A much belated part 2 of time spent in the West End and other fun places, I think I was meant to post this around December 20th, looks like that didn’t happen. I rounded off the last post with a trip to see Zorro.
Next stop Alan Ayckbourn’s trio of plays “Living Together”, “Table Manners” and “Round and Round the Garden” (seen in that order) as part of “The Norman Conquests” in the round at the Old Vic - a theatre transformed for a 360 degree viewing experience. Being under 25 offers us the nice little perk of much discounted tickets, £20 for each play instead of £40-60, or thereabouts, a bargain. The six strong cast consisted of Amelia Bullmore, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Ben Miles, Paul Ritter and Amanda Root.
Going into “Living Together”, Sam, Jo and I weren’t sure what to expect, our seats were at the rear of the auditorium, where the stage would normally sit, but instead a circular tier of seats stood, carved into the back. We were incredibly close to the circular stage with its ‘model village come wooden curtain’ and light furniture set. The three plays intermingle in time, each can standalone but together they form a bigger picture, portraying different nuances and natures of the characters whilst each incredibly reveals a significant plot point subtly but realistically referenced in the other two. (Reg wandering into the front room, “Ah there it is”, picks up the bin and walks out again).
The stories are deeply tragic; three siblings, two unhappily married and the other single yet equally unhappy. The other three cast members make up their spouses/possible future partners whilst a sick and elderly mother and her promiscuous past resides out of sight, upstairs and bedridden. Norman is all set to run away for a romantic weekend with his wife’s sister Annie, Annie’s potential love interest - Tom, the dim witted Vet, believes she is going on holiday alone and that this is partly his fault; Annie’s brother Reg and interfering wife Sarah arrive to look after mother for the weekend, in Annie’s absence. Norman’s wife Ruth remains unawares, but isn’t without suspicion. Cue the start of all three plays and without wishing to reveal too much; the home made parsnip wine, Reg’s cleverly devised board game he wants everyone to play, Norman’s desire to make everyone happy, Tom’s complete befuddlement, the rug, the silence at Breakfast, soup and salad, seating arrangements, Ruth’s misinterpreted advice in the garden, the cat stuck in the tree, the tomfoolery and East Grinsted - and as the family tears itself apart you’ll laugh with every turn, every revelation, every remark and your jaw will ache from the smile plastered across your face.
For Table Manners and Round and Round the Garden we were seated at the top in the middle, a little further from the action but still a great view. Originally we’d decided to only go to one of the three, but on the strength of Living Together - which we now believe was the best starting place - we booked the next two. If I had to put them in order of favourites I’d put the Garden episode first, closely followed by Living Together and then Table Manners.
Our taste for plays, comedies, Ayckbourn and the Old Vic have been stimulated and we’re ready for more.
Here’s the best shot I could get of the circular stage from where we were:
Before the shows we ate at the Bangalore Express (with its double decker seating arrangement) and Yo Sushi (where we used our buy 5 plates get 5 free vouchers), both of which are in walking distance from the Old Vic.
Following the Garden, which we saw on a Saturday afternoon in December, we grabbed the tube to Hyde Park to visit the Winter Wonderland with all of its Christmastime goodies and German-like markets. Warming up with a tasty steak burger we aimlessly perused the stalls, trying out the mulled wine, the candied nuts, mini dutch pancakes in chocolate, fun hats and German sausages. Without realising it had reached 9pm we meandered towards Covent Garden before resting at “Fire and Stone”, a fantastic stone-oven pizzeria where every pizza is based on a world city, I had the Marrakech, £8.95, “Cumin spiced ground lamb, mozzarella, mint yoghurt sauce, green olives, raisins & sliced red onion drizzled with chilli oil”. Worth every penny.
The next big venture into London for Sam and I was to the Coliseum to see the English National Ballet performing Sleeping Beauty; my first foray into the world of ballet and dance. Approaching the night sleepified and docile, I wasn’t looking forward to the three hour performance despite pepping up with a home-made burger from a nearby Moroccan place off Leicester Square.
However, when the curtain lifted, the surrealism of a 3 hour show without a single spoken word, not even for the interval, slowly dawned on me, and with it I became quietly engrossed in the beautiful dance and skill before me, the miming techniques used for the plot mostly going over my head but for a few obvious examples. My slumber had me all buttered up and I left amongst the extraordinarily posh and the disproportionate number of rich attractive girls into the cold winter air, with scarf and gloves, ready for Christmas.