Sunday, 23 August 2009

Back To Before

Well, it’s been a long time hasn’t it? I must admit I have been trying to work out why it has taken me quite so much time to write another column. Perhaps it’s the seismic shock of hitting forty? Perhaps the stresses of a new show opening here at the Palladium? Perhaps even the fact that there hasn’t been a series proper of “Doctor Who” this year? Well who knows? I guess I will just have to use the well worn excuse of writers block and a lack of inspiration. One thing is for sure, for someone who works in theatre and writes about theatre I really don’t spend enough time actually going to the theatre. In fact for the first six months of 2009 I didn’t even go once! However in late July this was more than remedied when I saw a mammoth four shows in less than two weeks. I also had a very good reason.

Back in 1996 and 1997 I had two very enjoyable summers when my half brother, Adam, and his mum, Vina, came over from Germany to stay. Neither of them had ever really been to see a musical, but with me working in theatre I was well placed to introduce them to the joys of the show tune. We saw “A Little Night Music” ,“Oliver”, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, “The Phantom Of The Opera”, “Cats”, “Guys And Dolls” and even “On The Twentieth Century” at the Bridewell Theatre. Needless to say by the end of their 1997 visit they had both developed a great appreciation for a night out at the theatre. Then in 1997 they re-located to Vina’s home country of Mauritius and our blissful theatre going summers were consigned to history. That is until I got an email from my brother a couple of months ago with big news. By now Adam is based in Australia and his mum lives on the island of Mayotte (Google it if you want to see paradise) and (although I have seen Adam in the interim) the two were heading for London together for the first time in twelve years.

We had done much of the touristy thing on their last visits way back when but we were definitely going to have to see some theatre while they were here. Before that we decided on a little culture and on the Sunday we took the tube to St.Pauls and walked across the wibbly wobbly bridge to Tate Modern. Sadly the bridge neither wibbled nor wobbled, but as the sun shone it was a pleasant way to get to the Tate. I must admit that, although I have wanted to go to the gallery since it opened, I was quite worried that the exhibition would feature all those hideous “installations” such as modern artists who have pickled themselves in formaldehyde or, even worse, their dirty laundry strewn across the floor. Pleasantly, we discovered that the exhibition was almost all paintings and we enjoyed a contemplative couple of hours of Miro, Picasso and Dali amongst others before heading (with my friends Richard and Lisa who had joined us for the day) to Joe Allen’s for a late lunch. Happily they had my favourite, Eggs Benedict, on the menu.

Our plans for the next few days included a rather odd family reunion. Odd in that my brother would be meeting my mother, which would also mean that my dad’s two wives (who spookily share a birthday) would meet for the first time. My grandparents, whom they had both met previously were also heading down along with my sister Kate – another first. However these plans were to go somewhat awry…

Anyway, the day before our planned reunion saw our first sojourn to the theatre where we were to see “La Cage Aux Folles” at the Playhouse. I must admit that I was a little wary of seeing “La Cage” as the show had meant so much to me back in 1986 when I worked front of house at the Palladium in my school holidays. None the less, despite my ambivalence, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I really don’t think it’s a patch on the original version and some of the changes they had made didn’t quite work for me but it managed to press my emotional “buttons” at almost all the same points it always had. So, I found myself as moved ever by “Song On The Sand”, “Look Over There” and “The Best Of Times”, although I couldn’t help feeling that Roger Allam’s lack of vocal prowess diluted the power that “I Am What I Am” usually has. Despite this “La Cage” is still a beautifully crafted piece of theatre and Adam and Vina absolutely loved it and we were on a real high when we left until I spoke to my mum after leaving the theatre. I knew my Nan had had a “funny turn” earlier in the day, but it was still quite a shock to discover that her doctor thought she had a mini-stroke and she had been admitted to hospital for tests. So the following day’s plans were sadly cancelled.

We amused ourselves by going to Kingston and doing a little shopping, and (as by now I had managed to get them both hooked on the new version) watched several episodes of Doctor Who – and also for a change of pace a couple of episodes of Jean and Lionel’s autumn romance, “As Time Goes By”. Later that day good news greeted us as my Nan was being discharged from Hospital. However, ironically she was discharged only to spend the next five hours in the A & E department as my Grandpa had managed to have a fall. Clumsy bugger!

So another day and another musical, as we headed back into the west end to see the relentless dance-athon that is “Hairspray”. Although it didn’t have the emotional connection that “La Cage” holds for me, I had a fantastic night and thoroughly enjoyed it . Vina and Adam were a little less impressed than me but none the less we all had a great time – possibly helped by the phone call I had before setting off.

Despite the mini-stroke and fall situation my grandparents were determined to drive down fro Coalville the following day, although my sister was now not coming as she thought she had swine flu. Thankfully we now think that swine flu was not the correct diagnosis!

So the following day saw us enjoying a relaxed day of good food and good company as the two sides of my family finally met and any prospective tensions failed to materialise. In fact my brother said he almost feels like my grandparents are an “extra set” of grandparents for him, and my mum felt like Adam and Vina were extended family and looked forward to seeing them again some time. To make matters even better my Nan seemed healthier than I have seen her look in a long time and it’s since been discovered that she didn’t have a mini-stroke after all. Good news indeed, and as good a time to leave things for now as Adam , Vina and myself wave goodbye to my relatives and settle down for an evening of The Doctor, Martha and The Master…..

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