London: The West End

When in London, the West End is such a draw whether you are seeing a show or just want to take in the atmosphere that surrounds the theatre district. I have been fortunate to see two three shows on the West End, Les Misérables, Gypsy and Showstopper! Les Mis, I got to see with theatre vouchers I had received as Christmas presents the previous year, cutting the cost to see the show at £10 (Stalls), whilst Gypsy I paid the full cost, seated in the stalls this time too. Showstopper! was a surprise, which is detailed towards the end of this post.

Now, unless you are a Londoner and a regular theatre goer the price of tickets even the cheapest available will be of no surprise to you, as they are pretty consistent across the board but to everyone else, they seem pricey. However, like any capital city in the world everything is more expensive than found in other parts in the country, including the cost of living. You just need to be aware of this when budgeting and planning your trip, just like any other trip elsewhere in the world. However, budget conscious that many of us are, always try to look out for offers 😀

Les Misérables @ Queen’s Theatre

Les Miserables tells an epic sweeping tale of one man’s struggle to break free from a past life and create a new life for himself and his surrogate daughter in post-Revolutionary France where discontent amongst the students boils over to create a powerful story of fraternity, equality and freedom.

Released on parole after years on the chain gang for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean has a religious awakening, leading to him turning his life around. After he shows kindness to Fantine, she leaves her child Cosette in his care as she dies and the two  build a new life together, leading to Valjean breaking his parole. Inspector Javert swears he’ll have vengeance and devotes his life to tracking him down.

As the student unrest stirs, a young revolutionary Marius falls in love with the now teenage Cosette, but Valjean plans to move away from Paris, until an explosive moment in history and the people of the city are brought together to fight for the right to be free.

Excerpt from ‘Theatre People.

My first West End show and everything was beyond my wildest expectations from the atmosphere of the West End entering the area directly from the tube station… Getting lost in the crowds, my anticipation growing as show time grew nearer, I was so excited that I was almost buzzing!

I had seen the 2012 film the year it had come out and the theatre production in 2014, blowing the film out of the water (I LOVE the film, still do) with strong, striking and passionate performances by all members of the cast. Crisp, clear voices filled the theatre reaching all members of the audience, emotionally packed hitting all the right notes in all the right places. I couldn’t ask for anything more, it already seemed I had received much more than the (original) ticket price.

How they did the blockade was amazing, building it right in front of you through song and I will admit, I did worry that if a piece was placed wrongfully something bad could go wrong, but I had to remember, that they have probably practised this key scene lots of times for these reasons alone. You’ll be glad to read that nothing happened 😀

Gypsy @ Savoy Theatre

In Seattle, stage mother Rose Hovick is determined that her daughter ‘Baby’ June will be a star on the vaudeville stage, and sets out to LA to get the act booked on the renowned Orpheum circuit. Neglecting her older daughter Louise, Rose pushes June’s same tired act at every opportunity, rejecting advice and criticism, knowing June to be a star in the making.

As she meets Herbie who signs on to become the act’s manager, she continues to change the act for the worse, pushing June to elope wit one of the boys from the act, Tulsa. Realising her dream has slipped away, Rose turns her attentions to Louise and decides it will be the older daughter who is the star.

As Vaudeville continues  to dry up around them, the act finds itself booked into a house of burlesque, and Rose is forced to consider how far she is willing to push Louise in order to make her a star. Her world begins to crumble around her, and we realise that her intentions haven’t been as selfless as they seemed.

Excerpt from ‘Theatre People.

On my latest visit to London, this was the show I had booked to see. The first contrast between Les Misérablres and Gypsy is that I was much more aware of the story and history of the former theatre production, therefore going in with more expectation and something to compare it to than Gypsy.

Many of you will know Imelda Staunton OBE from her roles in Vera Drake (2004), Dolores Jane Umbridge in two Harry Potter films (2007-10), as well as other theatre performances in Sweeney Todd, Guys & Dolls and many others. In Gypsy, she plays the central role of Rose Hovick, the showbusiness mother and features in nearly all scenes throughout the play. Peter Davison is best known for his TV roles in Doctor Who (the fifth doctor), At Home with the Braithwaites and All Creatures Great and Small. Here, he plays Herbie a talent agent and later Rose’s husband. Lara Pulver (Gypsy), is a name in TV, Film or Stage that I have not come across before, so this production was an introduction to this actress.

This familiarity presents expectation, different to that I experienced with Les Misérables in the sense that having seen Imelda’s and Peter’s previous works, I have an idea of their acting skills and ability therefore expecting the same, if not better.

The result? I LOVED IT! Not knowing a story doesn’t seem to matter, everything was perfect, the songs inspiring and upbeat, every member of the cast putting everything into their performances, evidencing their want to be there. The child cast were phenomenal, the transition seamless that you’re so surprised you missed it with the very clever lighting and routine.

Like many stories told in various forms, the first act always seems like a let-down as it builds characters and plot lines to the finale in act 2, but what a second act. The only song I had familiarity with was “Rose’s Turn,” a powerful song which was done justice by Imelda Staunton receiving a standing ovation as the final notes were belted out by this amazing actress. I loved how it ended, so simple but so poignant.

Showstopper! @ Apollo Theatre

A surprise additional visit to the West End courtesy of my Uncle whom managed to get three free tickets to see this show through his membership of ‘The Audience Club’ in London. Two West End shows in one weekend – Epic!

A brand new musical is created from scratch at every single performance of this multi award – winning show. Each night, audience suggestions are instantly transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing production with unpredictable and hilarious results! With seven years as an Edinburgh Fringe must – see phenomenon, four sell-out West End seasons and an acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series to their name, The Showstoppers have delighted audiences across the globe with their ingenious blend of comedy, musical theatre and spontaneity. Whether you fancy Sondheim on a ski lift, or Cole Porter in Poundland – you suggest it and The Showstoppers will sing it!

Excerpt from ‘Theatre People.

For free tickets our seats were great – Dress Circle, Centre, Row B (Row A is at the front). Now, as you have read above that this is an improvised musical with audience help, the stage chalkboard still has upon it the name and musical styles from the previous session so you need to pick different styles, settings etc from that. The narrator leads you through this process calling on people from the stalls and dress circle for this information using audience reactions to settle on the final setting, as well as going around asking people’s suggestions for musicals etc, before picking a title with more help from the audience. Ours?

Also the musical style of “We Will Rock Up” (Image displayed above).

ss03Comparing it to the previous session (left) about the England rugby team dressing room at Twickenham the previous night – The night England crashed out of the Rugby world cup after losing to Australia, following a previous defeat to Wales. I bet some feelins were shared here, because well… come on!

Moving on… you can see the contrast before you even see an actor upon the stage. The Narrator and band are on the sides of the stage, the narrator interrupting randomly during parts of the show to provide commentary, interact with the audience (potential new plot lines/directions!) and even to inform the cast that they will perform a song to the style of x in regards to what they were currently discussing. For example, a character was boasting that he could recite Pi to 5000 places, the narrator interrupts to say that this character will sing the numbers of this mind-blowing number to the style of x. Improv at its finest!

In summary, see a show – You will not regret it!! 😀

Live in the UK and what to see a West End show?

Many shows on the West End tour around the UK, some more than others and with changes to the cast. As they tour, main roles of the cast do change, so don’t always expect whom you see advertised but a show, is a show which are just as great upon whatever stage in any location!

I have been fortunate to see numerous West End shows whilst they have been on tour including ‘Phantom of the Opera’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Mouse Trap’, ‘Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat’ and ‘Wicked.’

Check-out theatres in your nearest cities as these shows often visit these places rather than smaller, local stages. They can book out fast, more so the matinees so maybe sign-up for the mailing lists to be sure you do not miss out. Prices are often cheaper than those advertised for the West End and make sure you check-out the theatres seating plan when you book 😀


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