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Saturday, May 7

Waking up mid morning, we slowly got ourselves awake enough to function and headed to Oxford Street in search of food and something to do. By the time we reached there, it was practically lunchtime, so we headed to M&S for lunch. While there we spotted a Japanese family who had found the handbaskets and gotten the wrong end of the stick. At least, I assumed that is what had happened. By the time they had gotten to the wee cart in which the basket are kept, there were only two left. To the initiated, this might look a little like a bizarre trolley. There was a tall handle (for pushing the cart around in between fills with baskets) and there was what looked like a basket compartment into which shopping would go. The family must have assumed that this was a rather odd British shopping trolley and so they put their stuff in the basket and started wheeling the cart around the shop. It was funny to watch, but more because it was so unconventional a thing to spot. It is perhaps as funny as hearing a familiar song's words sung to the tune of another familiar song - it's wrong, but it's sort of right. I was feeling a certain degree of generosity of spirit as I watched this family dealing with the unfamiliar as best they could. I'm sure I'd do equally odd things in the eyes of the locals if I ever went to Japan.

With a supply of goodies from the shop, we looked for somewhere to consume them. We found a foodcourt in a shopping centre off Oxford Street. To legitimise us, I bought a coffee from one of the outlets there. We then confidently and leisurely lunched. Overhearing people's conversations is always a pleasure, especially when one has the chance to share one's confusion at curious phrases which appear totally made up by the person talking. I was tickled when the term - "rip raving" spilled over the divide betwen our table and the next. I've heard of "rip roaring", but "rip raving"? Perhaps that's when a fat person goes out clubbing, does some really energetic dancing and, in the process, over stresses their clothing. "Oops, I've just rip raved!".

After lunch we headed down Regent Street in search of the exhibition. As we neared the appropriate end of Regent Street, the heavens opened. It started raining, it started hailing, it was miserable. That coupled with a sense of tiredness on the part of my companion meant that we, at her suggestion, considered an alternative plan for the afternoon. I had been joking about the possibility of going to see a matinee in preparation for the evening show. Why would it be preparation? You may well ask. Well, Acorn Antiques is directed by Trevor Nunn, who also directed Les Miserables. According to what I'd read, there is material in Acorn Antiques which spoofs the barricades scenes from Mr Nunn's other work. He, himself, described it as "cringeworthy" (I assume that he's referring to how good a send up it is and how people involved in the original might find it slightly embarrassing to see their work lampooned). Victoria Wood had, in an interview I read, pointed out how useful it was to have a director for that scene who already knew all the moves from the original. So, I had joked that seeing Les Miserables would be good homework for seeing the evening's showing of Mrs Overall and her cronies poking fun at it. I have seen Les Mis, but my companion hadn't. I've seen it twice - both times at The Palace Theatre, which it has now vacated in favour of The Queen's Theatre. The Palace is now home to The Woman in White. While I have this latter show on my list of shows to visit, I had intended to see how Les Mis looked in a smaller theatre and I wondered whether it would have survived the restaging. So, it was on my list of things to see.

I hadn't intended to turn this weekend into another musicals extravaganza, but the suggestion was made and I'm not one to say no to a few hours in a theatre. Within an hour, we were in The Queen's Theatre, in nice dress circle seats. The show feels, at first, very different in a smaller theatre. I don't think that they have the same size of orchestra, and they may even be using some recorded instrumentation to pad out the sound. A few moments seemed a bit strained, with the chorus not quite synchronising with the orchestra. The sound of the principals was not always perfect. Perhaps the theatre is not quite of the technical standard that the show needs. The performances were, on the whole, very good. Fantine was the best I've seen. It took me a while to warm to Jean Valjean, but he gave the role an assured performance. I'm not sure about Javert - he felt less sneering and more wooden. I didn't really see his inner struggle.

Sadly, as I'd predicted before we got into our seats, I got a bit giggly at one point. It's not surprising. I spent 30 odd performances of The Musical! spoofing "I dreamed a dream" with references to "but the tigers come at night". I was bound to get a bit amused when I sat in the theatre and that song came up. I started shaking with laughter from the instrumental introduction to the song. I totally lost it for a few seconds as the line was delivered. Then, I pulled myself together and actually tuned into the emotion behind the song which was being brought over so well by the actress behind the character. It was truly touching and I'm sorry for my rudeness. Only I was affected, as I didn't actually laugh out loud, or slap my thigh or anything. Oh, and I also laughed whenever Marius sang "There's a grief that can't be spoken" - it reminded me of my own bastardised lyric - "There's a grief that can't be spoke/when you find your ma's been turning tricks for coke".

Les Miserables was well worth seeing a third time. We left the theatre with a couple of hours before the originally planned Acorn Antiques and grabbed a pizza in the first restaurant we came to. Nice pizza. The woman who served us seemed ungracious and sneering so I undertipped her. Admittedly, I still tipped her. Perhaps it made more of a point to undertip her than to omit a tip.

Then we headed off to find The Theatre Royal, Haymarket. It's on Haymarket, which is off Piccadilly Circus. It really wasn't difficult to find it, especially, since I had a map. Challenges like this aren't taxing and wouldn't, therefore, be especially satisfying. However, getting to a theatre in time for the pre-show excitement would always be satisfying for me. We found our seats which were, as the ticket tout I bought them from online promised, best seats - they were in the dress circle, a couple of rows back (so no safety rail to peer through) and were dead centre. Smashing view! Really smashing.

The show itself was a quasi-religious experience for most of the audience. There's no doubt in my mind that this is a show which deserves to close in a couple of weeks. The reason is that it could only truly get the response it got that night from a small percentage of the population. Without "fans" of Victoria Wood, Julie Walters and the curious world of Acorn Antiques, this show hasn't got very much of its own to offer. It has some substance, but it would be, at best, quite entertaining, rather than "rip raving". It was an absolute delight to be in the theatre as a truly talented cast and a gleeful audience held together a slightly overblown, shapeless show.

Am I being critical? Yes. Of course I am being critical, it's what I do. I can't sing you a song from the show, despite enjoying them as they played through. I can tell you what it's about, but it won't sound very good. The bottom line is that that show was an experience which everyone shared, but came without the elements that make for an enduring masterpiece. I loved it. I laughed at classic Victoria Wood punchlines and wordplay. I laughed at Julie Walters' outstanding performance as Mrs Overall. She managed to whip the room into a frenzy of giggles that she herself seemed barely able to keep control in. It was worth the ticket price to put oneself under her capable comedic control. As with going to a football match, some of my feelings were carried by the crowd mentality. As the theatre kept laughing at the happenings on stage, I found myself looking for the specific source of the amusement - why was it so funny? There was always something happening on stage, had I missed a vital bit?

I think that the audience were just non-specifically amused at some points. They came with a lot of built up amusement from adoration of Ms Wood and Ms Walters and they were going to find it funny with a minimum of push from the script and performers. Sometimes the resurging laughs were just coming as the audience got its breath back and starting laughing anew. Sometimes there were very obvious comic performances getting deserved laughs. Julie Walters was funny just walking across the stage. It's as simple as that. The show was funny. There doesn't have to be a specific reason. It was jammed full of material and its form and structure didn't matter a great deal. I liked it.

After a day of mixed emotion - the miserable and the totally light hearted - we returned to our hotel ready for more sleep. It's amazing how tiring it can be to sit on your arse in theatres all day.


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