Another year calls for another trip to London to try and satisfy my insatiable need to go to the theatre. I don’t think I’ll ever be done until I’ve seen every single show in existence, which could take me a while! I’m at the stage where I’ve experienced most of what touristy London has to offer which has left me with only two things: a multitude of cool bars and restaurants still to see and a wealth of outstanding theatre to experience. My mother and I truly understand one another and recognise that the shows are all that really matters when we go and thus we try to fit in as many as possible – this time it’s 5 shows in 3 days! – and anything else we can squeeze in to the free time around that is fair game. So buckle in and hear about another London adventure with me and Mother dearest!
Disclaimer: This is a long one so feel free to skip to the bits you’re interested in reading! Or y’know.. read it all ❤
After an early start and a lovely short flight (all the fun of the airport without the boredom of a long flight) we arrived in London. One of the first things that I get to do in London that really makes me feel like I have arrived is to take the Tube for the first time. I love the heat of the tunnels, the breeze of the trains whizzing past and the scent that just defines London for me. Gosh, so poetic!
The first show of the trip was Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie! I am a huge fan of Williams after studying A Streetcar Named Desire and Sweet Bird of Youth for Advanced Higher English in school. Plus I was also excited for this production since it was nominated for 7 Olivier awards, which is pretty incredible. The first thing that struck me when we entered the Duke of York’s theatre is that all ATG theatres are so eerily similar; they have the same products, signage and even furniture as my work back home, at least I was in familiar surroundings! I absolutely loved the staging of this production, the theatre is quite little which makes everything feel lovely and intimate, the stage was separated into three hexagons representing the rooms of the Wingfield home, beneath which a glossy black floor both surrounds the rooms in darkness but also provides a reflection of the stage and contains star lights that would glow when Laura or one of the other characters were dreaming of another world. John Tiffany’s direction was super interesting and beautiful, almost like a balletic style of mime minimising the need for props. I feel like I could write an essay on this but my closing remarks are that I loved it and it made me want to delve back into the world of Williams… Added some more things to the reading list…
The second show of the day was the incomparable Dreamgirls (in another familiar ATG theatre!) Mum and I hit up the Savoy Theatre tonight and luckily got to witness the insane talent of Miss Amber Riley. Firstly, it felt super special because we came in to the beautiful Savoy and had kinda forgotten how good the seats that we had booked were. We were sitting front row in the dress circle, it felt so close to the stage and I was swooning in anticipation of what was going to be in front of me before the curtain even rose. We were close enough to really see the acting and feel that amazing theatrical empathy (the ‘drug’ that keeps us coming back for more) for the characters who we could see through their struggles, which made the whole thing more believable. It’s difficult to describe how I felt watching Dreamgirls but by the end I was just dead. Absolutely slain by the talent onstage and awe I felt for that show. Now, a mother doesn’t like to pick favourites but Dreamgirls may just be my favourite musical – a difficult and huge statement to make, but it kinda has everything. A great storyline, characters you care about, a ridiculous cast, stunning visuals, fantastic choreography (that I wish I could be a part of), killer songs and just an overall impact that stuns the audience. My goodness, Amber Riley may be a big name but man does she have the talent to back it up. Although I did hate it that the audience would cheer just when she came onstage, this is not the pantomime, dears! But damn, she thoroughly deserves the Olivier that she won last week. It was no surprise that she received a (thoroughly deserved) standing ovation at the end of the first act after absolutely smashing I Am Telling You! I have never felt like I did then in the theatre before, it was like being punched in the stomach, absolutely winded by the talent and emotion she radiates during that song. What a voice. But it’s not just about her, the actors playing Deena, Jimmy and Curtis all had amazing voices too, such a strong cast. Another thing I found interesting is that often stage versions cant live up to my favourite movie musicals, so I had a lot of expectations – especially when Dreamgirls has to follow Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson – but my god, they absolutely did it. Although it is pretty true to the film we know and love, the stage production also makes some alterations. The biggest change comes from Listen being turned into a duet between Deena and Effie, which I initially felt uncomfortable by because it was unfamiliar but then left me with goosebumps because it was absolutely beautiful, those girls belted my doubts away. The West End production can absolutely stand on its own two legs.
This day was a bit more chilled…sorta… I mean, in the sense that there was only one show to see rather than two. We started off the day with a stunning tour of the Royal Albert Hall – which is just absolutely breathtaking. Learned some fun new facts too, like how the whole building was built in four years (which would be unheard of these days) and that the glass dome at the top was literally just dropped on top like a lid and still isn’t sealed by anything other than the weight of the glass and steel. We made a pact that we will definitely book tickets to see something there next time!
To kill time we checked out the theatre and performance section of the V&A museum which is always interesting then picked up some lunch at Kensington Crêperie which was adorably French (getting me excited for my next holiday!) Then our walking journey of London began, we went up to Kensington Palace, all the way through Hyde Park to the Marble Arch to then come in to Leicester Square. Why did we not do anything? You ask, well it was Good Friday so everything was heaving with children. So many children. After walking our socks off we sat down in the wonderful Theatre Café for a cup of Defying Gravi-tea (heh heh, love a good menu pun), where I ran into one of my Napier Dance lovelies, Laura! We had a great chat about all things musicals and London whilst listening to show tunes and then decided to head into Soho to check out the coolest cocktail bar, on the way to which we walked past none other than BBC Sherlock’s Moriarty himself, Andrew Scott, which put me into a bit of a ‘He’s Back’ panic!
So the cocktail bar that I mentioned: The Blind Pig is absolutely adorable, I love it when restaurants and bars find a theme and they decided to go with a cocktail menu inspired by children’s literature by the likes of J.K. Rowling, C. S. Lewis, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carrol and Beatrix Potter! However, we chose to indulge in cocktails based on Peter Pan, Whinnie the Pooh and James and the Giant Peach but my favourites were the Paddington Bear ‘Lost and Found’ which really tasted like marmalade and had a cute label reading ‘please look after this bear!’ And the BFG ‘Dream Jar’ which was super pretty and tasted sweet and lovely, kinda like cream soda. I definitely want to keep going back until I’ve tried every single one of the cocktails on that menu, and totally recommend this to any book lovers, or to be honest, anyone who’s ever been a child.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at The Old Vic was show number 3 of the weekend! When we booked row E in the stalls I didn’t realise quite how close we’d be but we were literally three rows away from the front of the apron, the staging was minimalistic but very dimensional which was super cool, they smartly used these curtains across the flies to change the space of the stage which was cool. I was really excited for this because I studied Hamlet as one of my advanced English dissertation texts so I’m very familiar with its characters and was looking forward to Stoppard’s focus on the minor Hamlet characters. The Shakespeare parody was honestly so funny I literally laughed out loud. It takes something that can at times feel lofty and dry (sorry Shakespeare, you’ll be rolling in your grave) and turned it into a comedy with hints of absurdism. At times I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but neither did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Luckily we had some wee excerpts of Hamlet to keep us on track, I loved it. P.S. The old Vic is just beautiful.
The Saturday, I think, was the most exciting day because it was the fullest day; a tour followed by another double show day to dazzle my stagey brain. We started the day with a tour of The Royal Opera House which is absolutely stunning and we’re treated to a sneak peak of the Royal Ballet’s company class! We also learned about the amazing building and their rotational stage system which is so clever.
Our matinée performance was the second of our musicals this trip – Kinky Boots! (Thank you to the Adelphi Theatre for selling Bellini popsicles, can we get these everywhere?) These may sound like stock-pile, clichéd phrases but Kinky Boots really is a feel-good musical with a bunch of heart. I’ll be honest and say that it didn’t exactly blow me away but it did make me happy and it really impressed me. The cast were fantastic and I was in love with the drag queens – tried to think which RPDR queen they reminded me of most, super jealous of the fun choreography they got to perform on the conveyor belts in Say Yeah! Matt Henry was absolutely phenomenal as Lola, he is such a star. Another deserved standing ovation from me, loved that too!
The final show of the weekend and potentially the one I most looked forward to because it is so different was An American In Paris. And it honestly did not disappoint! I’ve never seen anything like it. It took me to another world and god, I hope they make a recording because I want to watch that on repeat forever! The whole cast were maginificent, I couldn’t take my eyes off them, especially as one of the lovely ladies I was a dresser for on the Wicked tour was onstage dancing and dazzling! The principles Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope were so exquisite and captivating – to have that level of dance talent in the lead of a musical is something I’ve never seen before and they were just such beautiful dancers! Particularly Fairchild who really captured the Gene Kelly vibe and demonstrated some seriously impressive jump and turn enchaînements. I don’t know if An American In Paris can really be classed as musical theatre because it kinda exists in a grey area that crosses genres with classical dance productions. It has the grace, beauty and choreography of a classic ballet with a modern edge with some jazz and tap. It has the glamour and elegance of a classic Hollywood MGM musical with Gene Kelly flair. It has production values that are so beautiful, every single second is the most stunning thing you’ve ever seen. It has a colour blocking, pop art vibe and is quite minimalist but they use projection and sketch style design that takes relatively simple set pieces and transforms them, making everything quaint and gorgeous. The stage production is slightly different from the original 1951 film but it seems to add a lot more clarity and depth to the piece by setting it against the backdrop of Paris regaining its pride after the war. I liked as well that it was a musical much more about the communication that can come through dance and choreography, rather than every musical number being sang. Gershwin’s score is light and beautiful and matches the artistic dreaminess of the production. It may not have any flat out belting songs or showstoppers like other West End shows may have at the moment but it truly epitomises the classic Hollywood, old school quality of 50’s musicals and to have anything outwardly showy like that wouldn’t be true to the piece and would stand out in the wrong way. If you love going to see a ballet performance, it’s kinda like that in terms of elegance and beauty but it also adds that extra level of theatre art, storyline and deep relationships that can sometimes be hard to glean from a traditional full length ballet. I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve never felt so engrossed in something. So I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite musical, or my favourite ballet, but it is the best thing I have ever seen.
I had the absolute best few days away with my bestie, and I’m currently still living in a West End bubble of theatrical love, it really is just the best thing in the world and it’s amazing how much watching other people use their talents to make art can evoke so much emotion and be so inspiring.
Until December, love you London, stay golden x