Tag Archives: globe theatre

The Play That Goes Wrong Is So Right

London is a city of culture, both high and low, but the hub of that culture is, of course, in the West End, an area drowned in theatres showing some of the finest performances of anywhere in the world. I love the theatre and visit as often as I can, and last week my nan and I were fortunate enough to attend The Play That Goes Wrong, which, I’m grateful to say, turned out to be one of the funniest shows we’ve ever seen.

wrong play 2Amateur theatre can be a mixed bag, that’s certainly true. Some are as highly polished as anything on the West End, and some really have an emphasis on the “amateur” portion of the concept. The Play That Goes Wrong is a completely professional performance that gently mocks what happens when a small play by inexperienced actors starts going awry. It’s actually a play within a play, as we’re watching the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society put on their play The Murder at Haversham Manor, the aforementioned play that goes wrong.

Haversham Manor is your typical murder mystery a la Agatha Christie and the greats. A man is found dead in a large house, there are only a few other people present, and one of them is the murderer. It might even be quite a good play if it had been given to a competent set of actors. As it stands, in this play, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.

Before the show has even started, the backstage crew (actually just more actors) are sneaking across the stage, putting the final touches to the set, trying to locate the dog they need that’s gone missing, and generally preparing the actors for curtain up. It all goes downhill from there.

So begins two hours of missing props, fluffed lines, jammed doors, dodgy scenery, wrong cues, wardrobe malfunctions, overacting, injured actors and whiskey replaced with white spirit. The leading lady clearly thinks very highly of herself, the dead man is not terribly convincing, the lighting and sound guy is too busy wondering where his Duran Duran CD has gone, and the butler has had to write down difficult words on his hands, but is unable to pronounce them. The play is hysterically funny. The only other show I’ve seen that made me laugh this much was One Man, Two Guvnors.

wrong play 1Some of the things you completely expect to go wrong. After all, anything pinned to the wall is naturally going to fall off it, and the lift that gives access to the higher level of the stage is primed to fail, but among it there are a number of surprises, which I’ll try not to spoil now. Suffice to say, the whole thing is insane, becoming more and more deranged as the show goes on. Just when you think there’s nothing left that could possible befall the cast, something else does.

It even leaks off the stage, with an incident during the interval, and the director introducing both acts, starting the second with surprise that so many of the audience have stayed.

They always said with Les Dawson that he had to be a truly excellent pianist to be able to play so badly. Likewise Tommy Cooper was such a bad magician only because he was such a good magician. And the same is true here: these actors have to be phenomenally good to be this terrible. It’s a masterfully choreographed piece of work that requires expert timing and precision to pull off such hilarious actions.

I can do nothing but urge you to see this show. I get the feeling that, providing nothing goes wrong, it will retain its place in the West End for a very long time. Sharp, fast and wonderfully insane, it’s a brilliant concept pulled off with amazing aplomb.

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Seeing the Sights

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Karen asked if I could help her and her husband plot a route around London to see the sights. I went one better and provided a fully illustrated guide to every major site in London that was completely walk-able. With no idea how long it would take to walk, or even if it was all that feasible, they set off with it. Fortunately, it worked, and they were able to see everything they wanted.

As such, I provide the same route here for anyone who wants to see as much of London as possible in one day. I’ve posted a walk before, but this one has more of a goal. All you have to do is start at London Bridge station…

Head up above ground and under the Shard, and go down St Thomas Street or London Bridge Street. Go towards Borough Market, which looks like a strange sort of greenhouse. Pass through the market, heading towards the Thames. You will pass Southwark Cathedral and then arrive at the Golden Hinde. Go down Clink Street and you’ll emerge on the side of the Thames again, between a Nando’s and a pub called The Anchor.

Millennium Bridge

Walk under Southwark Bridge, and opposite Bankside Pier is Shakespeare’s Globe, the only thatched building that’s been allowed in London since the Great Fire in 1666. Next is the Millennium Bridge, famously destroyed by Death Eaters but now back in one piece. This is in front of the Tate Modern. On the other side of the bridge you will see St Paul’s Cathedral, but don’t go there yet, I’m factoring it in for later.

Go under Blackfriars Bridge and you’ll pass The Coat and Badge pub. Keep on walking past the National Theatre and then past the next two bridges (the Thames has over two hundred bridges, as well as twenty-seven tunnels, six ferries and a cable car) and you’ll come to the London Eye. The Jubilee Gardens are nice here. At Westminster Bridge, cross over the Thames at last! This should have taken about an hour so far, not counting time to stop for photos.

Here you will pass Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster where the government are busy messing up the country. Just past this, you’ll see Parliamentary Square which is full of statues of famous politicians. On your left is Westminster Abbey.

This next bit has been a bit trickier to try and fit in without going back on yourself, so I think this works as the most sensible method. Turn right before Parliamentary Square and you should be on Whitehall. Up here on the left is the entrance to Downing Street. There’s also usually some guardsmen up here too looking very severe. Walk the length of Whitehall and then you’ll reach Trafalgar Square at the end. Don’t cross over to it yet, you’ll be coming back.

The Mall, towards Buckingham Palace

Turn into the next street on the left, under Admiralty Arch, and go down The Mall – it’s the street painted red. Follow this right down and (you’ll have seen what’s at the end) you will be outside Buckingham Palace. Alternatively, you can walk through St James’s Park on your left to the same destination once through the arch.

With Buckingham Palace behind you, on the left is Green Park. Walk through here until you reach Piccadilly, and then turn right. You should pass Green Park Station. On this road you will pass The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason (grocers to the Royal family), my favourite bookshops; Hatchard’s and the flagship Waterstone’s store, and you will emerge into Piccadilly Circus. Keep going through Coventry Street and you’ll find yourself in Leicester Square, home to cinemas, restaurants and M&M’s World.

Carry on through Leicester Square and then turn right into Charing Cross Road. Keep on down this road and you will come out at Trafalgar Square. When you’re done here, your next stop is St Paul’s, but there are two options.

ONE: Go to Charing Cross tube station, get the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus and change to the Central line to St Paul’s. This will take about ten minutes.

TWO: Walk along Duncannon Street and then into the Strand, the curve of Aldwych, down Fleet Street, and Ludgate Hill. This will take about half an hour, but takes in the Royal Courts of Justice, as well as Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, one of London’s oldest pubs.

Either method you choose, you’ll arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral. Opposite this is the geometrically angular new shopping centre One New Change, which is fairly unremarkable but there are gorgeous views from the cocktail bar on the roof, which you can get into without having to buy anything.

I promise, you’re nearly done, just a few more things to show you.

The Monument

If now facing towards the river (you should be able to see Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern on the other side of the river), turn left into Cannon Street. At the end, turn riverwards down into King William Street then into Monument Street to see Monument, built to acknowledge the Great Fire of London. You can climb it, but it’s narrow and tough on the legs. Out of Monument Street, you’ll come to Lower Thames Street and keep going left. After another fifteen minutes or so, you reach the Tower of London.

Go down to the riverside, then cross Tower Bridge. Turn right off the end here and you’ll pass City Hall (Boris’s office) and now you’re on the home stretch back to London Bridge! Walk along this side of the river and you’ll pass HMS Belfast, and at the end of this run, you’re back at London Bridge station.

Ta-dah!

Once you’ve gone full circle, you should have seen every major tourist spot in central London. There’s still some debate about how long this takes – Karen veered off at one point, and I’ve not added up the different sections (writers, infamously, cannot do maths) – but my only advice would be to wear comfortable shoes. This is a long walk but hopefully it’s worth it.

If you feel inspired to try this walk for yourself, please let me know by commenting and tell me how it worked for you and what you particularly liked along the route. I hope this will provide a crash course in London for many of you.

The First Step

“London is a riddle.” – G. K. Chesterton

It all started when my train was cancelled. I found the one that was a dead cert for getting into London and hopped on it, arriving in the city four and a half hours before I was due to meet my friend. As the train got closer and closer to its destination, I found myself staring out of the window. I’d been reading the rest of the way but then there I was, my eyes flickering around the scene like it was the first time I’d seen it.

A plane banks and takes off into the horizon. People are hanging sheets out on their tiny balconies. Graffiti peppers the walls, and Tower Bridge peeks above blocks of flats. Then the Gherkin swims into view and the train stops at London Bridge. I get off and by the time I’m out of the station, stood beneath the Shard, I have decided on a plan of action – I am going to walk though London and fall in love with the city all over again.

Deciding to head west, I trip down steps and through Borough Market, where my nostrils are attacked immediately by traders setting up their stalls, some serving up cooked breakfasts and baps, others offering all manner of cheeses and spices. It is still early, the market not yet in full swing, so I slip on through and am suddenly face to face with the Golden Hinde, the galleon owned by Sir Francis Drake and an easy reminder of the city’s long history. Anywhere else it might look out of place, but in London, it looks right at home.

Shoplifters will be prosecuted.

Shoplifters will be prosecuted.

I slip down Clink Street, past the prison museum and notice, for the first time in my life, a skeleton hanging in a cage above the entrance. Was that always there? Is it real? I trot along Bankside; St Paul’s visible ahead, the Shard already seeming far behind. Cranes speckle the skyline, adding a never-ending string of finishing touches to the city. I’m suddenly outside the Globe Theatre, a replica built to honour William Shakespeare and his work. I admire the strangeness of Millennium Bridge, a bridge unlike any others that crosses the Thames as of yet, and avoid looking at the Tate Modern. I quite like it from the outside, but what happens inside is of no concern to me – I don’t understand it.

A lone human statue, spray-painted silver and hovering in a seated position comes into view and I march past, no longer as impressed as I once was when I first saw one of these. Under Blackfriars Bridge, and then past London Television Centre, where a soundstage of leather sofas is being set up on the side of the river for This Morning, a crowd of people gathered to see who’s going to be sat on them.

A man walks past me chatting into his phone speaking a language that sounds more like Simlish than anything else, a sudden reminder that London is a city made up of people from all over the world with every kind of background. To aid this point I note Cleopatra’s Needle on the other side of the Thames, another artefact brought here from a different time and place. London is a city where all of time and space is trying to happen at once, held together – just about – by copious amounts of duct tape and hope. No wonder the Doctor spends so much time here.

The bookshop under Waterloo Bridge is only just setting up – I’m too early – so I make do with a trip into Foyle’s instead. I buy a book, because I can’t not, and resume my walk. On the northern bank of the Thames is a building that looks like a Bavarian castle; a thought passes through my mind that I’ve no idea what it is. Back on the Southbank, I approach the London Eye, a singer belting out a rock song of his own devising on one side; a performer dressed as Charlie Chaplin taking photos with a tourist on the other. Tourists are suddenly now everywhere and I can no longer walk in a straight line – I dodge, duck and weave and emerge on Westminster Bridge.

A friend of mine has recently got a job in the Houses of Parliament, so I text and ask if he can escape to see me, but he’s in a meeting and there won’t be a reunion today. I cross the bridge anyway, MI6 in the distance, one of the most obvious secret buildings in the world. I loop around Parliament Square, observing the statues of Churchill, Lloyd George, Peel, Disraeli and others, discovering for the first time that Abraham Lincoln has a statue here too. Why? I sit for a little and then continue on, pounding the streets between the Supreme Court and Westminster Abbey, sure that I’ve never been up this road before.

The Duck Tour bus comes down the road, heading for the river. An Indian family get out of a car, having apparently found the last parking space in the city. Anyone who drives in London is far braver than me. I’m now at St James’s Park tube station, a station that I have no memory of, apparently one of the few in Zone One that I’ve never used. Not much further on is the ever-spinning sign of New Scotland Yard, a place I’ve never seen in person, only on television.

I pass into Pimlico now, through a street market selling cheap trainers and expensive sandwiches, and then past the offices of Channel 4, a massive number four outside, towering over taxis dropping people off. I keep walking, now not sure where I’m going at all, but pressing on regardless. I somehow loop and I’m heading back towards the river, but I don’t mind, I let my feet take me where they need to. Before I know it I’m back at the Thames, on the north bank this time, MI6 and St George’s Wharf now dominating the skyline.

I keep on west, the smell of salt water reminding me that we’re not actually that far from the sea, comparatively, and at this point the river is still tidal. I walk past some houses, right on the riverside, presumably worth millions. One has an unusual sundial on the wall, and a chess set with intricately carved figures set up in the window. I contemplate taking a picture, but the Private Property sign makes me think twice.

I move to a street further from the river and suddenly every road and building has the word Grosvenor in it – I’m into a seriously posh bit of London. I wonder now whether I most want to end up at Agatha Christie’s Chelsea home, or beneath the watchful gaze of the Natural History Museum’s diplodocus in Kensington. As I think, I spot a set of stands that should contain hire bikes, but there is only one left. On the road, a man opens a van and begins to unload the bikes, setting them up. It’s only then that I look up and see the towering face of Battersea Power Station on the other side of the river. It hits me now just how far I’ve walked and I look at my watch. I’ve been walking for nearly three hours. I’m meant to meet my friend shortly, and we’re meeting in Canary Wharf. I can’t walk back that far. I check a map and move to Victoria, the closest tube station.

My aching feet in blue suede shoes.

My aching feet in blue suede shoes.

I walk past houses I’ll never be able to afford, find a statue of Thomas Cubitt that seems to have been swallowed up by the city and most people probably have no clue is there, and wonder absently what’s going on behind the curtains. I cross Lupus Street, wondering if it was named for the disease and, if it was, why, and then am engulfed by the pervasive smell of a Subway, just before passing the Queen Mother Sports Centre, a name which conjures up a hilarious image of the dear old Queen Mum in all her finery on a treadmill.

At Victoria I grab a sandwich and mill among the people, then descend beneath the city to find a tube station. If it was hot above ground, it’s nothing compared to the fetid, stale air of the underground system today. As I reach the bottom of the escalator, there’s a crash and I look up to see a woman’s shopping trolley has upturned itself on the ascending escalator and is spilling shopping down the steps. Enough people run to assist her which means I don’t have to feel guilty about not helping. I think briefly of the stereotype that Londoners are unfriendly and ignorant. I don’t think it’s true, never really have.

The tube journey is uneventful otherwise. I change once at Green Park and power on to Canary Wharf, where I mooch around the shops in the underground mall for a little bit, joining the businessmen and women on their lunch breaks in what seems to be their own private part of the city. Eventually I find a seat in a bar with the wonderful name of Smollensky’s and await my friend’s arrival. My feet hurt, but I am happy.

My mission was to fall in love with the city again, and I absolutely did that. I saw things I’d never seen before, encountered old things for the thousandth time, and generally let my mind wander as far as my feet. So I’ve started this blog to talk about all things London, to explore its streets, buildings, history, people, culture, parks and everything else besides. It’s a city I think I know well, but here’s where I put that knowledge to the test.

Join me, won’t you?