The great Russian writer Konstantin Paustovsky astutely noted, “A sense of nature is one of the foundations of patriotism”. During the pandemic, while everyone was communing with nature, camping and hiking, I most assuredly was not. I visited one national park (with mixed success) https://oldladywriting.com/2021/06/11/i-went-up-north-once-once/, did not take down my old lady bicycle from the ceiling of our garage where it has been hanging for about twenty years now, and did not take up “hiking” as a hobby. I waited and bided my time in a Midwestern suburb until an opportunity to travel to London presented itself.
I saw five plays in seven days, which is my ideal vacation under any circumstances. Now that the original production of “Les Miserables” has been replaced (not permanently, I fervently pray) by the abomination that is the 25th anniversary version, my London dance card is emptier. I must clarify that at the West End, I try to see shows that I am unlikely to see anywhere else. Unless Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, or the not-yet-knighted David Tennant or John Simm are appearing in “Jersey Boys” or “Book of Mormon”, I am catching those when they come to Detroit. On this trip, I even wandered out of London, to Bath and Richmond. The theater scene even outside of the West End was breathtaking.
And here they are, in order of appearance. Spoiler alert: all were great.
Number One: “Only Fools and Horses”—a delightful new[ish] musical to welcome us back to the West End. I actually researched the current offerings for about five minutes and this one jumped out at me as something that will never make it to the US, being as it is based on what is apparently a cult favorite English sitcom from the 80’s that is not part of the BBC America repertoire. The fact that I missed many inside show references did not diminish the enjoyment. The shady dealer older brother, the earnest goofy younger brother, the slightly demented grandad, various other comical yet lovable characters inhabiting their corner of London, catchy tunes, fun choreography, heartwarming story, and the evident delight of the audience made me want to go out and find the original TV show. This was met with zero success during the trip, but thank God for Brit Box.
Number Two: “Magic Goes Wrong”—the latest installment in the “Goes Wrong” series by Mischief Theatre company. We saw “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” at the London Apollo a few years ago (“Magic”’s current home), and it was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life. The woman who sat next to spouse actually confessed that she wet herself laughing, which is neither surprising nor shameful given the level of creative absurdity that starts even before the curtain goes up. The element of surprise is gone once you have seen one of their shows—I mean, you know that everything that can go wrong will—but it is still a hilarious great fun. Penn and Teller created the magic side of it, so there is some actual legitimate magic alongside the bumbling tomfoolery. I suppose *that* is the surprise.
Number Three: “Blue/Orange”—a snapshot of the British mental health system (which seems as woefully deficient as the American one), full of dark humor and unnerving exchanges, with racial tension in the mix. On a Tuesday evening, the little theater in Bath was packed, which did my heart good. In this version, the character with the most authority of the three was played by a Black actor, which shifted the power dynamic to an intriguing level. Like “Art”, this is a play I would want to see again and again to continue to analyze its many nuances.
Number Four: “Abigail’s Party”—a 70’s comedy of manners. I saw it once before, in Belfast, and wondered then why such a juicy acting opportunity is not presented in the US. On second viewing, I have to concede that, while there is tremendous joy in period costumes and set, the play is very British. It is not just a play set in a specific decade, but in a specific place (I, of course, appreciate every Demis Roussos reference). But I still think that the crafted written characters can stand well enough on their own, and you do not have to be British or have lived through the decade to appreciate this powerful dark[ish] satire of the middle class pretenses. It is a bit of a precursor to “The God of Carnage”, to my mind. (And how many Yasmina Reza can one post contain?)
Number Five: “Private Lives”—which needs no introduction. I am well familiar with this play both on its own and through “Moon Over Buffalo”. Like “Art” (there I go again!), I have seen it in three countries—and like with “Art”, I traveled to England to see Nigel Havers in it. Of course, he was marvelous as Elyot, as he is in everything he does—and Patricia Hodge as Amanda was an extra treat.
This time, I was determined to meet him, waited at the stage door, and was shocked when he actually came out—and there was no one to converge on him but me and the trailing spouse. You would think that I would have used this opportunity to shine with my witty repartee and winning personality. You would be wrong—I have no such gifts. Spouse said that I should have prepared and rehearsed a speech. Son asked if mentioned how much we appreciated his performance in “Art”. But of course not—I blurted out that I came all the way from Detroit to see him on my birthday (sort of endearing), and went on for a bit about how much I loved him in “Chariots of Fire”. While I did not mention that I have literally seen the film over fifty times in the theater and can recite it verbatim (which is apparently more annoying than charming, as my family tells me), I inanely informed him that I have a “Chariots of Fire” luggage tag on my suitcase. https://oldladywriting.com/2021/09/27/adventures-of-a-suitcase/ What a dork! Having followed Nigel Havers’ career for forty years, having even read his autobiography twice (“Playing with Fire”; highly recommended), that was the best I could do under pressure. Well, I suppose I could have done worse. (Someone, please tell me how I could have done worse!) I am consoling myself that I excel in a more intimate discussion setting. Next time, next time…
Honorable mention: Upon returning home, I had the opportunity to see “Pretty Woman” the musical. My assessment of the show: the seats at the Fisher Theater in Detroit are the most comfortable ones.