Spontaneity versus planning

I’m of the opinion that one can be both a fan of the well planned, and inclined towards spontaneity.

I like a good plan. I like to know where my life is headed. I like to know things in advance.
But, I also like having the space into diary to be spontaneous. Or, rather, to have the space in which to be spontaneous. A too-full diary means saying no to fun things that might be last minute, and that would be sad…

This past weekend was an excellent example of this dichotomy. Since January, theatre tickets had been booked for Sunday & Monday. An empty diary for Friday night and some late Thursday night ticket booking allowed for a spontaneous trip to the theatre.

April Musical FunMormon, Commitments & Matilda. Am I annoyed that I forgot to take a photo of the outside of The Cambridge Theatre? You bet I am! 

There is a myth that theatre in the West End is unaffordable and difficult to do at the last minute. Admittedly, ‘affordable’ is subjective, but I consider anything £25 or under to be good value. (I ought to confess that I have also been very lucky in having friends over the years who have secured freebies, so I’m spoilt.) Our tickets on Friday were £20 + booking fee – and they were good.

What follows is some wisdom I’ve amassed regarding theatre going in London. It’s my personal opinion (obviously), but some of it might prove to be useful…

Last Minute Tickets
It’s never too late to book tickets. (Well, until the show starts, obviously.) Some of my favourite theatre-going moments were the result of spontaneity. Like £15 tickets to A Chorus Line, less than 2 hours before curtain up. We should have been up in the gods, but ticket sales were low and the upper circles were closed – we ended up in row D of the stalls and had a jolly good time. Tickets were courtesy of the ticket booth inside Leicester Square station (thank you sibling’s out of work actor friends…) and the moral is: never be afraid to ask what the cheapest deal is!

Some shows (not enough, in my opinion) run a lottery for their front row before each performance. It’s a regular occurrence on Broadway, but so far the only shows I know to have done it in London are Legally Blonde and The Book of Mormon – and I’ve benefitted from both. The deal is, you arrive at least 2 hours before the performance, fill in a form & await the drawing of the ‘winning’ forms, which give you the right to bag a bargain. I got Legally Blonde tickets on my first attempt; Mormon ones on my fifth – it can take dedication and good chunks of free time in central London.

Often, there are no ‘bad’ seats
Our £15 Chorus Line tickets were sold to us with the words “there are no bad seats at the Palladium”. One of the tricks to bargain theatre going is getting to know the seating plan. Obviously, the ‘best’ views are the most expensive tickets – but look around. This genius website lets you read reviews of specific seats in specific theatres, rating the view. You might think that sounds ridiculous, but thanks to it, I scored a £20 seat at Billy Elliot, next door to a £60 one. The difference? I supposedly had a restricted view – but the website informed me that the view was fine.

Friday night’s choice was another restricted view (thanks to a ridiculous pillar). We couldn’t check my website friend, but we took the risk – and won. The view was fine, being in row I of the stalls helped a lot (I like being able to see faces), but also, the two seats next to us remained empty, so we scooted over in the interval. You never know when you might get lucky…

Know when to compromise
The 2nd show of the weekend was Matilda, which I’d seen over 2 years ago. But Morv (who I was accompanying to The Book of Mormon for show 3) hadn’t seen it, and we thought we’d fit a performance in. Mormon tickets are pricey (unless you do the lottery), so we didn’t want to pay too much – so ended up on the second from back row of the gods. Morv was desperate to see it, so any seat at all was good for us, even if it meant enduring a Sunday afternoon matinee with a lot of children! (Who, incidentally, behaved beautifully.)

As mentioned, Mormon tickets are pricey and require advance booking (unless you can manage the lottery). Having attempted 3 lotteries with Morv last year, booking tickets had to be the way forward (she lives in Durham, so does not fall into the ‘large periods of time in central London’ category), and we got ours back in January. Booking proved to be tricky, given their policy of not letting you book 2 tickets if it leaves 1 on its own. Plus, it’s the hottest ticket in town and is priced as such (airline style, so prices rise with demand). But, we compromised on view – going for 2 seats in a box that had some form of restricted view. Yes, we compromised WITH A BOX! It was a good compromise – the only bit we couldn’t see was the far end of our side, and very little happened there. Plus, seats in the box (all 4 of them) moved, you could lean out, and it was fine. We didn’t ask how much the couple who joined us had paid for their tickets, given as they’d bought them the night before…

Mormon boxYes, I took a photo of our box. Don’t judge me – Morv took a video of the walk down our own corridor…

Take a risk
Yes, I’d seen Mormon & Matilda before – I’d really enjoyed both of them the first time and would happily see them again – but Friday night’s offering was The Commitments (currently at the Palace Theatre). I’m on intimate terms with the soundtrack (thanks in part to several years singing a Commitments Medley in a youth choir), but never got around to watching the film. Ultimately, I knew it was likely to be fun – and it was. Great music, not much of a plot, lots of cheese – but a great night out. I got to have quality time with a friend and we left the theatre singing the tunes. Good times. There is a lot on in the West End. Some of it is dross (you will not catch me in the queue for Dirty Dancing, for example), but there’s a lot of good stuff.

Take Gin 
Or Pimm’s. Those cocktails in cans are frightfully useful in theatre-going situations. I know how to be über classy…

Tweet
This final tip’s a little niche. Ever since our first trip to see Legally Blonde, Morv and I have had a soft spot for its leading man. This actor now happens to be playing Miss Trunchbull in Matilda – this fact had absolutely nothing to do with our choosing to see it, it’s pure coincidence. Over post-matinee dinner, I tweeted a genuinely well-meant compliment on his performance and became slightly giddy when he replied. I am very easily pleased.

Gaumond Matilda tweet

The wonderful thing about revolting children

How better to mark World Book Day than with a review of a musical based upon a book, featuring one of literature’s greatest bibliophiles? In fact, how better to celebrate a friend’s 30th than with a trip to what is unquestionably one of the best British musicals ever…

Matilda, stage

The last time the RSC produced a musical about a telekinetic child, it became the quickest, most expensive flop in Broadway’s history – Carrie the Musical is a classic, but for all the wrong reasons. [Though, in its defence, and having listened to the soundtrack multiple times, there are some gems there…] In fact, I was geekily pleased that The Stage referenced it in its review of Matilda:

“A quarter of a century ago, the RSC co-produced Les Misérables, which has turned into the West End’s longest-ever running musical and a worldwide hit. Now, via an unfortunate detour with Carrie, one of the most notorious Broadway flops when they transferred it from Stratford to New York, they’ve finally hit the musical jackpot again.”

 Musical jackpot it indeed is. It does a rare job of attracting and entertaining adults and children alike. Last night’s audience seemed to consist of vast swathes of children, and hordes of adults around my age. It’s quite possibly a happy coincidence that many of Tim Minchin’s (writer of the musical) fans are a generation that were the right age to read Matilda when the book came out in 1988.Discovering that we were sat in the middle of a massive school group filled me with terror, but it’s testament to the genius of the production that they stayed (pretty) quiet for the duration. Sure, Jo had to explain why we don’t kick seats or predict lines loudly, but most of the time you barely knew they were there. In fact, early on I was worried that the pace of dialogue and clever literary references might have been beyond a crowd of 8 year olds, but as was pointed out to me, there was also an entire scene focused upon ‘the biggest, most chocolatey burp in the world’, which you probably have to be 8 (or male) to truly appreciate. Looking behind me as the theatre was filled with laser beams, I saw a sea of enraptured faces – beautiful.

For those of us who grew up with Dahl, the texts are almost sacred. I doubt you’d find a British child of the 80s/90s who approves of the Matilda film – it’s not even set in England, for goodness sake! The Witches was a good effort, but they changed the ending; and I can’t ever complain about Jonny Depp so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is ok, but it says something that Dahl himself didn’t like any of the adaptations he lived to see made. The musical is more faithful to the book than the film – the characters look like they’ve stepped out of Quentin Blake’s illustrations (especially Mr Wormwood and Miss Trunchbull) and the key plot elements are there. Yes, there’s the addition of a glorious story about an escapologist and acrobat used a device to tell the audience about Miss Honey’s parents, but it’s so beautifully done that I couldn’t possibly hold it against them. (Matilda tells the story to the librarian and at one point it’s depicted with shadow puppets, which is simply stunning.)

The script and songs also faithfully adheres to Dahl’s distinctive language. The reason why kids love Dahl is because he speaks like they do – or how they’d like to, if they were allowed. The language is often beautifully disgusting, or taps into the ‘nice naughtiness’ you wish all children had. I’d forgotten just how much of a childhood crime it was to call someone stupid, until Mr Wormwood used the word in reference to an adult member of the audience – the children near me gasped at it!

Before I left for the theatre, a friend commented on my Facebook status and said that she predicted I’d be a Bertie Carvel fan before the night was out – she was right. Bertie is the man – yes, man – who plays Miss Trunchbull, and he’s phenomenal. Pam Ferris was a very masculine Trunchbull in the movie, but the musical goes for a man playing a woman as an effeminate gay man angle, which works spectacularly well. Can you picture the Trunchbull doing rhythmic gymnastics with a ribbon? No? Trust me, it works perfectly! [There’s a glimpse of it in the trailer below.] Listen to her song about throwing the hammer, and you’ll start to understand…

The most important element in a musical has to be the songs, and they are marvellous. If you’re a Tim Minchin fan, you’ll know the range of his style, if you’re not then you’re in for a treat. There’s a real mix of raucous lively numbers and beautifully moving ones. Two of my favourites are helpfully ones that are available on YouTube – the winner of ‘best use of swings in a musical’, When I Grow Up which is almost tear-jerkingly lovely; and the guaranteed to have you clapping and cheering Revolting Children.

That boy who kicks off the song is Bruce Bogtrotter – of chocolate cake fame. There’s an entire song dedicated to that scene – called, aptly, Bruce – one could say that only an Australian could write such an awesome song about a Bruce…

I know I’m a massive musical theatre geek, but this is no niche musical. I’d go as far as to say that it’s one of the most accessible pieces of theatre I’ve seen (although One Man Two Guvnors would come a very recent second), and isn’t something parents should begrudge seeing. In fact, I suspect they might enjoy it more than their children do. The major challenge is acquiring decently priced tickets. Last night was clearly a sell-out – unusual for a mid-week evening in term-time – and ‘cheap’ tickets must be nigh-on impossible to come by. But persevere, you won’t regret it.