Okay it’s August 2021. The world, and as a result the West End is opening up again, slowly.
So I moved my annual trip forward, as if there is something we know from the last 18 months, you can’t bank on ANYTHING!
So an uneventful, if ‘interesting’ tour through ‘Roadworks Greatest Hits’ otherwise known as the M4 and I arrive at my parking space in Hounslow which was as advertised. A 3-minute walk and I’m at Hounslow West tube station and on my way into London.
During the journey in I check out TodayTix. For the uninitiated it’s a website and an app and is a way of getting discounted theatre tickets if you’re quick.
Good Times continue I manage to get a ticket for Jersey Boys!
I get to my hotel, after the tube journey again ends at Trafalgar Square. What is wrong with Tottenham Court Road Station? They spent a fortune on it and it still will not give me an option for Hounslow to Tottenham Court Road even with changes!
For the first time in about 3 visits my room isn’t ready. Now I am early so it isn’t a problem, I can leave my bag for free with the concierge, it’s the start of my holiday so I head straight to my ‘local away from home’ The Flying Horse. This is a pub on the end of Oxford Street where it meets Tottenham Court Road.
I order a pint of Peroni and am told
“That’ll be £6.95” ….
To which my brain screams …
“How F***ing Much!?!?”
Luckily the air gap between brain and mouth kicked in and saved me from uttering said expletive and as a result being ejected from the establishment. So, I pay by contactless, which I can tell you becomes WAY too easy as the trip progresses, with a number of businesses now not accepting cash at all.
I check in with the hotel, the St. Giles about 45 minutes later and my room is ready. £304 for 4 nights in central London. So, a great deal for a hotel I really like, and plan to keep using, hopefully, for many years to come.
For the first show of my trip, it’s to the Trafalgar Theatre. Formerly known as the Trafalgar Studios and before that from the 1930s to 2004 it was the Whitehall Theatre.
Jersey Boys – Book: Marshall Brickman & Rick Elice, Director: Des Mcanuff, Music: Bob Gaudio, Lyrics Bob Crewe, Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Cast: Ben Joyce ‘Frankie Valli’, Adam Bailey ‘Bob Gaudio’, Karl James Wilson ‘Nick Massi’, Benjamin Yates ‘Tommy De Vito’ supported by a wonderful versatile company.
Now I will say at this point, I am putting the casts for my reviews from the programmes I bought, and unless stated no announcements were made regarding alternates, so these are the people I believe I saw playing the roles.
This must be at least the 4th time I’ve seen this show, my first time being in Las Vegas, then a few times during previous runs in the West End and most recently during the last tour in Wales in 2019.
The show tells the story of the group the Four Seasons, four working class guys from New Jersey who had a string of hits during the 60s and early seventies, and who’s lead singer continues to tour to this day.
I love sixties music, and this show features some of the greatest hits of that era, so it was a ‘no brainer’ for me to make this my first show back in the West End.
Stand out songs for me were: ‘Fallen Angel’ coming at a really dramatic part of the show, this is one of the lesser-known hits. Then if you add ‘Walk like a man’, ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ you have a great journey down memory lane and see an interesting story of how one of the great Rock & Roll bands was created.
Now I wore a t-shirt to this show, and it said, ‘The Show Must Go On’. I bought it during lock down as a way of supporting the industry (Theatre and musicals in particular) I love during one of their most tumultuous periods ever. I actually bought two of the shirts, one I’ve worn for the last year or so, and this one worn for the first time, as I told myself I wouldn’t wear it until I was back in a theatre seeing a show after lock-down ended.
Now I should say I was very happy when queuing outside said theatre as my phone received an alert. Why was I relieved by this?
Well I worked all the way through both lockdowns, in a (primarily) front facing role and only went and got ‘pinged’ by the NHS Track & Trace App (Tuesday) 2 days before I was due to travel to London. So following latest guidelines, and having no symptoms, I booked a PCR test (Wednesday), and again under the guidance at the time I didn’t have to self isolate UNLESS I tested positive, and this alert was telling me I’d come back negative! Relief as a word doesn’t do it justice.
So, when they got to the end of the medley of their first run of hits and the audience went NUTS for over a minute not letting them continue I don’t mind admitting I shed a tear or two. I love theatre, it’s my happy place, it’s what I live for, seeing live performance by people so much more talented than myself. God it was great to be back, and luckily the combination of glasses and a mask meant the people around couldn’t see me blubbering. 😊
After this show, it was, as is my want on these trips, grab a burger, back to the Hotel and straight out to the first ‘pre-booked’ show of the trip. Another return visit, this time to a Rock “on the north-east tip of North America” for what has become my equal (with Miss Saigon) favourite musical of all time.
‘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: (oh and all the cast are listed as “character name(s) and others”, as they all play multiple roles: Jenna Boyd, James Doherty, Mary Doherty, Mark Dugdale, Alice Fern, Kate Graham, Alasdair Harvey, Jonathan Andrew Hume, Chiara Baronti, Ricardo Castro, Stuart Hickey, Sorelle Marsh, Alexander McMorran, Micha Richardson, Jennifer Tieerney, Matthew Whennell-Clark.
This is THE show you want to see after an enforced lockdown, it tells of the human spirit and proves there is still kindness in the world if you know where to look for it.
Apparently at this time you can find it in Canada!
Set during the aftermath of 9/11 it tells of the 38 planes that were diverted to a large airport near the small town of Gander. Meaning suddenly a town of (approximately) 11000 took in 7000 passengers and looked after them for over 4 days.
This show runs 100 minutes with no intermission. All I can say is go see it, you will laugh, you will cry, and you will come out feeling just a little better about the world.
So that was the end of my first day of this trip, grabbing food on the way back to the hotel I crash for a while and then head to my bed.
Friday 20th August 2021 – My first full day in London.
Now regular theatre goers will know that no show does a Friday matinee so this is my one show day, and my day to do non-theatre stuff. So I head out and grab breakfast at the Moon under Water Leicester Square. Then catch a tube for 3 or 4 stops and get to Monument station, no idea why it’s called that …. 😉
Okay so I was here to meet up with my guide for a walking tour. I’ve done a few of these, always with the same firm. Working on the principal if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. This company (walks.com) is great. The guides are informative and fun. Previously I’ve done “A Soho Saunter”, “Rock & Roll London” and a “Jack the Ripper” Tour last year.
Today’s tour is called “Hidden London”, and really taught me a thing or two, and I’ve been coming to London for over 30 years!
For example, did you know the phrase “at sixes and sevens” as we now use it originated in London? after a fight! Yeah really. Apparently it comes down to what order in a parade particular Livery Companies would be, the company of tailors had a dispute with the company of skinners. This escalated to a fight when several apprentices were injured, as a result it was decided that one would walk in sixth place the other seventh and they would change position each year.
Now there is mention of “six and seven” in quotations predating this, but it is believed that this made the current use of the phrase more common.
At 2 hours for £20 these are really fun, a good way to increase your step count and are something that has become and will continue to be a regular part of my annual trips to London.
After this I decided on a more sedentary afternoon so booked an open top bus ride. I like this as you get to see London and save your feet at the same time. 🙂
This time I used the ‘To-ot Bus’ company, as they had a £25 option. Once around non-stop, and as the others included a boat trip that had to be completed within 24 hours and I knew I was busy on Saturday this proved the best option for me. An added bonus was we had a ‘live guide’ as opposed to a recording.
One thing I was surprised by was seeing this ‘busker’ in Trafalgar Square.
Amazing who you can bump into these days.
So after seeing London really is opening up as the streets were packed, It was a quick change before heading to my theatre for the day. A new musical by “The Lord”, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Cinderella is a modern retelling of the classic story, or it sort of is. I mean you have the wicked step mother, horrible step sisters, the ball and the slippers. But Disney this aint!
Cinderella – Music Andrew Lloyd Webber, original story and book by Emerald Fennell, lyrics by David Zippel, Choreography Joann M. Hunter directed by Laurence Connor.
The Cast: Carrie Hope-Fletcher ‘Cinderella‘, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt ‘The Stepmother‘, Rebecca Trehearn ‘The Queen‘, Ivano Turco ‘Prince Sebastian‘, Georgina Castle ‘Marie‘, Laura Baldwin ‘Adele‘, Gloria Onitiri ‘The Godmother‘ and full supporting cast
This new production opened at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (previously the New London) in stops and starts during 2021, re-opening for (hopefully) the last time 2 days before I saw it, on the 18th August 2021 and the Official first night was a few nights later.
So what’s different about this production? Well I would say it’s not aimed at kids, at least not young ones. There are a few “fruity” words, the men’s costumes (although in these times of supposed equality) not (unfortunately) the ladies were borderline S&M. There is a definite inclusivity leaning in the storytelling meaning it is the most LGBTQ+ friendly telling of a classic tale I’ve seen.
I mean there is nothing too overt in this production, and the reason I say it’s not for kids has nothing really to do with the story themes or other aspects I’ve mentioned. More that it doesn’t feature child friendly Disney ‘isms’ that they may expect. One youngster behind me was audibly not engaged and let the people around her know it at various points during the first act.
For me I would say age 8-10 upwards.
I loved the show. It has, as mentioned, a fresh outlook, some excellent performances, great songs, funny gags and all in all is a very entertaining evening at the theatre. Stand out performances for me were: Carrie Hope-Fletcher in the lead and the two actresses who played the sisters Georgina Castle and Laura Baldwin. The other cast were very good too, but these ladies were for me the stars of the show. In fairness should also say that the new young discovery Ivano Turco was very good too, his dancing was remarkable and he carried all the songs he was given with aplomb.
My favourite songs were: ‘Bad Cinderella’, ‘Only you, Lonely you’ and ‘I know I have a heart’. Now you may have expected this as these were the songs that were released in advance to promote the show. The whole piece is entertaining though and I will definitely be looking to visit Belleville again.
On a side note here about the theatre and not the show. There were a few things I saw that I wanted to mention. This theatre has been closed for over a year, has been updated and upgraded for this new show. However when I was there …
Toilets: Now I know that ladies toilets in theatres are always a problem, there is always a queue, with (usually) more ladies than men attending. However at the performance I went to the queues were going down 3 floors for the ladies toilets during the interval.
The Gents I went to had .. how can I put this politely, flushing problems, as in they didn’t!
Queues generally: Ice-cream, I joined a queue that started on the stairs three quarters of the way out of the auditorium, stood in it for over 10 minutes and then gave up as the show was about to start and there was still about a dozen people in front of me. More staff selling during the peak times maybe?
Seats: Now I know (God we all know) Covid has caused problems. My seat was cancelled despite being for a date after the show re-opened following it’s enforced lockdown, and also despite being on a night when upon checking I managed to go in and book another seat within a row or two of my original.
However on the night I was there I saw at least 2 groups of people where their seats were double (and in one case almost treble) booked. You would think that with computer booking this wouldn’t happen.
Hopefully it was just teething problems, that can be resolved.
I should say the seats were very comfortable, the sight lines excellent and the “you will be moved in more ways than one” seats a nice idea. Which even if you weren’t in them resulted in you getting closer to the action.
Saturday – So this was going to be a busy day. Meeting up with a mate and seeing three shows.
So it was up early and join a queue for day seats at our chosen show for the evening, another visit to the rock ‘Come From Away‘.
I got there by around 8:30am, about a 90 minute wait before the box office opened. However this wait was made all the more pleasurable by chatting to the two ladies who got there before me: Charlotte (THE Come From Away fan, having seen the West End production over 100 times) and her friend Holly. We chatted about our love for the show, I surprised them by telling them I was stood on top of the World Trade Centre the week before 9/11 and they surprised me with their knowledge and passion for the new musicals about at the moment. Even if they did make me feel a little older than God by being amazed that I’d seen Notre Dame de Paris when it was in London telling me they were only toddlers at the time … Ouch! 🙂
Nice to meet you ladies, hopefully our paths will cross at the Rock or a different show in the future.
So 2 front row seats for £40 obtained, I grab a quick breakfast, while getting RSI trying to get TodayTix to cough up tickets for one of our chosen matinee shows. Sadly to no avail.
So I start my wander to find the Theatre Royal Haymarket, what should be an easy trip, after all I’ve been there before and to the theatre opposite it where The Phantom resides.
However this ‘short walk’ resulted in my circumnavigating the Churchill War Rooms and surrounding streets three times whilst quietly cursing at the directions app on my phone. Eventually getting there and managing to get 2 tickets for the matinee of Heathers the Musical, at £49.50 each. Side note here these were the only physical tickets I had the whole trip. With all other theatres switching to digital ticketing, a move that had started a while back but that was not doubt sped up due to Covid.
So I meet up with Ian at a pub just off Trafalgar Square and we set about setting the world of theatre and musicals to rights.
Heathers The Musical: Book, Music & Lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe (no relation sadly) based on the 1980s film of the same name.
This production is directed by Andy Fickman, Choreography and Associate Director Gary Lloyd.
Cast: Christina Bennington ‘Veronica Sawyer’, Jordan Luke Gage ‘Jason “J.D.” Dean’, Jodie Steele ‘Heather Chandler’, Bobbie Little ‘Heather Duke’, Teleri Hughes (at the performance I saw) ‘Heather McNamara’ and Madison Swan ‘Martha Dunnstock’
Now I’d seen this show before in it’s last West End incarnation with Carrie Hope Fletcher in the lead. The reason I wanted to see it again was the frankly astounding Christina Bennington. Who’s videos I’d seen on TikTok, (Oi! who shouted I’m too old for that app at the back!?) 😉 Either way, I had seen Christina and Jordan when they played the leads in Bat out of Hell the Musical and they were great. So the chance of seeing this very talented young lady on stage again was not to be missed.
The story is based on the 1989 film and tells of the final year in High school of Veronica Sawyer, and what she does to get in with the popular girls (The Heathers) and then when she meets another outsider ‘J.D.’ and things get really dark!
Stand out songs were: ‘Dead Girl Walking’, ‘Seventeen’ and deserving of a special mention this time round the beautiful and moving performance of ‘Kindergarten Boyfriend’ by Madison Swan, who is really a talent to look out for, and who I hope to see in leading roles in other shows soon.
From here it was a quick stop off at my hotel to drop off my bag and the programme I had bought, then meet Ian in another pub, are you starting to see a theme here? 🙂 A quick pint and then back to the Phoenix Theatre for the second visit of the trip to Come From Away.
I could talk about this show incessantly, as it really is a wonderful piece of theatre. Minimalist in it’s staging, and with just a cast of 12 who perform all the roles it really is performance at its best.
I must mention Alice Fern who plays the role of ‘Beverley Bass’ in the current cast, not to single her out as better than any other cast member, they are all brilliant. But Alice really captured my heart with the ‘Intermissions’ concerts she put on in her garden and streamed during the first Lockdown. Oh and after hearing her sing a number of classic musical theatre songs she really has a pair of lungs that must be made of steel!
So I bid farewell for this trip to Ian who had a 5am start the next day at work (Ouch!) and I head to my third show of the day. This time a ‘late show’ at The Comedy Store.
I didn’t think I’d be able to make this tradition this trip as, sadly since lockdown they’ve changed the times of the shows. Making the ‘late’ show earlier, it now starts at 9:55pm. So had I seen a ‘normal’ show I wouldn’t have made it. But Come From Away being 100 minutes with no interval I could just get there.
Sadly I can’t tell you the name of most of the comics I saw that night as I forgot to note their names from the website. The only names I remember were Hal Cruttenden and a fellow Welshie Jenny Collier and they were all hysterical.
Sunday – An extra (and my last full) day
Now I know this is a weird reason to do something, but the thought of facing the diversion due to the M4 being closed almost every weekend for roadworks, filled me with dread, so I thought I know I’ll stay in London for an extra day! Now a number of shows having Sunday performances didn’t half help with this decision. So I was in London on a Sunday and looking for a show.
Oh also this was the day it was confirmed that I was sharing my room with a two possessed appliances!
Firstly the shower head that had such force it took the colour off my hair when I washed it!
Secondly the fan that wouldn’t look at me. I’d switch it on, point it to the right part of the room, press the button to stop the oscillation and it would turn it’s head away from me. I’d move it, it would swing just enough to avert its gaze. I try pressing the oscillation button again it would wait then would move just enough to miss me. I even tried sneaking up on the little **** with no success!
I tried TodayTix on this last day which again came up trumps with a single ticket for £25 (that would have been nearly £100 full ‘normal’ price) for Pretty Woman the Musical.
A side point here to talk about the price of tickets in the West End at the moment.
Now I know the lockdowns have given commercial theatre a real kicking, and the Government could have done SO MUCH more to help. But the fact that Stalls seats are now on average around £100, with ‘premium’ seats going for up to nearly £200 and the new production of Cabaret, which I would liked to have seen, having seats at a frankly eye watering £300 PLUS. I believe they really are pricing themselves out of the market.
If it were not for Day Seats and apps like TodayTix, there is no way I could afford to go to so many shows. I’ve been going to the theatre for over 30 years and must have spent thousands of pounds on tickets, and they (theatre producers) are saying they don’t want it to be elitist, well if die-hard theatre goers like me are being priced out of attending how the hell do they think they are going to get ordinary people to take a punt and try a West End show.
Oh and touring productions are not much better with, by definition, reduced scale touring productions charging as much as I paid to see the full West End show.
Come on Cam Mack et al put some thought into this and remember your customer base!
Book by: Garry Marshall & J.E. Lawton, Music & Lyrics by: Bryan Adams & Jim Vallance, Music Supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by: Will Van Dyke, Directed & Choreographed by: Jerry Mitchell
Cast: Aimee Atkinson ‘Vivian Ward‘, Danny Mac ‘Edward Lewis‘, (at the performance I saw) Hannah Ducharme ‘Kit de Luca‘, Bob Harms ‘Happy Man‘ and full supporting cast.
This is another ‘based on the movie of the same name’ show. It is also however, one of the best of this type of musicals I’ve seen. It’s got the balance just right, keeping all the ‘moments’ from the movie but adding some great songs that really increase your knowledge and feelings for the characters.
I didn’t know much about this show, having seen the movie years ago I knew the story but nothing about how they adapted it as a musical, or for that matter about the cast. Or so I thought until reading her bio, I had forgotten that I’d seen Aimie on stage before. As she won the BBC Voice of Musical Theatre which was part of the Festival of Musical Theatre in Cardiff and I attended all the performances: heats, semi finals and final. In my defence it was about 15 years ago and Aimie was very young only 19 at the time.
Stand out songs for me were: ‘Anywhere but here’, ‘On a night like tonight’, ‘You and I’ and ‘I can’t go back’.
A stand out performance for me was Bob Harms as “Happy Man (and others)” who acted as a narrator and for me stole many scenes in this great fun show. Go and see it if you get a chance I definitely will look to return either on another trip to London or any tours that come about.
Upon leaving the theatre I had a few hours to kill so I thought what can I do? So I went to the pub!
Not just any pub, this establishment is called The Coal Hole. Oh and happens to be right next to the Savoy Theatre where Pretty Woman plays. Although this didn’t stop my now infamous sense of direction kicking in, resulting in me walking away from it for 5 minutes and wondering how it seemed so far away from a theatre I knew it was right next to!
So I thought one pint, check on my social media and relax. I enter, buy a pint and find a stool. About half hour later I look up to see about 5 people fly in through the door wearing what can only be described as dayglo condoms over their bodies (rain ponchos) as the heavens had opened. So, as I had to get back to Leicester Square where the cinema I’d booked for that evening was, I decided … to buy another pint as I was NOT going out in that!
Oh one other thing about this hostelry. It’s a listed building having been open since Noah was a boy, see the link there rain – Noah, I don’t just throw this together I’ll have you know. The reason I mention this is the ceiling in the gents is exactly 6ft 1.5″ from the floor, How do I know this? I’m 6ft 3″ and give said ceiling a good dusting every time I enter there! 😉
So with a stop off at the cinema in the evening to see The Suicide Squad. Done for two reasons: one, I had a free cinema ticket and two the timing of the shows on a Sunday meant I couldn’t fit in two, as much as I tried, and there you have it, another theatre trip in London. As I’ve said previously
God it was good to be back!