Date: 25 March. Happy birthday little brother.
Location: first class, the train from Manchester Picadilly to London Euston.
The other day, whilst out in search of lunchtime sushi that wasn’t horrid, I stumbled across Drury Lane. It’s about 50m from the door of my office. I had a bit of a moment. Drury Lane, guys. I briefly paused my raw fish quest and wandered down to find the famous Theatre Royale.
Drury Lane borders the theatre-rich Covent Garden area. Everywhere you look there are box offices boasting spectacles you want to see: Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Phantom, The 39 Steps, Cats, Wicked. How can so many shows be going on, night after night after matinee after night, in such a small area?
It’s like Broadway but, to me, so much more beautiful. The streets are cobbled and narrow. The lordly Opera House and Covent Garden market watch over everything imperially. Dark pubs spill revellers onto the wet streets. The warm-toned lights shine from above theatre doors and inside cozy restaurants, but they don’t blaze aggressively like those of New York.
Before that feeling of enchantment fades — going the way of my love of taking the tube and amusement at double decker red buses — I’ve decided to delve into the london theatre scene in earnest. As best my budget allows. First stop, Google search box: ‘cheap tickets london theatre’. Et voila: tickets to Woman In Black and Sweeney Todd. The mothership is coming to Town in a few weeks so I’ve added tickets to the last week of Cats and to Alice’s Underground Adventure, an immersive theatre experience set deep in the runnels beneath Warerloo station and timed to coincide with the 150th birthday of Lewis Caroll’s book. Then I happened to be lurking about online when tickets to Live Letters were released so now I find myself with two tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch and others read aloud the letters of famous people in the majestic Freemasons Hall on Drury Lane.
This Tuesday Paris and I climbed high in the Fortune Theatre to our tiny velvet seats. The curtiain came up. The Woman In Black begun inauspiciously enough, but I definitely screamed and clutched at Paris’s thigh at least twice during the show. The play is a classic, the second longest-running on the West End, and it’s super creepy in a ‘things that go bump in the night’ kind of way. And it’s exquisitely done, by just ‘two’ actors. Granted, I haven’t seen much theatre but the two men who took the stage for 90 minutes had me utterly transfixed and transported. My belief was certainly suspended. Cancelled indefinitely even. The final eerie touch was when the eponymous and lethal Woman In Black failed to appear to take her bow, making you wonder: was she ever there at all? We had a creepy, giggly commute home to Angel.
On the other end of the spectrum, I continue to learn London Lessons — as we not-so-affectionately call them. Like, Lesson 521: it’s eye-wateringly expensive to get back from southerly Brixton to northerly Angel at 3am on a Saturday night; Lesson 301: ‘King’s Cross’ is not a sensible designated meeting place — it’s a postcode; Lesson 87: treat your phone like a kitten and keep it snuggled in your coat or the cold will zap its battery in a matter of hours; Lesson 641: you’re not getting an Uber in Covent Garden after the shows let out and, one close to my heart, if you commute to work without your laptop there’s nothing for it but to get back in the No. 38 bus and spend an hour going home to get it while trying to think of an excuse for your lateness that isn’t ‘I’m sorry, I’m just a moron’. Of course, we all have these moments. Twiggy went to Tesco’s last week and bought conditioner and ‘shampoo’, only to get home and find she had two conditioners, tramp back to Tesco’s to get actual shampoo — and arrive home again to discover she’d done it again and now had three giant bottles of conditioner. Monica tells the story of taking Chandler for swanky Asian-themed cocktails and, a moment after they arrived, opening the fortune cookie that garnished her drink, reading it and turning to her boyfriend to compare fortunes — only to find he’d already stuffed the whole cookie in his mouth.