Take Steel Magnolias, add a dash of Thelma and Louise, a big dollop of Burl Ives in a white linen suit, sprinkle with slapstick, mix with some catchy toons, then serve. This is Waitress, an uplifting and witty musical that tells the story of Jenna, who waits tables, bakes pies and dreams of a getting out of small town USA and away from her good for nothing husband. If Jenna were from small town UK, she’d win The Great British Bake Off and get her own Saturday morning show on TV. Made from the finest ingredients, Waitress is simply delicious.
I reached the grand old age of sixty last year. This year was Liam’s turn and I’d planned a succession of treats – for me as well as for him – in old London Town. First up was a dinner date and gossipy catch up with an old pal in a fancy French restaurant in Chelsea, the trendy part of town where I gladly misspent much of my youth – ‘Days on the tills and nights on the tiles,’ I call it. The King’s Road is my memory lane and Liam joined me on my trip down it.
Next day I whisked Liam off to Covent Garden for a full English followed by a stroll. Once London’s main fruit and veg market with an opera house attached – think Audrey Hepburn as the cockney sparrow flower girl lip-syncing to ‘Wouldn’t it be Loverly?’ in My Fair Lady – Covent Garden has long since evolved into a major magnet for tourists. And there were tourists aplenty, finally returning from home and abroad after lockdown.
Here’s the queue for Burberry. All that fuss just for a posh handbag.
We decided to take in some street opera and pavement art instead.
Our Covent Garden jolly continued with a ride around the London Transport Museum. In many ways, the story of London Transport is the story of London itself. The city couldn’t have spread like it has without the constant innovation needed to enable Londoners to go about their business. If trains, tubes, trams and trolley buses are your thing, it’s an Aladdin’s cave. We loved it.
After a brief power nap back at the hotel, we jumped on the Tube for a real indulgence – a performance of Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre. The musical tells of the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the (to me) lesser known American ‘Founding Fathers’, delivered in song and rap. The deliberately delicious twist is that most of the cast – including Alexander himself – is black or mixed heritage. Adorned with every gong going, the show is slick, brilliantly staged and tuneful. The rap is used as dialogue and is lyrical and clever. It’s a masterpiece, a work of genius.
The evening concluded with more posh nosh and a final snifter in our favourite dive bar in busy, buzzy Soho. The long weekend was a whirlwind with the perfect ending. We finally got to meet Fred, our newest great-nephew.
No trip to old London Town is complete without taking in a show. At last the curtain has gone up all over the West End after a very tough time. Our musical treat was Come From Away at the aptly named Phoenix Theatre. The show tells the remarkable true story of what happened when, following 9/11, thirty-eight civilian planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small Newfoundland town of Gander. With North American airspace cleared, 7,000 ‘plane people’ were stranded for the duration. The residents of Gander and surrounding towns rose to the considerable challenge, freely providing board and lodgings and a warm welcome. Funny, inventive and moving, it’s a show for our times. Here’s a taste.
To be able to take our seats we had to show our NHS app and prove we were double jabbed. For the moment, so-called ‘COVID passports’ won’t be mandatory in England and I know some fools think they are an affront to their civil liberties. Tough. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. It’s called civilisation. Stopping at a red light, wearing a seat belt and smoking restrictions are there to protect us all, including the foolish.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s elegant capital, was on the agenda for my sixtieth birthday. Alas, with the latest lockdown it wasn’t to be. That particular jolly has been postponed until 2021 – a bit like life really. But Liam wasn’t going to let the most important celebration since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee pass without marking the occasion. Oh no. A veritable festival of delights came a-knocking.
A concert production of Hair, The Musical in a big tent in the grounds of the University of East Anglia featuring an ensemble of rising West End stars. Great show but no nudity. Just as well really. The COVID-secure tent was open to the elements so any dangly bits would have shrivelled up in the cold anyway. Not a good look.
Afternoon tea in the garden of Rosy Lee’s, Loddon’s famous bijou café. Or at least that was the plan. Mother Nature had other ideas so our hosts packed the goodies into takeaway boxes and we scoffed the lot at home instead.
A trip to the local leisure centre to sign me up for a fitness programme to work off Act One. There wasn’t a bar so I took a rain check on that one and headed into town where there was a bar.
The actual day was a deliciously indulgent whirlwind – so many messages, cards, calls, gifts and flowers from family and friends, including a portrait courtesy of our niece. I also received enough wine to sink the Queen Mary. The day continued with posh nosh in Norwich and a mini-tour of our favourite city watering holes. I laughed, I cried, I drank, I took calls. My head spun. I felt rather humbled, not something I experience every day.
Lunch at our local to receive the warmest of welcomes on a cold autumnal day. Hearty fare was topped off with cake, candles, a rousing rendition of that song and the scariest face mask ever. I even got a hanging basket of pansies. Now there’s a first.
I was exhausted with all the excitement but what a gig. Now I’ve come up for air, it’s a huge thank you to all those who made it so memorable. You know who you are. Extra special thanks have to go to Liam. Who knew he could be so devious?
Finally, I got to pick up my first free prescription, making my status as a senior citizen – and grumpy old fart – official.
Released in 2010, ‘Made in Dagenham’ is a gritty, evocative and warm-hearted film about the female workers at the Ford car plant in Dagenham, East London, who, in 1968, downed tools to demand equal pay for doing work of equal value. The machinists faced a barrage of patronising and often vicious opposition from every side – from the management at Ford UK, their paymasters across the pond and the Labour government of the day but also from their male co-workers and their union, run – you guessed it – by men. Evidently, solidarity only applied to the hairy-arsed blokes on the assembly line.
It was a time when a woman’s place was in the home and even those who had to work to put food on the table were routinely paid less than men because, well, they were just women, after all. Thankfully, times were a-changing. The strike was ultimately successful and led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act.
A musical adaptation followed in November 2014, opening at the Adelphi Theatre in London. It’s now doing the provincial rounds and we saw the production by the Norfolk and Norwich Operatic Society at Norwich’s handsome Theatre Royal. Am-dram it may have been but top not notch am-dram it was with sparkling vocal performances, light-footed routines and a real sixties vibe. We caught the matinee, joining the grey herd who laughed, gasped and clapped their way through a clever and often very naughty script, witty lyrics and jolly tunes. Mind you, the nice people from St John’s Ambulance were on standby with their defibrillators – just in case it all got too much.
Here’s how they did it in the West End…