Business of the day:
To the National Theatre for Follies.
We bought tickets at the announcement, just as the pre-production hype was building, mainly on the assumption that:
- when the National do a musical,
- when the cast is so stellar,
- when it’s Sondheim —
— this one is going off the scale. And, counting the star-ratings given by the critics, it’s doing just that.
So, it’s the w7 to Muswell Hill, and the 43 down (in theory) to London Bridge, with a gentle amble along Thames-side, a light lunch somewhere, and arrive at the Olivier in good time. The best laid schemes …
All was going well until we hit a major snarl-up at Bank. Like that opening voice-over in Casablanca, “the others wait… and wait… and wait… and wait”. It stayed that way until the bus-driver relented, and allowed semi-legal escape by creeping along the wrong side of the pedestrian barrier. We are only at the bottom end of Moorgate. There are several options to get to the South Bank site, but here’s an opportunity to do something I’ve probably done at most a couple of times in living in London for over forty years: take the City Drain. Come to think of it, I’d reckon the last trip must have been on the 1940 rolling stock.
The Drain is something of an anomaly. It exists simply to bring the commuters from south-west London, off the Waterloo trains, across the river to the City, a distance of less than 1½ miles —something like four minutes end-to-end on a shuttle service. No intermediate stops. No possible extensions north, south, east or west. It simply exists.
So that’s the way we went.
The South Bank is redolent with snackeries, but we ended up inside the National: lattes and sandwiches. Haute cuisine, this is not.
Then to the wonder of real live theatre. Over two hours of it: no interval. And Follies enthrals. The context is a final meeting, in 1971, of the individuals who had inhabited this theatre and Weismann’s Follies between the First and Second Wars, for the theatre is to be demolished. The plot (as far as there is one), in essence, is a four-hander: two mis-matched couples retracing their lives and loves over thirty years. Lots of angst. And, at the end, the resolution is the same as before: the two couples continue to their previous lives, presumably a bit more aware of who and what they are. The twist is that Sondheim has each of them followed by a shadow of who they had been in 1941 (this production adds a shadow to each one of the cast).
Indeed this leads us to the great conundrum of the National’s revival of Follies:
Tracie Bennett, Janie Dee and Imelda Staunton play the magnificent Follies in this dazzling new production. Featuring a cast of 37 and an orchestra of 21, it’s directed by Dominic Cooke …
Extravagant staging. Big budget stuff. Yet the show is scheduled for barely eight dozen performances in total. On the other hand, there will be one of those National Theatre Live broadcasts.
If getting to the National had been fraught, getting back to Norf Bleeding’ Lunnun was as difficult.
We grabbed the RV1 hydrogen bus from the National to Covent Garden. So far, so very good. Then came the worst idea going: switch to a 4 to Archway. This route has to be one of London’s more circuitous. Saturday afternoon and Arsenal Stadium make it very heavy going. The result was the better part of two hours gone from my life forever.
Having arrived at Highgate Hill, it might seem logical to take a 210 up to Highgate Village …
Carte du jour:
There are many nosheries in the Village. So we eliminated the pub steak-houses (two previous nights’ running was enough of that). The best pizza-and-pasta joint could provide for us, but only if we were in-and-out in the hour. So we ended up in the Café Rouge, which was amazingly empty. Presumably because all the other trough-eterias were heaving.
Beers of the day:
Café Rouge supplied an adequate Merlot, then back (down the Hill and the W5 back to the Maynard) for another taste of that ELB Jubilee. I must have been getting an addiction.
Quotes of the day:
The show-stopper of Follies:
Imelda Staunton (as Sally) winding herself up:
The sun comes up,
I think about you.
The coffee cup,
I think about you.
I want you so,
It’s like I’m losing my mind.
What amounts to the punch-line of Follies (and this seems an addition to the play-script):
Philip Quast (as Ben Stone): You’re really something else!
Janie Dee (as Phyllis Stone): Bet your ass!
Readings of the day:
Somehow, I never got into the fat Saturday papers.
My reading of the day was the programme for Follies. Yes, I bought the play-script, but have done little more than dip into it.
Ear-worm of the day:
Part paradox, part because these “behind-the-scenes” musicals have a degree of parallelism: