Off I ventured to the tube on my own. I realized that when we travel, we take on specific roles. I organize and book things, and John navigates. I was good at finding my way around in my youth but have become very rusty as I've passed on that role.
I arrived at Fulham Broadway tube station and knew I would be taking the District line and then transferring to the Piccadilly line, getting off at Leicester station. It took a little reading of signs at the stations, but I worked it all out. I know it's a tiny accomplishment, but baby steps had my confidence roaring back. You forget that you can handle most anything when you get older, complacent and reliant on someone else.
The next order of business was to find somewhere to eat before the show. I am frugal, as you may be able to tell, so it took me a while to find a pub where I could get a hamburger, fries and a drink for £13. ($20 CAD, $16.00 USD). Even that seemed high to me! The pub was The Spice of Life - somehow fitting.
London is an expensive city. Prices might look the same as at home, but that is before the currency exchange.
Before I go any further, and talk about the shows I saw, I want to state that I did not read any reviews before any performance and only read brief cliff notes on the synopsis. This blog is my perspective on what I saw, and I have provided a newspaper review for each show.
So on to the theatres and the shows!
COME FROM AWAY - PHOENIX THEATRE
Ah, what a thrill to be back in an old theatre! There is something about the theatres and their history in London. They are so grand.
The Phoenix Theatre opened in 1930 with a neoclassical exterior but an Italianate-style interior.
I got a seat in the Dress Circle. For those unfamiliar with theatres, these seats are in the upper gallery. The dress circle, also called the Royal Circle, the first balcony or mezzanine, is the next tier of seating above the stalls. You usually get the best views in the house there. However, I generally prefer the stalls, the seats in front of the stage, as you are closer to the stage. This was a great seat, though, for a great price. Most of the rush seats through TodayTix are £25 ($38.75 CAD, $30.35). That is what I paid for most of the shows I saw.
I think it's funny that the first show I saw in London was a musical about Canada. Come from Away is a show about Gander, Newfoundland's response to the 7,000 people stranded there when planes were all grounded on September 11, 2001.
I enjoyed the show but found the blocking and choreography stilted. The minimal staging contrasted the opulent red seats, carpets and curtains. All in all, though, it was a very uplifting, feel-good show, and the audience loved it.
The show is still playing at the Phoenix Theatre, scheduled to close on January 7, 2023.
WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION - COUNTY HALL THEATRE
Theatre shows were working to keep me occupied, so the following evening, I got tickets to an Agatha Christie-based play called Witness for the Prosecution. I was excited to get this ticket as the show had caught my eye, and I was looking forward to going. I felt terrible leaving John at home again, but he advised me that he was delighted that I was doing something I love to do.
So off in another direction, I headed. After negotiating the tube with no trouble, I got off and walked across Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben, the Parliamentary buildings, and over the Thames.
The London Eye and London County Hall were on the far side, lit up, with the colours changing constantly. It was a mesmerizing sight.
The theatre I was going to see the play in is the County Hall, a massive building. In 1911 construction on this building was started, but two world wars prevented its total completion until 1974. Despite that, it was headquarters for the local London government until 1986. Currently owned by a Japanese company, County Hall has become a leisure complex that houses Sea Life London Aquarium, London Dungeon, London Film Museum, Shrek's Adventure, Premier Inn, and the Marriott Hotel.
The theatre is in the former Council Chamber and is played in the round. The judge and jury were to the right of my seat, and the accused's chair was straight in front of me. I could not have hoped for a better seat.
The story "follows protagonist Leonard Vole, who has been accused of killing a widow to inherit her fortune. A lot is at stake in this thrilling court case, and only time will tell whether Leonard can convince the jury and you, the audience, that he is an innocent man."
I found the play captivating and the actors extremely skilled. I was very impressed by the level of all of the performances I saw. The audience was entirely on Leonard's side, but a plot twist at the end caught us by surprise.
The show is still playing at the County Hall as of August 2022.
On my return walk across Westminster Bridge, I realized that the bridge had been closed off to traffic and police and their vehicles were there. One officer was removing the "Don't Enter" tape from the bridge. In researching why the bridge was closed, I learned that it was the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the bridge, which killed six and injured 48. It was a good reminder that these things continue to happen worldwide.
BROKEN WINGS - CHARING CROSS THEATRE
I was on a roll here, and the following day John was able to come to a performance with me. We decided to attend a performance of Broken Wings at Charing Cross Theatre. "This new musical is about love – of woman and of country. It's adapted from Kahlil Gibran's biographical novel, which the Lebanese writer wrote sometime before his hugely popular 1923 work, The Prophet. Set in Beirut, it's the story of a man who, having immigrated to the US, returns home and falls madly in love".
Charing Cross Theatre has occupied various locations since its inception in 1936 and relocated to its current premises in 2011, once a famous Victictorian music hall called The Players' Theatre. It is one of the smallest West End Theatres.
Some of the music in the show was beautiful, and the voices were powerful. Unfortunately, it failed mainly due to the staging. The theatre had a rotating stage. I understand the desire to ensure that everyone can see well, as the audience was on two sides, with the set in the middle, but the rotating stage was used far too often without purpose and diverted attention from the music and the story.
It was an interesting show and worth an evening out, but I was glad we had not paid full price to see it.
This show is no longer running.
I am pleased to note the diversity I saw on the stages in London. In this show, taking place in Beirut, the performers appeared to be middle eastern.
LIFE OF PI - WYNDHAM THEATRE
The following day John was back to work, so I got rush tickets to see The Life of Pi. I've read the book; I'm pretty sure my whole family has. So I was interested in how Pi's story could be handled on stage. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, it involves a young man and a tiger.
First, to the Theatre, it is a stunning old theatre which opened in 1899. I always look up in these theatres, as in many buildings in Europe; the ceilings were amazing. The stage curtain was also impressive.
Now the play; was delightful! There were giant puppets for the animals in the show, with up to three people in them. The lead actor, Hiran Abeysekera, was perfect as Pi. I can't say enough good things about this production and would encourage anyone with the opportunity to see it.
The show at the Wyndham Theatre is scheduled to end on January 15, 2023.
I MISS AMY WINEHOUSE - THE LION AND THE UNICORN
The Lion and the Unicorn pub is in Kentish Town. When I bought the tickets, I didn't know that we would have to travel about an hour on the tube to get there. It was an adventure that John would get to be part of. The theatre is in a pub, and the first job was to find the pub. It was a bit of a challenge as it was not on the main road in Kentish Town, but Google didn't let us down.
We had left time to have dinner in the pub. After ordering hamburgers, beer, gin and tonic, we looked around the pub to see where the theatre was as there was nothing to indicate where it was. We asked the staff, and they advised us that it was through the door over to the left and up the stairs. We asked how we would know when to go up, and they just said, "You'll know." And surprisingly - we did. We simply followed others once they went up.
This is a very small space. It is a 60-seat black box theatre, considered a developmental lab for creatives and fringe theatre. I didn't take any photos of the theatre, for some reason, so I am borrowing these ones. The stage simply had a podium on the left in front of the seats you can see in this photo.
I MISS AMY WINEHOUSE was a one-woman comedy routine by Suchandrika Chakrabarti and was definitely a work in progress. She talked about growing up in Camden and hearing Amy's music. She said, "That music is just timeless; it just hasn't aged. For me, what she could do was take pain and heartbreak and make it into art." The show was really a discussion about family, grief, death and joy in a stand-up format.
Ms. Chakrabarti is showcasing her stand-up around London. At the time we saw this show, it was very unfinished, and the timing was still a bit off. But we give her kudos for tackling a difficult theme and getting out there and doing stand-up - something she had wanted to do for years.
It may be showing in a small theatre somewhere in London.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD - GIELGUD THEATRE
The Gielgud Theatre was built in 1906 and started life as the Hicks Theatre. In 1909 the name was changed to the Globe, and in 1994, the name was changed again to the Gielgud Theatre to honour actor Sir Arthur John Gielgud.
The theatre has been refurbished many times, the last in 2008, and is in the Louis XVI style. There is seating for 986 patrons.
As always, I checked out the ceiling.
I doubt that there are many people who have not read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This play, adapted by Alan Sorkin, made me want to go back and read the book again. It was so very good. All of the actors were superb in their parts.
Unfortunately, one of the bit players tried to climb these stairs with a white KKK sheet on his head and fell off. The stairs are very narrow, so it was understandably difficult to climb them in a hurry with a sheet over your head! It brought the play to a screeching halt while he was checked out by a doctor from the audience. I am pretty sure that he was back on stage after that.
I highly recommend seeing this play. It is still playing at the Gielgud.
STRAIGHT LINE CRAZY - BRIDGE THEATRE
By now, I was having no problem getting around London and was enjoying the wandering. Maybe too much so as I ended up with little time to grab something to eat. I located the theatre, then found The Real Greek nearby and had three samosas and an eggplant dish for a little over 14 pounds. ($21.75 CAD, $16.50 USD) Again, trying not to spend too much and get it in a hurry.
Most people there were ordering these towers of food.
The Bridge, near Tower Bridge, is the one newer theatre I attended. It is very modern and, dare I say, a little sterile. When it opened in 2017, it was the first new theatre of its size, in London, in 80 years.
It seats 900 people and aims primarily to stage new plays. Big-name actors like Maggie Smith, Laura Linney, and Jim Broadbent have all perform there.
This production starred Ralph Fiennes. It was a story about Robert Moses, who served on the New York State Council of Parks and was the New York Secretary of State from the 1920s to the 1960s. In those roles, Moses had a huge impact on the development of parks, bridges and 627 miles of expressway in New York City.
Sorry to say, I didn't like the play. I got bored. The actors were good, but I just wasn't engaged in the story.
& JULIET - SHAFTESBURY THEATRE
On the way to the Shaftesbury Theatre, I went through the Tottenham Court tube station. I loved the tile work!
The Shaftesbury Theatre is the largest independent theatre, seating 1300-1400 people in London. It was built in 1911 and was first named Prince Theatre; after extensive renovations in 1962, the theatre was renamed. Seems like these theatres change names - a lot! And get renovated - a lot!
It's interesting to note that "to mark the end of theatre censorship in September 1968, the revolutionary musical Hair opened. It played for over 5 years and was about to celebrate its record-breaking 2000th performance when the need to carry out renovation work forced the theatre to close its doors. Only prolonged and passionate opposition from members of the actor's union and members of the entertainment industry saved the building from redevelopment and it is now a Grade II listed building."
The building, as you can see in the picture, is undergoing more renovations.
Inside now, there are beautiful boxed seats, wonderful red seats and carpet and elaborate plaster moulding. I really love these old theatres!
I loved this show! It was so much fun. & Juliet is a musical containing the music of Swedish songwriter Max Martin, and the book is by David West Read. I hesitate to say too much as I really want you to go if you have the opportunity. Let's just say that it involved Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet and Anne Hathway inserting her ideas. Somehow, as a result, Juliet does not die in the end. Within the format are the many songs penned by Max Martin, including Baby, Hit Me One More Time, I Kissed a Girl, and Oops, I Did it Again.
The show has been extended to March 2023 and could continue to be extended.
THE HUMAN VOICE - THE HAROLD PINTER THEATRE
The Harold Pinter Theatre was built in 1881 and was called the Royal Comedy Theatre. Because they had no authority to use "Royal," that was dropped in 1884. The Comedy Theatre was renamed the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2011 to honour Harold Pinter, who was a British playwright, screenwriter, director and actor. Its exterior is the classical tradition of painted stone and brick. Originally the inside was three tiers of horseshoe-shaped balconies, in the Renaissance style, with rich moulding and white and gold finish. The draperies of the boxes are maroon plush, elegantly draped and embroidered in gold. The house started out with 1150 seats, but with renovations, it now has seats 800.
For this show, I had a front-row seat in the stalls, which is not unusual for rush tickets. This is the only show where THAT was a problem. There was a minimal set that looked like a sliding glass door view into an apartment. At times the blocking had the actress Ruth Wilson sitting on the floor. When that happened, it was impossible to see her from my seat.
Human Voice is a 1930s one-woman play by Jean Cocteau. It is the final breakup phone call between the protagonist and her ex-lover. It was a limited run of 33 shows. It had the potential to be very emotional, but for some reason, it didn't move me at all. I agree with the above-mentioned review that "for all its theatricality, the play remains stolidly sedate."
SIX - VAUDEVILLE THEATRE
The Vaudeville Theatre was built in the Romanesque style in 1870. Originally it was a horseshoe shape over a pit and had three galleries. An extensive reno in 1925, changed the interior to a rectangular rather than a horseshoe shape, reduced the seating and added dressing rooms. The house now is 690 seats.
The Vaudeville was the first theatre in the world to achieve 500 consecutive performances with the comedy Our Boys, which started its run in 1875. "The production went on to surpass the 1,000 performance mark. This was such a rare event that London bus conductors approaching the Vaudeville Theatre stop shouted "Our Boys!" instead of the name of the theatre."
"A proposed redevelopment of Covent Garden by the GLC in 1968 saw the Theatre under threat, together with other nearby theatres. An active campaign by Equity, the Musicians' Union and theatre owners under the auspices of the Save London Theatres Campaign led to the abandonment of the scheme."
Six is a pop musical about the real Henry the 8th's six wives competing in a singing competition for who had the worst time with Henry. You might know the wives by the nursery rhyme “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.”
For those who don't remember your history:
"Catherine of Aragon: Henry VIII’s first wife. She was married to Henry VIII from 1509 - 1523. Their divorce led to the creation of the Church of England. Beyoncé inspired the Catherine of Aragon Six character.
Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII’s second wife. The pair were wed from 1533 - 1536 until Anne Boleyn was beheaded on the accusation of incest and adultery. Avril Lavigne inspired the Anne Boleyn Six character.
Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s third wife. They were only married for one year, but Jane Seymour provided Henry VIII with his first son, Edward. Jane Seymour died in childbirth. Adele inspired the Jane Seymour Six character.
Anna of Cleves: Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Perhaps shockingly, the pair were only married for seven months, from January to July 1940. Rihanna and Nicki Minaj inspired the Anna of Cleves Six character.
Katherine Howard: Henry VIII’s fifth wife. The pair married days after and were wed from July 1540 to February 1542. She was beheaded due to her affairs. Ariana Grande and Britney Spears inspired the Katherine Howard Six character.
Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. The pair were wed on July 12, 1543, and were together until January 28, 1547, when Henry VIII passed away. Alicia Keys inspired the Catherine Parr Six character."
The show is written by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss and has won many awards.
This was a very vivacious show, and the audience had a great time, as did I.
The show is still running. Go see it, and you'll have fun.
The show does not seem to have an end date.
At one time, theatregoers were given a Playbill when they entered the theatre. Not now - you have to buy any written material about the show. I really missed having a Playbill, if only to fill the time reading it while waiting for the show. There is a digital version at https://www.playbill.com/category/london-news.
So the end result of seeing all these shows was I had a fantastic time while learning my way around London. I'm looking forward to doing it all over again the next time we're in London! Hopefully, John will still be working - LOL.
Until next time........