Bet Your Bottom Dollar

Money’s tight right now and when school budgets get squeezed something has to give. And what gives tends to be non-core activities like music, dance and drama. It’s understandable but short-sighted. British performing arts are (still) world-class and contribute big bucks to our economy. Cutting off the supply at source is like serving up the golden goose for Christmas.

And so community-based youth theatre is as important as ever, providing the opportunity for kids to get stuck in – everyone welcome, no one excluded. It takes guts and bravado to step on a stage and strut your stuff in front of a bunch of strangers, especially for the first time. But the rewards – building confidence and learning new skills – can last a lifetime. And, once in a while, a star is born.

That’s why we love a bit of am dram and, if it involves people we know, we love it more. That’s as it was when we took our seats for Annie, performed by the Fisher Youth Theatre Group based at the rather cute Fisher Theatre in pretty little Bungay. Well done to fledgling starlets Eva and Jas; your elegant armography was good enough for Strictly Come Dancing. I was teary-eyed at the end.

Back to Oz

As dedicated friends of Dorothy, it’s been a long old slog along the yellow brick road back to Oz. Two years later than planned because of COVID, we finally arrived at the Emerald City (AKA Langley School) courtesy of the Funky Theatre Company. It was well worth the trip – a joyful gig packed to the rafters with energy and enthusiasm. Full marks to wardrobe for the incredible costumes. And to the set designers who gave us a stage full of richness. From the first scene to the last, the show was non-stop magic – from the young and not so young, the leads and the ensemble. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces treading the boards and giving us their all. Who knew there was so much talent in this little corner of Norfolk?

A special shout out must go to Karen Peck, who stepped in at the last minute to play the Wicked Witch of the West. Way to go, my pretty!

Eyes to the Right

Another year passes, another joint birthday to mark. These days we prefer doing rather than giving so this year we decided to do a bit more of London by taking in a big wheel, a few sharks and a West End show. First up was the London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel on London’s South Bank and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the land. I’ve ridden the Eye a couple of times before but, remarkably, this was Liam’s first ever flight. He loved it and I’d forgotten just how good it is. Our weather is predictably unpredictable and it was a bit overcast when we joined the international queue. But as our pod slowly glided above the city skyline, the clouds parted giving us an almost picture-perfect panorama. It’s not called the London Eye for nothing.

The Eye’s neighbour is old County Hall, formerly the seat of London’s government but now home to a couple of hotels and a mishmash of attractions, one of which is Sea Life at the London Aquarium. The exhibition occupies much of the basement. The shelves of dusty old archives have been replaced by bubbling tanks of sea creatures swimming about to amuse and amaze the thousands of curious gawpers who pass by each day. It was another first for Liam. And as for the platoons of over-excited school kids who overwhelmed us, I have no words.

Quite rightly, flash photography is forbidden so photo opportunities were limited but we did what we could. There really were sharks – honest.

Lastly, we took our seats for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’, a song and dance show for the digital age. We slipped in just before it reached the end of its West End run. With a theme of teenage angst and anger, it’s very of the moment. While the set and staging were slick and inventive, we thought the big songs were well beyond the cast, particularly ‘Evan’ himself, which was disappointing. Still, the largely youthful crowd lapped it up and gave an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, so what do we know? And anything that gets young bums on seats gets my vote. At least the bar was empty during the interval.

Waitress

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.

Sixty is the New Fifty

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.