked passed it twice!
When I got there the guide said “Oh you’ve just missed the bus”. A shame as during Covid the frequency had dropped to every 30 minutes, so I walked back to an ice-cream van I’d seen, grabbed a tub, and wandered back. I was stood near the stop the guide had pointed out for about 10mins when he walked over and said “You just missed the next one that was it!”
Now in my defence this particular bus didn’t have the livery I was expecting, having been ¾ covered in an advertising image. He advised my another one would be along in 5-10 mins, so 25 minutes later I get on the next bus! Now I really did enjoy this tour, it was a different firm than the one I’d used before, with a slightly different route, but still taking in all the major landmarks. The only down side was when, about 2/3 of the way along we stopped at a stop … and basically didn’t move for about 25 minutes, I guess it was the drivers’ lunch break. Would have been nice to be advised of this, so if we’d wanted we could have stepped off to stretch our legs.
Covid planning seemed good however with every other row of seats blocked.
After this it was back to the hotel, grab a burger and crash for a while before the one musical of the trip. Yes there was one! There is currently one show running in London.
“Sleepless – A Musical Romance” – Book – Michael Burdette, Music – Robert Scott, Lyrics – Bredan Cull, Director – Morgan Young. First performance at Troubadour Theatre 25th August 2020.
This original musical based on the 1993 film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The musical stars Kimberley Walsh (Girls Aloud) and Jay McGuiness (The Wanted) and tells the story of ‘Sam’ Jay McGuiness the recently widowed father of ‘Jonah’ who, when Jonah calls him to the phone one evening finds out his son has rung in to a radio show as he is worried as his father doesn’t sleep. The radio host tags him “Sleepless in Seattle” and ‘Annie’ Kimberley Walsh (amongst many others) hears him on the show and falls for his genuine outpouring of love for his late wife.
Now it may have partly been that I haven’t been in a theatre since March, but I really enjoyed this show. I knew nothing of the music, I’d only seen the film when it was released so other than the fact they …. No spoilers … other than the fact it features the Empire State Building I remembered nothing of the plot points. I found the cast excellent with great support to the leads offered by Daniel Casey ‘Walter’, Cory English ‘Rob’, Tania Mathurin ‘Becky’ and Harriet Thorpe ‘Eleanor’ and the rest of the cast. Unfortunately I can’t tell you who played ‘Sam’ on the night I saw the show as the programme doesn’t say.
Stand out numbers for me included: “That Suits me Fine”, “Everything”, “Are you looking up” and my favourite “It’s out of My hands”.
The Covid rules here were implemented excellently. You are temperature checked at the exterior gate before you even get near the door, there is an outside bar, a large indoor one, all payments are contactless, a one way system operates, the capacity is dropped from over 1000 to 400.
I was lucky in that I’d booked a £25 ticket in case I wasn’t able to get there, but on a whim went to the box office and managed to buy at upgrade and get moved from row Q to row B.
Is this one of the musical greats? No not really, but an excellent cast put on a great performance and it as wonderful to be back in a theatre. At the time of writing it looks like it could be quite some time till I’m there again, as another set of lock-downs have been announced.
I go straight back to the Tube station, a 5 minute walk down the main ‘road’ to Wembley stadium,the Troubadour’s neighbour, and it’s back to the hotel, with the pubs closing earlier these days, with a take away.
Friday and my last day in the City. So I walk to the Cabinet War Rooms and, after a minor snafu with the online booking I’d done I revisit this site of national importance. It was from these underground rooms that Churchill ‘ran’ the British War effort.
It, with the omnipresent Covid Restrictions, hand sanitising stations and a new one way system, is well worth a visit and somewhere I was glad I made time to see again.
From here it was to the Thames for my planned leisurely cruise to Greenwich and back. As I showed the guide my ticket she was just getting notification on her walkie-talkie “Any Others will be on the next one”. Luckily she went straight back “I’ve got one more here now” so I managed to walk straight on. When I got to the top deck I was one of 5 people. So yes I can safely say the numbers are dramatically down on normal pre-covid times.
It was only ¾ way though my time I realised we had turned round as they currently don’t do the bottom section of tour to Greenwich. So back on dry land a little earlier than I expected I headed to The Moon on the Square had a meal, then realised that there was a new film in the cinemas, another rarity in these times, so I used one of the vouchers I had through my bank account and booked to see ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’.
As I had ¾ of an hour to kill I fit in another tradition a quick pint at the Coal Hole pub. Here where I heard THE stupidest conversation I’ve heard for a long time, a group of 5, business men, middle aged, well dressed when asked if they were returning that evening they said to the staff member “yes” and as he left to each other “Four tables of 6!” So much for social distancing. Although in their defence the guidance is opaque to say the least. I mean I can’t visit my family bubble but can go to a pub and meet people from various households.
So back to the Vue Leicester Square and Bill & Ted, a fun movie that I will get to add to the first two already in my collection. Worth checking out for some mindless fun.
So after a quick change at my hotel I spent the next 25 minutes psyching myself up to go out. The reason being, with no other theatres running shows, the open air ones having sold out. I’d booked to go to the Phoenix Arts Club for “A night in Soho” a burlesque cabaret show.
Now I like Burlesque, and cabaret however I have a pathological fear of being incorporated in the acts, and I’d read they had a tendency to do this. I don’t mean a comic with a quick quip, that I can handle, I mean up on stage, and here, and I never thought I’d say this, but Covid was my friend, as our wonderful compère Ivy Paige said “Oh this is weird I can’t touch you”. So I was happy in my seat on the side, as able to order my drinks using an app, and saw some great acts. The afore mentioned Jessica Rabbit lookalike Ivy, the gorgeous Velvet Jones and the very funny Ada Campe and Anna Mann.
All in all a great night out, and another first, when Ivy said I need your help with this next song so sorry to ask this but “masks on” and the audience complied. Oh and I must mention “If I can’t sell it I’ll keep sitting on it” a very saucy song that Ivy performed, and if you’re one of those people who think sauciness started in the 60s this song was written in 1936! Check it out.
So back to the hotel and a return to Wales Saturday morning. Which was not as uneventful, as, as soon as I switched the satnav on it informed me the M4 was closed! So following the diversion I was able to get home okay, phew!
Now I have no idea how long it’s going to be until we can get back to theatres properly. I have a few more streams booked, but it is really getting to me, oh and I am SO over people telling me “there are worse things happening”, “you should think yourself lucky your fit” etc. etc.
All I can say is health isn’t only physical there is your mental health to consider too. As someone who lives alone I ‘live’ for theatre and seeing live performance. It has been part of my life for over 30 years and having it ripped away has only reinforced how important it is to me. So if one of your friends / colleagues / family is venting about missing something at this time, please be kind. No one knows what that something means to an individual, it maybe the ‘one thing’ they’re hanging on to, so be kind folks be kind. We can only hope that this will be over soon.