Welcome to Pogue's Pages!

I'm POGUE...known by many as Chuck Pogue, a few as Charles Pogue, and billed professionally as Charles Edward Pogue...just because it really looks BIG splashed across a theatre programme or a movie screen. From that last remark and the profile on the left, you can see I'm a theatre man...And the term "theatre" encompasses stage, film, TV. I've been shooting my mouth off on other people's blogs and message boards for forever. So having finally gotten the hang of it, I've decided to build my own soapbox from which I can pontificate, blather, and muse...mostly on theatre, film, writing, music, books...but ultimately anything that interests me, irritates me, or just catches my fancy. I invite you to join me. I'll try to be faithful and update regularly, so that when you visit there will always be something fresh percolating and maybe even provocative that we can discuss, dissect, or debate.

Charles Edward Pogue

Wednesday, March 9, 2011



So far so good. We’ve yet to see any duds. More importantly, Julieanne and I are getting much needed rest. We’ve eagerly awaited this trip quite some time; since 2010, a year of disasters and distractions, prevented us from getting away. Last January started off with Julieanne all but totalling her Prius in the snow. My mother passed away in October, after a month or so of hospice care, which had me driving up to Northern Kentucky/Cincy at least once a week. My siblings and I still deal with estate matters and preparing the house for sale. Then Julieanne’s mom died at Thanksgiving; followed by her brother having heart bypass surgery the week after. All quite draining. London, so long delayed, is a welcomed luxury.

Today I chose to walk to The Royal Court to collect our tickets for THE HERETIC which we see next week. Naturally, it rained. But only a drizzle of minor nuisance. Not having done this perambulation in years, I foolishly embarked without a map or consulting one. Once past Buckingham Palace, I ducked into Victoria Station and referred to a tour book in a shop there. My sense of direction confirmed, I continued…slowed by my aching knees and calves. Was this just being out-of-shape or was I starting to get my mother’s arthritis?

As I neared Sloane Square, the peaceful poshness of the neighbourhood took my mind off my pains. One sees why the well-heeled dwell here -- quiet streets with lovely green squares and well-appointed homes – just the opposite of the West End’s surging pulse. Still having been ensconced in the heart of St. James and Westminster since my first visit, I’ve always preferred it. I love being able to walk out your door and have all you need no more than a 15-20 minute stroll away – shops, theatres, movies, green space, groceries, whatever.

It is somewhat ironic that The Royal Court, with its reputation for producing Angry-Young-Man/ Rebel/ Common-man theatre should be located in such a high-tone square with both Tiffany and Cartier among its exclusive shops.

I got our tickets and strolled back to Victoria Street in about 15 minutes. Uninterrupted this is probably a 45 minute walk from our flat, but it’ll be unlikely that we’ll attempt it.

I enjoyed Victoria Street, my old stomping grounds from my Sherlock Holmes days, after they moved me from The Dukes to a great high-rise flat on Buckingham Gate. From it, I could see St. James Park and watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. A favourite memory was listening to the hooves of the police horses clip-clopping along the cobblestones late at night. All my old touchstones were still there…The Army-Navy Department Store, the Sainsbury Grocery, and the Albert pub. My route led me out in the square by Westminster Abbey and Parliament, past the Churchill Statue, and up Whitehall and home.

Because of the weather…and my throbbing legs and feet…I stuck close to our flat until theatre time – GREENLAND and press night. The National was hopping with live music in the foyer, crowded bars, and, roped off in a secluded corner, someone’s first-night private party.

As Julieanne and I headed for a pre-show browse in the bookshop, she heard an abrupt, strangulated “ooo-eerrr-ahhh” behind her. It was me…drooling and grunting in inarticulate awe.

The reason: Sir Richard Eyre, once artistic director of the National, press through the crowd toward us. Movie stars rarely set me agog and gaping. But theatre greatness reduces me to a gushing, dribbling fan. As Sir Richard passed us, I desperately searched for something to say, but my brain became an abyss of blankness. Although I could tell he saw me and realized he had been recognized, the moment (probably much to his relief) was over before I could conjure anything half-intelligent that didn’t sound like a blithering ninny.

Richard Eyre

Of course, the instant he was gone, I realized what I should have said. “Why do we do it, Paul?”

This phrase was a mantra for me and my pal, Rick St. Peter, when he was Artistic Director for Actors Guild and we both struggled to get the theatre over the hump and make it an Equity status Small Professional Theatre (I won’t rant here about all the forces that undermined that noble but vain endeavour). In Eyre’s book of theatre diaries when head of the National, NATIONAL SERVICE, he relates a story Paul Scofield told him. Scofield was confronted by a man on a train. “You’re Paul Scofield, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Scofield warily confessed. Man: “I’m a bit of an actor myself. Scofield: “Oh…really?” Man: “Yes.” PAUSE. Man: “Why do we do it, Paul?”

I fell out of bed laughing the first time I read this. Whenever Rick and I slammed up against the amateur mindset or just the travails of theatre, one or the other or, both in unison, would sigh: “Why do we do it, Paul?”

While Julieanne meandered through the bookstore, I went back to search for Sir Richard to drop my bon mot on him to see if it would have the desired effect. Alas, he had disappeared into the ethers.

A few moments later, however, I encountered the Guardian critic, Michael Billington…at least this gent resembled Billington’s photo that always appears along side his reviews.

Before GREENLAND started, they had pre-show “talkeoke” in the foyer. This consisted of an irritating fellow on a blaring microphone, trying to stir up audience participation about climate change -- the topic of GREENLAND. I was inclined to mutter something about noise pollution. And was it a tad ironic that the audience, going into a play about climate change, clutched plastic water bottles and drink cups in their paws?

GREENLAND, like all National shows, is expertly mounted and produced. For what it was, it was entertaining without being too didactic or preachy, but I don’t know if this piece written by four playwrights ever coalesced into cohesive whole. It was done without an intermission and mercifully short, which helped. The animatronic polar bear was the highlight of the evening.

I was struck by the difference in audibility and pronunciation between the generations of actors. The older, more experienced actors I never had trouble hearing or understanding. Not so, the younger ones. Lack of projection and articulation I’ve come to expect in the training of young actors in the States; I’m surprised to encounter it here. I thought speaking the speech, “trippingly on the tongue” was still emphasized.

The show ended with a blizzard of paper falling from the stage grid and being blown into the audience by huge fans. Julieanne picked up some of the scraps…pages of old scripts. Rejected ones, I assume. I’d sure hate to be the cleaning crew who has tidy up the auditorium every day. They must recycle it every night….one certainly hope so.

So GREENLAND was enjoyable, but I doubt it will be storming into the West End. I’ll be curious to see the reviews. Back in the lobby, “talkeoke” was gearing up again. The poor interviewer seemed to be having a hard time flogging up any enthusiasm or potential participants from the emerging audience. We certainly weren’t going to play and took off for home.

That night I called St. Peter to regale him with my Richard Eyre close encounter. Rick, now getting his doctorate in theatre at Texas Tech, quizzed me on the Hall shows and relayed all the accolades he was getting for his direction of THE WEIR and, in general, from his professors and colleagues . Good. He deserves it. He was treated shabbily during his term with Actors Guild and, with him, probably left the last hope for professional adult theatre in Lexington in my lifetime (we have a very good professional children’s theatre).


Speaking of Eyre, today we went to a matinee of the FLEA IN HER EAR he directed for The Old Vic. We lazed about the house until time to amble over to the South Bank. Arriving early at the Old Vic, we walked the half-block down The Cut to the Young Vic on the chance there might available tickets for VERNON GOD LITTLE. Lo and behold, there were…they were separate seats…one a few rows in front of the other for tonight’s performance. We took ‘em. Again, since the show is in previews, the price was great.

We had our usual front row center Dress Circle seats for FLEA IN HER EAR. The translation was the John Mortimer version that had been used in the early days of the National and was the same one that Julieanne and I did a zillion years ago at the University of Kentucky when she played my wife Raymonde and I did the dual role of Chandebise/Poche. We thought we were pretty hot stuff at the time and memory has only magnified our magnificence.

Ah, the folly of youth…This production put us to shame. What an absolute delight! Tom Hollander headed an exquisite ensemble. Having done so much farce in dinner theatre, I’m an absolute sucker for it, admiring the great skill and timing it takes to make it flow and keep the laughs peppering along and building. The cast was just brilliant.

After the performance, we dashed over the Thames for a quick nap (we’re old…we need our naps) before venturing back to The Young Vic for VERNON GOD LITTLE. Our seats, though separate, were both excellent. I’ve been here twice before (Moliere’s MISANTHROPE with Ken Stott and TIS PITY’S SHE’S A WHORE with Jude Law and Eve Best.) Its stage configuration is delightful different every time I come.

The play, based on a novel, was bizarre and funny. Julieanne and I both were thinking, unbeknownst to each other, how the piece was right up the alley of our young friend, Eric Seale, the current Artistic Director of Actors Guild. He would love this play. I was privileged to see Eve Best make her impressive debut here, and tonight the young man playing Vernon, Joseph Drake, made an equally impressive professional debut.

We were very happy with our day’s double-header. This is shaping up to be a very good theatre trip. Not counting Sunday, the only day we don’t have anything booked is the upcoming Saturday.


I woke early, in the midst of the screwiest dream. I was performing LEAR, directed by Rick St. Peter, and with some stalwart actors I have met in my last few years since I returned to occasional acting…Adam Luckey, Jack Parrish (Jack and I played Polonius and Claudius respectively to Adam’s Hamlet in Rick’s production) and Scott Wichman (who played Tartuffe to my Orgon in my own adaptation/translation of TARTUFFE, which Rick also directed). Scotty was playing the Fool, Adam was Edmund, and Jack either Kent or Gloucester. All damned good casting…with the possible exception of me as Lear, a role in which I’ve never seen myself. It was one of those dreams where I did not know my lines but, unlike the anxiety that usually accompanies such a predicament, I seemed blithely unconcerned.

HAMLET with Adam Luckey and me, directed by Rick St. Peter.  This photo appeared in American Theatre.
All my dreams here have been oddly vivid and sleep, generally, has been more deep and restful. Maybe it’s no pets in bed. I’ve probably been sleep-deprived since 1976 when Hotspur, my first dog, crawled into my bed…but what are you going to do? You are the critters’ pack. I can’t deny them.

The day was clear until CLYBOURNE PARK tonight at Wyndhams, a ten minute walk from the flat. I went a-booking, back up to Skoob above Russell Square. I picked up IRONHAND, another John Arden, a translation of a Goethe play, GOTZ VON BERLICHINGEN, about a medieval robber-knight that appealed to my theatrical archeological taste for the obscure, forgotten, and rarely done. I also found a pristine first in dust jacket of MUST YOU GO?, Antonia Fraser’s memoir of her life with Harold Pinter. I had actually intended to buy this new for 20pds. Got it for half that.

From Skoob, I ventured over to Sam French on Fitzroy, found nothing. I also came up empty in Cecil Court, where I stopped by to see David Drummond, now open. As much as I love sleuthing the stacks of old bookstores, I’m realizing it’s much easier to just purchase this stuff on the internet and not worry about cramming heavy tomes into suitcases. Of course, the hunt always brings discoveries one would never be aware of, like the Arden stuff. But so much that I intend to buy, I could probably do online.

Stopping to get some grub, I tried to pay for it with a twenty pound note that had been taken out of circulation. It had been folded in my wallet since my ’09 trip. I was informed any bank would change it for me.

My legs, knees, and soles of my feet were feeling much, much better. Tingling with tightness, but no pain or aching anymore. So I guess it was just being out of shape and not arthritis or something more dire. I doubt I’ll be flopping over in some mews or pitching off the embankment into Thames from a heart-attack. There’s also been a positive change in my waistline. I’ve easily lost a pants size. I can slip the damn things off with out unbuttoning them.

CLYBOURNE PARK in the lovely Wyndhams Theatre was another winner! This Royal Court transfer by American playwright Bruce Norris won The Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play last year. Another brilliant ensemble with impeccable American accents and incredible timing had me weeping with laughter. Very funny and smart.


This morning I exchanged my bum 20pd note at a bank on the Strand. Then it was off to Regent Street and Hamley’s. Once the greatest toy store in the world, it’s now like any Toys Are Us at any mall and I found nothing to delight on any of its five floors. They used to have wonderful section of the metal, hand-painted soldiers…Romans right up to modern warfare. (a hobby that has oft tempted me). Now it’s all the same plastic crap and movie tie-ins you find anywhere.

From Hamley’s, I ducked down Carnaby Street and the narrow by-ways of Soho, stopping at the Vintage Magazine Shop, trying to find a back-issue of EMPIRE magazine which had interviewed me for an article on Conan and Robert E. Howard films. Though I’ve seen the interview (where I discussed the disaster that was KULL), I missed the magazine when it hit the newsstand last year. The shop didn’t have a copy of it.

That afternoon Julieanne and I went to a platform discussion with three of the actors in TWELFTH NIGHT -- Amanda Drew as Olivia, Simon Paisley Day as Malvolio, and David Ryall as Feste. This was fun and informative. When the floor was opened for questions, I asked, that given Peter Hall’s very distinctive ideas about the play expressed in the programme notes, whether he had imposed a concept on the cast or tried to steer them in a specific way. Apparently none of them had read the programme notes and said that the whole process had been very collaborative. Julieanne complimented Amanda Drew on her vocal qualities which greatly pleased her, as apparently some critic had carped about her voice.

After the platform, Drew and Julieanne did the show biz lovey embrace and animatedly talked for awhile. She kept asking Julieanne’s advice about what she could do with her wig, which she didn’t like…as if Julieanne’s opinion was going to sway the NT’s hair and wig department.

We returned to the flat for a brief respite before toddling back to the NT for Ayckbourn’s SEASON’S GREETINGS at the Lyttleton, starring Catherine Tate. The show is a tight ensemble piece, droll and expertly done. Ayckbourn, while hysterically funny, also has dark undercurrents running through his work. I recently read an assessment of Ayckbourn by Harold Pinter who apparently loved his work: “What a good-natured man! He loves his characters. No one is totally derided.” I agree with this. His meticulously-designed clockwork plotting and stage business, often working in simultaneous counterpoint is a marvel to watch. The puppet-show given by one of the characters is guffaw-inducing.

As usual, we swung through the NT bookshop on the way out. I bought a book on Michael Gambon…The Great Gambon, as Ralph Richardson dubbed him…a series of interviews with Mel Gussow over a period of years. I stayed up late devouring it.


We both slept late and didn’t rumble out of the flat, except for an around-the-corner foray for newspapers until afternoon. Our destination was down the South Bank toward The Globe Theatre. Though nothing was playing there, I like to pay homage and visit the gift shop. I picked up a small card and copies of a magazine entitled, AROUND THE GLOBE, published under the auspices of the theatre, dealing with it and matters Shakespearean. We also tried out the camera on the new phone, snapping shots all along the way. Coming back via the Wobbly Bridge (which doesn’t wobble since it’s been retrofitted), we returned along the north side of the embankment. We debated going up to the Barbican and getting tix for the Guildhall production of DEAR BRUTUS, but figured that the trek there, going home, and then returning that night was simply too much of a project. So the evening would be sans theatre tonight.

Pogue at the Globe
We both posed for photos at Cleopatra’s Needle and then rambled through Victoria Embankment Gardens behind Villiers, reading its interesting history as a main pier where one caught the water taxi to cross the Thames in olden times.

The queen of my heart posing with the Queen of the Nile.
We made another excursion that night into St. James Square and environs, ending up at the back-door of the Picadilly Waterstones. Books were bought. Never having found a shop with a signed Pratchett of I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT, I bought it here. In my ’09 London Theatre Diary, I had suggested that someone should put out a guide book about all the blue historical plaques decorating various buildings all over the city. Well, someone had -- at a price of forty pds and weighing about the same. I figured this hefty tome was not one I could tote home. It looks like an internet buy.

Seven o’clock found us passing the Jermyn Street Theatre where the Rattigan rarity, LESS THAN KIND was playing. At Julieanne’s insistence, we went in on the unlikely chance that there had been some returns. And there were…two separates again. One seat supposedly had a restricted view…not really the case, a slight lean forward made visible the otherwise obscured stage corner. The other return was in the front row. Julieanne insisted I take this seat, as the one who was particularly intrigued by this play (my theatrical archeology again). The restricted view was a ten pd ticket; the other 18pd, which would go into the pocket of the man who had initially bought it.

The theatre is the size of an Equity-waiver theatre…I counted 75 seats. My feet were all but in the living room set. The man whose extra ticket I bought arrived with his party and cheerily said, “Thanks for the money.” “Thanks for the seat.” I replied.

Both play and actors were a delight. Michael Simkins I had seen in DONKEY’S YEARS a couple trips back and in the terrific Simon Gray play, THE OLD MASTERS. Sara Crowe had been very funny in British TV comedy, HAGGARD, that I had on DVD.

The play’s history was interesting. Initially submitted to the Lunts, Alfred kept making “adjustments” and requesting rewrites, so that by the end of the rehearsal period, the play had been completely re-written and entitled LOVE IN IDLENESS. Critically deemed poor stuff, the Lunts’ presence made it a hit on both sides of the Atlantic nonetheless. This was the first production of the original, free of the Lunt “improvements”.

We both enjoyed it. Our luck has certainly held. We’ve now gotten all my first choices. Three more to go and we will have seen thirteen plays in all. That may be a record for us.

At home, we popped the bubbly our flight attendant had bestowed upon us on the trip over and I once again stayed up to the wee hours, reveling in the Gambon book. They spoke of a moment I remembered vividly in the play CRESSIDA. In it, Gambon is a Jacobean actor, training boy actors. At one point, a gauche young actor declaims a speech with all the expected stock gestures to terrible effect. Gambon then does the same speech with the same gestures (but much more fluidly in speech and gesture) and it is magic. It was one of the most brilliant acting lessons I ever saw, not only in the context of the play, but also outside it. I’m glad to hear others speak of this to know it is not just some exaggeratedly coloured memory of my own. I really did see what I saw.


Another late-stirring morning with the Sunday papers and their supplements. I read a front-page article in the Daily Mail ranting about some highly-paid BBC nabob in charge of an office/staff relocation to Manchester who, though British, actually lives in Midway, Kentucky, with pictures of the house. The Mail was fuming over the money the BBC was supposedly wasting. I just wondered why anyone would prefer Midway, a one-street town divided by railroad tracks (it’s one town over from Georgetown where we live), to London. Horses, apparently.

We rolled out at two and found Trafalgar overflowing with Chinese New Year celebrants, watching native dances and music performed on a temporary stage at the base of Nelson’s column. We edged around the periphery, but could only see what was happening on one of the giant TV screens erected in select areas.

We pushed through to The Mall, headed to The Dukes for our traditional “last Sunday drink”. The bar didn’t open till four, so we trooped down to St. James’ Park. We dallied along the lake, feeding Julieanne’s stash of hazelnuts to the squirrels that scurry up bold as brass and snatch them from your fingers. We also doled out nuts to little kids who realized nuts were a far better temptation than the bread with which they fed the ducks.

Julieanne had learned her squirrel-feeding techniques from a master -- an old gent she met every year in the park and who called all the squirrels “Suesies”. Julieanne had assumed the mantle now and she must star in the vacation snaps of many foreign tourists who click away with their cameras while she and her squirrel pals do their dog and pony.

Julieanne learning squirrel-feeding frm the master on an earlier trip.
Moseying into St. James, we browsed the posh men’s shops, many that deal solely in expensive toiletries and grooming kits. How much will one pay for a shaving mug and brush? Who even still uses them? Gazing in some windows is like staring into the 19th Century. Yet most of the shops have been here for decades (if not longer) and seem to thrive in this very exclusive patch of real estate.

The Dukes bar was vacant when we arrived, quite to our liking. We sat at our favourite table that looks out on the secluded courtyard entrance and chatted with our genial Italian bartender (all the bartenders we’ve ever had here are Italian…and genial). Since The Dukes is known for its martinis, I decided to have my first one ever. This is probably odd, given that the martini was my father’s preferred nightly cocktail. But I’ve never been much of a spirits drinker (usually some vodka concoction). In fact, I’m not much of a drinker at all and when I do indulge, it is usually wine. I can’t say I found the taste thrilling, but the kick was potent. Julieanne stuck to her Glenlivet and after two drinks apiece (61pds), we both weaved out a bit wozzled. I’ve not been that light-headed in sometime. These days, booze mostly makes me sleepy.

Martini-virgin loses his cherry...or would that be an olive?
In this slightly inebriated state, we navigated our way home with a stop at a Tesco Metro on Jermyn Street for supplies. Once ensconced in the flat, Julieanne drifted to sleep after dinner, despite it being only 8:00. I read newspapers, watched a WALLENDAR episode on telly, then immersed myself once more in the Gambon book. He’s very much my kind of actor…mostly self-taught through instinct and common sense; learning by example and watching others. Though I had my theory and whatnot in college, my real training ground was old black and white movies, studying the British greats, watching theatre, and just working onstage with people better and more experienced. Oh, what can be learned from the wings! Gambon is also witty and humble. I feel lucky to have seen him live onstage three times: SKYLIGHT, THE CARETAKER, and CRESSIDA.


On our way to the Covent Garden antique market this morning, Julieanne told me she didn’t want to go home, that I could just leave her behind. I told her fine, but she’d have to fend for herself, I couldn’t support the lifestyle. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just sell the Big Issue.” This cracked me up. The Big Issue is a magazine, written by professional journalists, but sold by homeless people as way to earn income and help reintegrate them into society. A nobly laudable endeavour, but still amusing when it conjures up an image of my wife in a silly-looking wooly cap, bundled in blankets at the end of some bridge (probably with a scruffy-looking dog by her side), hawking in cockney, "Big Issue, Gov, 'Elp the 'omeless!"
The Market was a bore. We split up and I returned home, stopping again at a place on Villiers that I discovered last week, Herman Ze German, which sells authentic and delicious German sausages. This time I got their fat-free fries as well. Good stuff.

Herman Ze German Sausages
When the missus returned, we struck out for the National and another platform discussion on Twelfth Night…this time with Simon Callow, Flinty Williams, and Charles Edwards. All three were very witty. I asked Edwards about a moment in the play where, as Aguecheek, he leaned against an out-of-perspective piece of scenery meant to represent a cluster of buildings in the background. It had made me laugh, but I had wondered if it had been directed. I gathered not, given his vague, cryptic response: “I don’t do that anymore.” This was Flinty Williams' first Shakespeare; surprising, given the amount of Bard both her father, Michael Williams, and her mother, Judi Dench, have performed.

It was also interesting to learn that director Peter Hall demands that everyone know their lines from first rehearsal. Simon Callow mentioned that he had actually caught Hall, the Shakespeare expert, get a line wrong…and then Hall changed it because he preferred his version.

After the platform, as Callow signed his memoir for me (I had bought a signed one, but I wanted it personally inscribed), we asked what line had Hall got wrong. In rehearsal, Callow said, “Approach, Sir Andrew.” Hall corrected him: “ ‘Approach, Sir Andrew, approach.’ There’s another approach.” It turns out there wasn’t and Callow had spoken the line correctly. But Sir Peter liked it his way better and changed Shakespeare. The line now had two “approaches”.

That night it was back to the NT to see FRANKENSTEIN. Julieanne stopped by the artists entrance to leave a note for Amanda Drew, then it was up to the Olivier lobby.

This being only the second preview of the show, we had no clue which actor would be playing what role tonight. Benedict Cumberbatch or Johnny Lee Miller alternate the roles of Frankenstein and the Creature. While we waited for the house to open, Danny Boyle…the director…popped in and out of the lobby several times.
Entering the theatre, we were met with a strange, upright cloth disc on stage. This womb-like thing soon began to pulsate with life. As the play began, it pulsated even more until from its folds emerged…The Creature, stark naked, flopping and jerking around as it came to life and slowly, awkwardly mastered its body and limbs. This probably took fifteen minutes before the Creature unsteadily scrabbled to his feet. Benedict Cumberbatch, almost unrecognizable in his make-up, was playing the creature tonight and this opening moment was mesmerizingly brilliant.

It remained the most arresting moment of the play. Though the audience seemed to love the play, it was still rough. Hopefully, it will jell during previews. Its strengths were its two leads, particularly Cumberbatch. I think Frankenstein’s role is somewhat diminished, in that we stay with the Creature through almost the first half of the play before Victor Frankenstein and his story pick up.

As usual, production values and stage effects were impressive, but scene changes were still rocky and jarring and took you out of the piece. At one moment, revolve trouble stopped the show cold (but one expects this at a preview). More problematic was that, once past the two leads, most of the supporting cast was one of the weakest I’ve seen on the Olivier stage. Nor am I sure it’s Nick Dear’s strongest script. But it was still an impressive show and, as things tighten, I hope it will get stronger and my quibbles disappear. NT LIVE will be broadcasting it, so I’ll have a chance to see how it’s evolved and maybe get to see the role reversal as well.

The show ran with no intermission. So getting out early, we went down to The Young Vic and bought the script of VERNON GOD LITTLE for Eric Seale. As a script in a book shop, it’s 9pds; as a programme/script at the Young Vic, it’s 3pds. Go figure.


This morning I walked to the Embankment Tube Station at the end of the block to check the tube to Sloane Square for the Royal Court tonight. It turns out to be an 8-10 minute ride. Once Julieanne was stirring, we bustled over to the NT to make our final book purchases. I bought plays: After The Dance by Rattigan; Habit of Art by Bennett, the Frankenstein script; Clybourne Park, The Knowledge (getting good reviews at the Bush); and The Painter which just opened with Toby Jones playing Turner. We also picked up some DVDs, since we have a small screen all-region DVD player (often the small cheap ones cut corners by not installing the regional technology…It seems to me everyone would sell lots more DVDs if all DVD players did this). The DVDS were an RSC Miss Julie with a young Helen Mirren; The Making of the War Horse; and a psychoanalytic study of Iago from a series called Shakespeare’s Characters on the Couch (this one Julieanne wanted) featuring the great Simon Russell Beale

It was a beautiful, brilliant sunny day. After lunching together at Herman Ze German, we parted company. Julieanne off to St. James for a rendezvous with her squirrels and I up Charing Cross Road to pick up any tome I might have missed. Other than another play, Bedlam, which had played at the Globe last summer, I returned empty-handed.

It was a quick and easy tube ride to Sloane Square that night and the station is right next door to the Royal Court (In fact, you could occasionally hear the trains rattling underground during the performance) . Some day, I must exploit the tube more than I do, but I’m usually located within walking distance of my haunts. And I enjoy walking in the city. Arriving early, we window-shopped in the posh shops.

The Royal Court shares the same young vibe that the Almeida and the Young Vic have…different kind of energy. Rick St. Peter recommended the book shop, but I found it small and so crowded I really couldn’t browse it. The theatre itself is stunning. Leather seats!

THE HERETIC was also stunning. Again, a fine ensemble cast headed by Juliet Stephenson and spectacular performance by a young actor, Johnny Flynn. The only thing that marred it was a group of American students in front of us. At one point, one girl’s phone vibrator went off and she pulled the bloody thing out to scan a text message. All their phones came out at the interval. All this obsessing over being connected and not connecting at all to the moment. Apres moi, le deluge.

But maybe “le deluge” is already here. In one of the most legendary theatres in the world, these young Philistines would rather be squinting at a two-inch square of light. I blame their teacher/chaperones who were present and apparently incapable of imparting any sense of etiquette, good manners, or sense of wonder to them about how privileged and lucky they were to be seeing theatre in London. Of course, one chaperone, in his twenties, seemed more interested in trying to be a part of “the gang” and not being an example to his charges.

Nonetheless, it was still a great experience. This was my first time in the Royal Court and I don’t know why it took so long. Once home, we began to do a little preliminary packing.


It’s our last full day here. Julieanne spent the morning at Westminster, lighting some candles for some friends who have had recent bouts with cancer. I got cash needed for the cab to the airport and incidentals, and did more packing.

Julieanne and I had one last lunch at Herman Ze German, because I had filled up my stamp card and we were entitled to a free Bratwurst. Man, they were good.

Our last show was a matinee up off Leicester Square at the Garrick Theatre. It was a revival of a J.B. Priestly comedy, WHEN ARE MARRIED. It starred a host of apparently venerable and beloved actors, but the only one I knew was Maureen Lipman. But they were all skilled troupers and everyone got their moment to shine. The Garrick is another theatre that I have never been in. Like at the Royal Court, one could hear the trains running under the theatre (in and out of the Leicester Square Station).

After the matinee, we almost finished packing before going down to the lobby to have coffee with the family of a young hearing-impaired girl Julieanne had befriended at the hotel computer. Very nice people…Australian…world travelers.

Then it was back to the room for the final packing. I am known as Master Packer in our house and my mosaic designs of book placement in our luggage for best protection and weight distribution were things of beauty.

At about eight, we did our ritual last night walkabout. Over the Jubilee Bridge and down the South Bank, up past the London Eye (still haven’t gone up in it.), over Westminster Bridge, past Boadicea’s Statue on the right, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben on the left, then a leisurely amble along Whitehall. Halfway up Whitehall, Big Ben bonged nine.

Reaching Trafalgar, we zipped through the Tesco Express for a last supper. After dinner, we totted up our expenses for customs declaration. As usual, we’d have nothing to declare and would be way under the dollar limit of goods allowed. Each person is allowed $800 bucks. Together we barely had half that and books don’t count in that financial commutation. Since books are always our biggest expense (my only one), we had next to nothing. The single most expensive item was a bottle of perfume that Julieanne can’t get in the states anymore.
We went to bed early…


…and I slept badly, as I always do the day before leaving-taking. I was up at six and quickly showered and dressed. As we packed our last items, things started to go awry. Julieanne, cramming toiletries and cosmetics into an already overstuffed piece of luggage, busted the zipper on one of our bags. Though we couldn’t fix it so it would lock and be secure, we got it zipped after a fashion so that it was closed and then we put a locking luggage strap around it. A determined thief could still get in it.

The hotel had arranged for a cab to pick us up. I usually just go out on the street and hail one. The problem with arranged cabs is you begin to fret if they’re late…and I’ve never had a problem hailing one in the morning.
The cabbie arrived on time, but it turned out to be a mini-cab, not a black cab. I have always heard such horror stories about mini-cabs that I utterly distrust them. So I dismissed this guy and hailed a black cab. Just as well I did. Traffic was the worst it’s ever been due to roadwork (the impending Olympics would be my guess). Fortunately, my black cab driver, armed with “the knowledge”, skillfully evaded the delays with a detour through a part of Kensington that I had never been through. He also got us there at 9 for an 11:40 flight.

Once arrived, everything was hunky-dory. We found a place in the terminal that wraps damaged luggage in plastic for seven pds. This plastic shroud secured our unlocked bag. Soon luggage was checked; bodies through detectors; belts, boots, and belongings were back where they belonged; and we were in the BA lounge, enjoying an array of beverages, breakfast goodies, and British papers.

BA’s business class is even more luxurious than American’s. Seats were like little secluded pods of privacy. The attentive crew quickly plied us with 3-4 glasses of champagne, nuts, newspapers, and moist cloth towels in rapid succession. They kept topping off the bubbly. My God, what goes on in first class—orgies?

This was all fabulous until the food arrived -- the stereotype of what you always hear about British cooking (but isn’t really true). My steak was tough and overdone. I cut myself off the champagne, as I was already developing a conk, and stuck with water the rest of the trip. I transformed my seat and ottoman (you heard that right – ottoman) into a full length bed and went to sleep. I didn’t even open up my Bose headphones and only looked at the TV screen to check the flight progress after I woke up. As we were somewhere over Canada, I must have slept five or six hours. I was out until about tea-time.
“Tea” was an offering of bizarre British sandwiches…one ham and piccalilli I believe it was called; the other some inedible cheese that tasted like paste with cucumber slices in it (never been a fan of cucs). All up and down Villiers Street, I can find an array of delicious British sandwiches, but not in luxury class on an airplane. Despite the food, I found the flight grand. Julieanne was suffering from a headache (probably too much champagne).

Landing in Chicago, we reclaimed our luggage, got through customs, and then to the AA Baggage re-route without a hitch. It was just as easy catching the tram to the next terminal, going through the detectors again, and finding our boarding gate for our flight to Cincy. Julieanne got a cola for a caffeine jolt to ease her headache.
The flight home on the American Eagle puddle-hopper was fun, because the plane never got so high, you couldn’t see the landscape. Lots of snow stretching out to the horizon, glistening in the sunset.

We arrived in Cincy at dusk. By the time we gathered our luggage and helped a rather confused Frenchwoman find her meeting party, it was dark. Though cold, there was little snow here and, unlike last time, we didn’t have to dig our car out from under a mountain of ice in the long term parking lot. We were home in an hour, dragged the suitcases inside, opened only a couple to gets some books, checked our emails, and then to sleep in our own bed.

One hates leaving, but once you’ve left, you’re just anxious to get home.


We were up early, ate an obscenely huge breakfast at the local Crackerbarrel, then into Lexington to Pets Suites to pick up the critters. As usual, Nigel was overwhelmed to see us, Mosby was initially sulky and punishing, but subdued, and the first in the door when we got home.

I think it may have been one of our best trips. 13 plays in 15 days plus the two platforms. I saw everything on my top priority list -- a terrific mix of new, old, and classic. And London is still simply the greatest city in the world. I’m glad to be home, but give me a week or two and I’ll be longing to go back.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


TUESDAY-WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25th-26th ,2011 -The Looong First Day

Our flight, not scheduled to leave Cincinnati until 8pm, allowed an unhurried morning. My fretting about weather seemed groundless, though a possibly of rain threatened. We got Nigel, the silly bugger, and Mosby, the Grey Ghost, safely ensconced in Pet Suites (for the uninformed: Nigel is a Yorkie, Mosby a cat, Pet Suites a kennel) with little fuss, though both suspected with that unerring sixth sense that something was up. But Nigel is always up for a ride and Mosby has learned that resistance is futile and merely sulks with deep guttural growls. Once they were tucked away, we returned home to leisurely finish packing and bathing for the journey.

Mosby the Grey Ghost

Nigel the Silly Bugger

We drove to Cincy about four-thirty, got there in an hour, left the car in long-term parking, and hopped the tram to the terminal. A red cap whizzed our four bags up to check-in, Julieanne toting her own carry-on and me, lugging my briefcase. I joshed with the desk attendant about being plenty early for my flight. She said, better to be early and comfortable (always my philosophy). I replied I wouldn’t be truly comfortable until I was sipping champagne in American’s Admiral Club in Chicago. And even then I wouldn’t be truly, truly comfortable until I was sipping champagne in business class on the way to London. Connecting flights always make me nervous and I always leave plenty of time for delays. Julieanne has valiantly learned to tolerate my edginess until we are actually up in the plane London-bound at which point I relax, knowing the only thing that can stop us at that point is entirely beyond my ability to control or prepare for.

I was momentarily shocked when I saw the additional fees for each piece of checked luggage. But then I realized one of the perks of an expensive business class ticket was not paying this ridiculous baggage fee. Though truth told, the tickets weren’t expensive. The credit card that logs miles on American had racked up enough to get two round-trip business tickets for two coach fares. We’d be flying American out and returning, their sister airline, British Air. It’s odd to be paying less for business class than when traveling premium economy (I refuse to fly coach overseas), but that is the nature of upgrades.

Unfortunately, our connecting flight from Cincy to Chicago was not business class, but one of those cramped American Eagle puddle-hoppers. No champagne here, but mercifully short…less than an hour. I cannot conceive of how obese America manages to squeeze into the narrow seats of this air craft, let alone buckle the seat belt.

Though I’ve never seen anything of Chicago except its airport, I find it has a very cosmopolitan vibe with which I jibe. Naturally, it probably seemed more cosmopolitan because I was sitting in the Business/First Class lounge and not in the main terminal mingling with the hoi-polloi traveling steerage. But even in the lap of indulgence, one could not totally forget one was part of the shrinking middle class because Julieanne and I imbibed our complimentary glass of champagne while watching Obama’s State of the Union speech on the TV. Fortunately, we left the dreary state of American politics and its economy behind us for the next two weeks as the 10:30 departure time arrived and we walked to our gate, and entered into…

…Luxuryland! American’s revamped Business Class wasn’t a total shock, as I had scoped out all the improvements on the net. I was particularly pleased with a seat that fully reclined…on a slight incline no less, perfect for my acid reflux, which would no doubt be agitated as I fully intended to swill more champagne. Our gracious flight crew, being of a similar mind, had the bubbly flowing with flooding generosity before take-off.  The perfect way to start a trip Julieanne and I both badly needed after a crummy 2010.

As seasoned travelers, Julieanne and I know full well the effects of drinking and dehydration (which drinking will facilitate) when flying and we’re pretty good about it these days unlike when we first started out and downed any free alcohol proffered and gobbled any food plopped in front of us, as well as blearily but compulsively watching the panoply of movies and entertainment. Our goal these days is to try and sleep as much as possible and get in rhythm with the destination time zone as soon as possible.

But still…It’s business class! You have to indulge in a few perks. My strategy is always to drink early and switch to water around meal time. This is precisely what I did; had several glasses of pre-dinner champers and munched my cup of warm nuts, switched to water with dinner (a steak of some sort, as I recall), watched RED (some Bruce Willis-Morgan Freeman-John Malkovich-Helen Mirren action silliness which is just right for in-flight viewing – lots of mayhem and macho strutting, no real demands on one’s concentration, and impossible to lose the simple strands of the plot), went to the loo (another business class perk – no sharing the john with the masses), then reclined my seat into a bed and conked out for the count. I didn’t even read either of the books I brought -- Dashiell Hammett’s NIGHTMARE TOWN and a Thomas Burnett Swann fantasy. I think I’ve brought these books on this jaunt before, primarily because they are slender paperbacks and barely take any room in my briefcase, which I keep as empty as possible in order to cram it as full as possible with books I’ll buy….which are my only indulgence besides theatre tickets.

I slept better than I ever slept on a flight, rising right before breakfast. I commented to our amiable flight attendant that this was the most luxurious flight I think I’d ever taken. Somehow I could tell by Julieanne’s smirk as she almost spewed her orange juice in suppressed laughter that this had not come out as intended. She later confirmed that she thought I came off as a “gosh-golly” rube on his first big flight rather someone who was comparing this experience with all the myriad other business/ first-class flights he’d taken. Whatever. The attendant apparently appreciated the compliment and, marking us as the champagne guzzlers, asked us if we’d like to take a bottle of bubbly with us as memento. Twist our arms. She duly brought us a lovely wrapped bottle.

Heathrow was drizzly when we landed at around noon of the 26th, Collecting our crap and shooting through customs, I got cab-and-cash-for-the-week money from the hole-in-the-wall (automatic teller) and picked up my indispensable TIME OUT, while Julieanne availed herself of a business/first-class reception room. I followed her up and, after dousing my face with water, had a glass of tomato juice and a croissant.

The cab ride in, the only feasible way for us to travel with four bags and two carry-ons, was pleasant as always, but the price, once about thirty pds and tip (10% is the going rate…though I’m usually a bit more generous), is now about sixty pds and tip. But I mustn’t be the old fogey grumbling about the past. Given that we’ve been doing this since ’94, escalation is natural. Still one of these days, we must get our baggage down to a manageable level and take the Heathrow Express into Picadilly. But even then, the idea of toting baggage through the crowded streets of London doesn’t appeal. Part of the reason they’re so crowded is people totting baggage…little wheelie carts or backpacks.

Despite my tightwad sticker shock at the price of our flat at the Citadines because I keep forgetting about the VAT (value added tax), I was happy to find it ready and waiting. Its layout was slightly different than before, but we quickly unpacked and, as Julieanne was getting crabby, it was obviously time for her post-flight nap. That is the ritual, she sleeps; I go out and try to stay bright-eyed and bushy-tailed until London bedtime. I asked if I scored tickets for Sir Peter Hall’s TWELFTH NIGHT, might she be up for a show later. The quasi-surly/sleepy answer was noncommittal. No show tonight.

The reason I asked was because I haven’t come to London this under-booked in a long time. Before Shaftesbury Avenue became like Broadway, filled with clapped-out, tourist-trap, juke-box, been-playing-too-long musicals…which hog the theatres for long runs and make them unavailable for more legitimate fair (I come to London…for English theatre, not shit I don’t want to see even in America…Michael Jackson’s THRILLER or STOMP I don’t consider theatre), I used to book almost any show on the day of. No longer. For several years, I’ve had our theatre agenda plotted out, tix bought and paid-for. Unfortunately, the entire trip was planned around three shows -- Derek Jacobi’s LEAR, Sir Peter Hall’s production of TWELFTH NIGHT, and Danny Boyle’s FRANKENSTEIN starring Benedict Cumberbatch (the star of the new updated SHERLOCK). Though I booked before any of these shows had opened, I only got tix for FRANKENSTEIN. Both LEAR and TWELFTH NIGHT were already sold out.

This is not necessarily a reason for despair. We’ve always managed to stand in line at the National and Donmar (where TWELFTH NIGHT & LEAR are playing respectively) and get day-of tickets, sometimes even returns. Last time over, when we couldn’t get tix for WAR HORSE or THE PITMEN PAINTERS, my old colleague Deanna Dunagan was reviving her Tony-Award performance at the National in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and, since we were also coming to see her…she got us great house seats for both.

Deanna Dunagan and me at The Globe of the Great Southwest, 1974

This time, since I had no idea when we might be able to finagle tickets for either LEAR or TWELFTH NIGHT, I had only booked six shows, keeping a lot of dates open. I can only hope this strategy doesn’t backfire and everything else becomes a hard ticket.

So knowing I wouldn’t be able to get any LEAR tickets this late in the day, I shot over the Jubilee Bridge a half-block from our flat and trotted down to the National ten minutes away on the South Bank to see what might be had for TWELFTH NIGHT on any night. Nothing, as it turned out. I picked up my tickets for FRANKENSTEIN and the Ayckbourn revival of SEASON’S GREETINGS with Catherine Tate, and then spun through the theatre’s bookshop. I scoped out its vast array of selections to see what I would be buying in the days ahead…and, of course, bought several things right away -- notably Simon Callow’s bio, a book on British panto as well as some panto plays (holiday pantos intrigue me, even though I’ve never seen one), and three plays, ANNE BOLELYN by Howard Brenton and POSH by Laura Wade, both plays I had read about it, and THE BIG FELLAH by Richard Bean, whose HERETIC we’d see next week at the Royal Court. I also picked up a programme for Rory Kinnear’s HAMLET which we had seen through the NT LIVE’s series of broadcast plays transmitted to theatres all over the world.

I returned with my swag to the flat. Julieanne was half-sleep with the telly on. I played a little remote roulette to find out the hotel had added a few channels – mostly unwatchable ones, foreign language, European sports, and lots of music video…and lost others – particularly DAVE TV. It was a channel that ran repeats of comedy quiz shows with the likes of Stephen Fry, Paul Merton, and lots of other witty British folk. It provided my post-theatre nightcap. I shall miss it.

Dead tired, but unable to sleep, I strolled up the corner to Trafalgar and the Strand and browsed through the Waterstones bookshop. The problem with connecting flights, even with brilliant sleeping accommodations this time out, all the driving to the airport, flying one place, then disembarking, waiting for another flight, and going again wears you down. When we lived in LA, even though the flight was always about 10-11 hrs, you got on and that was that. No wear and tear and worry (Well…with me, there's always worry, but in the LA days, a lot less.).

Upon my return, Julieanne was having trouble with the bed (the bed is a fold-out sofa in our little studio). It kept sagging. No wonder. Half the support straps on her side were unhooked and dangling. There was no way to repair it. A call to the front desk brought Housekeeping who confirmed there was no way to repair it. Another call to the front desk to request another room. This took awhile…The Citadines is French. Time moves differently for the French. But finally, we secured another room higher up with a better view and a more workable layout like we had had before. The bed still had some quirks. We both rolled toward the middle of it. We easily fixed this with the extra pillows we'd filched from our previous room by placing them lengthwise under the mattress on the springs which leveled everything out.

Our quarters now satisfactorily secured and Julieanne somewhat awake, we trotted off to the Covent Garden Tesco grocery to fill our tiny fridge with provisions. This was a tide-over shop; I getting my savoury eggs (they had no Scotch eggs) and some Indian microwave for dinner, Julieanne getting her culinary oddities, and a few staples. We then wended our way home for a late dinner and sleep.

But not before one more mishap. Julieanne’s Waterpick blew out the electricity. Victor, the Latvian porter (I've yet to find any native Britisher who works at the Citadines), with a subtle hint from me, finally realized it wasn’t a fuse, but a circuit-breaker, went to the box, and flicked it back on. Then it was lights out via a proper switch, bed, and blessed sleep.


Slept late and didn’t get to the Donmar till after nine, which left little hope of snaring day tickets for Jacobi’s KING LEAR, which was my intention. The box-office had yet to open, but a dozen people were already cued up. Since only ten tickets were held back, I was about to press on and try my luck with 12TH NIGHT at the National. But someone mentioned that it was matinee day and they held back ten tix for each show. I got in cue.

Waiting for day tickets, the camaraderie in the cue is usually delightful. Like-minded souls shiver in foul weather at an ungodly hour because you all love great theatre. In front of me was a lady from Scotland and a drama student; behind me a woman from New York living in London and another drama student. The conversations were all about theatre…what was playing, what was good, what not worth the ticket. The New Yorker did not have kind things to say about TWELFTH NIGHT, but then she did keep pronouncing Derek Jacobi’s name with a long O. She also told me that COUNTRY GIRL starring Martin Shaw had closed early because it was playing to half houses. I had inquired about it because I hadn’t seen it listed in the TIME OUT. Marty had played Henry Baskerville in my HOUND OF BASKERVILLES…the filming of which had been the reason for my first trip to London back in ’82. I had almost booked the play in advance, but didn’t, because I knew it would’ve been running awhile and figured it would be an easy ticket to get. Just as well.

The box-office didn’t open till ten-thirty, but they opened the lobby at ten allowing the early arrivals to line up inside and keep warm. The line snaking behind me kept getting longer, but I was in good position and felt confident. I ended up with two very good seats for the evening performance in the dress circle for a mere fifteen pds each.

I stopped by home to inform Julieanne, still rumbling about the flat, and then dashed to the South Bank and the National to inquire about returns for TWELFTH NIGHT. Fortune continued to favour me. They had just added restricted viewing seats for ten pds each and I got these for Friday evening, which was open on my calendar. Checking the seating chart, I figured ours seats couldn’t be any worse than the full-price ones I had had for MRS. AFFLECK the last time I was here and these were at least closer to the stage. (Check out the 2009 theatre diary blog).  But when the Cottesloe is in a rectangular configuration, the stage is proscenium, and one is on the sides, one is twisting one’s neck to see anyway. But, hey, they were tickets to a sold-out production with a fine cast and fine director. I was just glad to get ‘em.

Best of all, with these two plays secured, I could book the rest of my calendar. Leaving the National, I strolled to the Old Vic to collect our tickets for Richard Eyre’s FLEA IN HER EAR.

It was bloody cold, so I scurried home via Villiers Street behind the Citadines to pick up some lunch. I opted for a Madras lamb with rice dish that looked quite appetizing and turned out to be scaldingly spicy.

Satisfied with my good day’s work in snagging the two most difficult tickets in town, I lulled around the flat the rest of the afternoon, watching antiquing and property shows on the tube and cat-napping.

That night as we strolled to the Donmar (maybe fifteen minutes away) past Trafalgar along our old haunts in Upper St. Martin’s (where we used to rent a cozy flat, now far too expensive), we were amazed at all the changes – new shops, restaurants…in Seven Dials, The Mountbatten Hotel was shrouded in scaffolding undergoing major renovation. Several of my cue companions were at the performance…said hello to the Scottish lady in the bar and the New Yorker had seats right next to ours…not a thrilling prospect for my wife, as the woman frequently punctuated the proceedings with a barking cough. Another couple who had been behind us in line had only managed to get standing room, but right before the play started, an usher tagged them and took them down to two empty seats right on the front row. The Donmar is an intimate stage and Derek Jacobi would be spewing spittle on them. Lucky sods.

LEAR, despite its rep, has never been a favourite of mine, but this clear, moving production finally revealed its towering greatness to me for the first time. What a performance! I’ve been lucky to see Jacobi onstage about five times. I particularly admired his Prospero…angry and unforgiving despite all his talk of forgiveness. But his Lear is the finest I’ve ever seen him. The entire cast was strong (the sole exception perhaps Cordelia), and Shakespeare is a genius. All the plot parallels played between Lear and his family and Glouchester and his brood were finely etched. The delivery of the speeches was brilliant. His “sharper than a serpent’s tooth” curse on Goneril was chilling. And rather than howling “blow, winds, and crack your cheeks” out on the heath, the speech became a haunted whisper as if you were crawling into his mad, tormented mind. Wonderful turnabout. His “let me be not mad” laments were pitiful and wrenching. His act iv, sc. vi railing about women, “There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the sulphurous pit” was a bitter, bawdy scathing condemnation. It was somewhere in here that Julieanne and I both thought we heard the word “cunt’, but a cursory examination of the scene doesn’t reveal it nor any approximate word from which it can be twisted. But the speech itself was a shocking, riveting moment as Jacobi spewed Lear’s bile. He made you laugh aghast, then utterly horrified you a second later.

Derek Jacobi as Lear
Both Goneril and Regan did not, thankfully, come off as merely harridans, but had their legitimate issues and grew logically into their ultimate villainy.  Goneril, Gina McKee, was very familiar and a glance at the programme told me why.  She had been the wheelchair-bound friend of Hugh Grant in NOTTING HILL.  From that character to Goneril, quite a change of pace.  The production also had a memorable Kent and Ron Cook, a long favourite of mine (VASSA, JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK) played a lovely fool.

Even the ringing cell phone during LEAR’s death scene could not diminish this touching, powerful production and performance. Julieanne was blubbering at the end. It was a momentous start to our two week orgy of theatre. We swung by the Covent Garden Tesco on the way home for some more groceries, then a late dinner and bed


Today was ticket collection day. I went back to the National to pick up the tickets for the two platform 12th NIGHT discussions that I had neglected to do the other day. Then it was back across the bridge to the Haymarket to pick up our matinee tickets for Peter Hall’s production of THE RIVALS for Saturday. Next I was off to the Garrick to pick up tix for J. B. Priestly’s WHEN WE ARE MARRIED, a matinee which we’re seeing on our last day here. I then went up to the Wyndhams to purchase tickets for CLYBOURNE PARK, a Royal Court West End transfer and winner of The Evening Standard Best Play Award.

I also tried to get tickets for a well-reviewed production of an obscure, never-performed Rattigan play, LESS THAN KIND at the Jermyn Street Theatre, but they had nothing, not even a waiting list. It is a tiny theatre, about the size of an LA Equity-waiver theatre, and I was told the only chance of seeing the production would be to just show up on the night and hope for a return. Not likely. From Jermyn Street, I hopped up to Picadilly and whirled through both the giant Waterstones bookshop there and venerable Hatchard’s. You would never think the book trade and publishing were in the dire straits they’re supposedly in by the vast array of books to be found in these two stores…I could go blind just reading the history books and historical fiction (which seems to be booming over here). Waterstones, a chain, has a variety of titles you would never find in Barnes and Noble or Borders in the states. I suppose it says something about the literacy of the respective countries.

Despite the tempting titles on offer, I eschew purchasing any and made my way over to Cecil Court, still an oasis of used bookshops. They have managed to holdback the erosion of their trade (and London’s character) that has happened in Charing Cross Road, where landlords…greedy for higher rents…have ousted the book-dealers in favour of coffee shops and American food franchises. Still I was shocked to find the shop of my favourite dealer, Nigel Williams, chained up with ominous official notices on the window. My other standby, David Drummond’s theatrical book and memorabilia shop was also closed, but apparently for vacation and would open next week.

I went into Goldsboro, who deals in historical fiction, determined of purpose. I have collected all the books in Bernard Cornwell’s series about Alfred the Great, except for the first one, which I’ve not been able to find anywhere (except in paperback and I wanted hardbound). So I have not been able to start to read the series. I held off getting one via mail order through my many dealers, because I’d knew I’d becoming here. They had a hardback first, pristine, and signed. 70pds. I bought it. They also had a signed Lindsey Davis, one of her Falco mysteries I didn’t have for a more reasonable 18pds, which I also bought. Davies has also written a couple others I don’t have. Nor did Goldsboro, so I’ll have to go to the internet for them. These are the times I miss living in LA and my chache of dealers there who would have these books or I would see them at the book fairs. One doesn’t find these in Kentucky shops.

From the dealer at Goldsboro, I found that Nigel Williams had died, which was why his shop was all locked up. Goldsboro would be moving into it and Quinto, another used shop that used to be in the Bloomsbury district, would be moving into Goldsboro’s space. So at least, Cecil Court will remain rife with bookshops for the time being…though a Hamburger joint had moved in at the end of the court. No one seemed to know what would be happening to Williams’ impressive stock.

I returned to the flat, picking up a late lunch via one of the many food shops in Villiers Street, a bacon/chicken sub, along with the always delicious McCoy’s flame-grilled steak crisps (tater chips to us Ammurricans). My diet is already going to Hell here. I had pretty much weaned myself off Coca-Cola in the last several months, only imbibing one on rare occasions. Here I’m gulping it down by the liter. I’m counting on my extensive walks around the city to counter my foul eating habits. I also picked up the Evening Standard which is now free. A vendor told me they make their profit on advertising exclusively now.

I don’t know whether it’s the credit crunch and arts crunch, I’ve notice a less than attentive tone at the National these days. I always used to have friendly chats with book shop clerks, but there seem to be fewer working and, although diligently helpful, they seem much more harried and less relaxed.

Though Julieanne and I were at the Cottesloe for TWELFTH NIGHT in gobs of time and lingered about the lobby, there seemed to be no ushers in attendance and the doors of the theatre stayed closed. Lounging on the dress circle balcony, we thought the house hadn’t opened when suddenly we’re hearing the three-minute call. No ushers by the doors to point out which one we had to go through. So we went through the wrong one and then had to rush back out through the lobby to enter the other side of the theatre to get to our seats.

And they were, as announced, restricted view. Chairs had been placed on a riser above the main seats and about a fourth of stage right, where we were seated, was cut off. This was made more frustrating in that they were two seats below us that were empty, but a suddenly-appeared usher warned the two girls seated next to us off them, implying that those seat-holders might appear. Julieanne, seated on the aisle, stood up through most of the first act, to get a better view. Fortunately, I found that the staging complemented stage left and center, I so missed very little of what was happening down below. And the actors did their best to play to the nosebleed section, so I did see faces, not tops of heads, and certainly enjoyed the view of Olivia’s cleavage.

As Peter Hall is something of a god to me, I really wanted to enjoy this show, despite its mixed reviews. And much of it I did enjoy, but much of it never really took off. He has made it a chamber piece, stressed its melancholy…neither of which I had a problem with. The verse-speaking, as expected, was stunningly clear and impeccable. The clowns in particular – Toby Belch (Simon Callow); Maria (Flinty Williams…Judi Dench’s daughter), and Andrew Augecheek (Charles Edwards) were quite wonderful. I liked Orsino and Olivia. Feste played by a wonderful actor, David Ryall, was simply dour and strange and couldn’t sing. Malvolio was played by Simon Paisley Day, who had us in stitches our last time here when we saw him playing the brother in ENTERTAINING MR. SLOANE. His Malvolio was nice but slightly subdued.

My biggest complaint was the languid pace and Sir Peter’s daughter, Rebecca Hall, an actress I have enjoyed on film. Unfortunately, I found her Viola a bit bland. I never got any sense of anxiety about her predicament and her gestures seemed to be limited to flapping-penguin arms. Maybe it was an intentional choice, but I could never quite figure out whether the gauchness was the actress or character. In any event, I had hope the production would be better.

After the first act, the two girls sitting next to us left, as did a couple below us. The other bodies that were to fill the other empty chairs below never showed. Julieanne went to the usher and asked if we could fill the vacated seats. The usher replied, “You may do what you wish. Just remember, those seats are paid for, Madam.” Huh??? Yes, and the people who paid for them couldn’t bother to show up. And the theatre has a sign that says no one will be seated after the show begins. We moved down into the seats.

Reading Hall’s notes about the play and, particular Feste, I understood and appreciated a little better perhaps what Hall was going for. I’m just not sure how successful it was. Oddly enough, as much as I adore Hall as a director and agree with so much of his Shakespeare theory, I think the two Shakespeares of his I’ve seen have been my least-enjoyed of his work. We saw a production of MEASURE FOR MEASURE he did at the Taper in LA where Julieanne wanted to walk out, but I was intrigued enough to stay and recall that Richard Thomas had a moment as Angelo were he prostrated himself flat on the ground at Isabella’s feet that made the whole show worthwile for me. Still Hall has wowed me with productions of AMADEUS, AN IDEAL HUSBAND (in which Marty Shaw played Lord Goring as Oscar Wilde), and WASTE (riveting) among others. And I was anticipating his RIVALS at the Haymarket tomorrow.


THE RIVALS kept Peter Hall firmly planted upon the pedestal which I place him. The matinee at my favourite West End theatre, THE HAYMARKET, couldn’t have been more splendid. The cast was headed by two stalwarts, Peter Bowles and Penelope Keith, perhaps best known in America for the TV comedy they did together, TO THE MANOR BORN. Bowles we have seen several times on stage (often under the direction of Hall…SCHOOL FOR WIVES and ROYAL FAMILY) and always delights. I particularly liked the Simon Gray he did a few years back, THE OLD MASTERS, and his Gary Essendine in Coward’s PRESENT LAUGHTER. Keith, whose TV performances I’ve always enjoyed, we’ve caught twice onstage in two disappointing Cowards. I felt she was miscast in STAR QUALITY, not written by Coward but adapted from a short story of his…badly. Her other Coward turn was as Madame Arcati in BLITHE SPIRIT. She was fine, though I found the production wanting. But I’ve since seen another production of the BLITHE SPIRIT as well as a television version from the 50’s, starring The Master himself, and I’ve decided it’s just not Coward at his best. Except for the truncated version, the productions I’ve seen lasted (with intermission) three hours…too long for a comedy. It ain’t PRIVATE LIVES, HAY FEVER, or PRESENT LAUGHTER.

Ms. Keith, however, as Mrs. Malaprop was in top form as was Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute. And Hall surrounded them with an excellent supporting cast…notably Tam Williams as Jack Absolute, Keiron Self as Bob Acres, and Robyn Addison as Lydia Languish. That Ms. Addison was making her professional stage debut made her droll performance all the more impressive. We chortled and heartily laughed all the way through it. I’ve always been fond of the play and this was the best production I’ve seen of it.
Penelope Keith & Peter Bowles

Afterwards, we strolled behind Picadilly through St. James Square and went over to The Dukes Hotel for a drink. The Dukes is where I stayed my first month here in’82 when I was filming my Sherlock Holmes movies. It has become our ritual to have a quiet drink in The Duke’s bar, usually on our last Sunday afternoon here. We probably should have saved said ritual till then. Unlike our usual quiet, relaxing respite, the bar was jam-packed and noisy. Nor could we get our usual table at the window. I don’t know whether it has become discovered as a fashionable watering hole or it was simply the fact that it was Saturday night and people were meeting for drinks before going out to dinner or on the town. We had one drink and were on our way.

We went home via Picadilly, stopping briefly in Fortnum and Mason to peruse the food hall. Julieanne bought some bags of Christmas hazelnuts that were on sale for 2pds each for her squirrels in St. James Park. After a quick stop at Waterstones, we strolled through Leicester Square. The entire green section of the Square is boarded up and inaccessible. There seems to be a lot of this around town; I’m assuming renovations for the 2012 Olympics. God, how will that inflate prices? Trafalgar, which had been cordoned off by the police earlier for some student protest (I assume over tuition fees again), was now open and we could cut right through it on our way back to the flat. We made one last pit-stop to pick up groceries at the Trafalgar Tesco Express, then home for dinner, and an early night.


No theatre today. We slept late. I finally roused to fetch Sunday papers from the small 24-hour convenience store around the corner. We lulled about till one, lost in the luxury of the weekend papers and their profusion of magazine supplements. Finally getting off our duffs, we mounted an expedition down the Strand and a little north of St. Paul’s to The London Museum.  This is a favourite museum and we hadn’t been to it for several years. We stayed right up to closing time. I spent far too much time in the Prehistoric and Roman eras and wish I had spent more in the 19th and 20th Century sections. How Britain bravely “muddled’ through the war years is always fascinating. Even more so were the eras of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s…My life is now ancient history. Some of clothes, records, and other items on display, Julieanne and I owned or wore…or worse, remember as though it was yesterday.

It was a lovely walk home, although my left leg, knee, and hip were aching. Julieanne has always had a longer stride than I have had and it was tough keeping up with her. The soles of my feet were also throbbing. I don’t know whether it is the lack of exercise, old age, my orthodics, or I need a hip replacement, but I used to walk much more extensively than this and it never bothered me. Nonetheless, I managed to hobble home, get in some comfy sweats, and spend a cozy night in with the papers and the telly.


After Sunday off, I returned to the theatre fray, determined to fill the remaining holes in our theatre schedule. I had nothing booked for tonight or tomorrow. Julieanne wanted to see THE WAR HORSE again. We had been dazzled by it at The National the last time and she had loved it so much she hung around the theatre and lived in the back pocket of the ticketing agent until a return came in, so she could see it again. It had now transferred to the New London Theatre in the West End.

My memory of the play and production was such I wasn’t sure I wanted to revisit the play so soon, but I dutifully went off via Covent Garden (The New was just north of the Royal Opera House), stopping to check out antiques day in the market. This is mostly bric-a-brac, silver, and jewelry. I haven’t found anything of interest there for years and today was no different. The New had two nice, predictably expensive seats on the right side of the stalls at the back. It was the last row on that side, row N, consisting of just two seats…one on the aisle, of course. Perfect, no one next to us, no one hacking or crumpling candy wrappers behind us.

Having accomplished this mission, I traveled once more through Covent Garden over Waterloo Bridge with its always inspiring double-sided view – St. Paul’s one direction, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye the other. (Even more impressive at night when everything is lit up) – and went down The Cut to try my luck getitng tickets for VERNON GOD LITTLE, previewing at the Young Vic. Came up empty. I did pick up a flyer for DEAR BRUTUS, playing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which I thought might be an interesting possibility -- a student play at one of the main theatrical training grounds.

Night view from Waterloo Bridge toward Big Ben
On my way back, I stopped at the National and made a decision. GREENLAND, NT’s climate change concoction of collaboration between four different prominent playwrights, had just not really been enticing me. I was holding back, waiting for some sort of critical assessment. But, as it was still in previews, there had been none. Since I was striking out with some of these other things I wanted to see, I thought what the Hell, The National always delivers. Time spent at The National has never really disappointed and was always worth the ticket. Even on those rare occasions when I wasn’t thrilled with the play, the production was usually top-notch. I got tickets for Tuesday night, which as it turned out was press night…so already it had turned into an event, who knows who might be there. I read all the major London critics. This could be fun. They were also doing something call talkeoke which was a discussion after the show about the issue of climate change. Best of all, the tickets, very nicely located in the Lyttleton’s dress circle, were only 20pds each. I felt good about my decision, my loyalty to The National, and once home, Julieanne agreed. She was also very happy about the War Horse tickets.
I spent the rest of the day a-booking, wandering up to Bloomsbury at what’s fast becoming my favourite bookshop there, SKOOB(yeah, books spelt backwards). They have a particularly great theatre section. I hadn’t gotten much past the “A’s” before I had a handful of John Arden books –three plays he had done in collaboration with on Margetta D’Arcy, his wife at the time. One was a long three-part epic on the Arthurian myths, called THE ISLAND OF THE MIGHTY. THE HERO RISES UP is about Horatio Nelson and THE ROYAL PARDON is about a company of strolling players. I also picked up a Christopher Fry play about Henry II called CURTMANTLE. I checked to see if they had any of the Terry Pratchett Discworld novels I’m missing in hardback, but they didn’t.

On my return, I hit Forbidden Planet to see what was new in the fantasy realm. All they had was Pratchett’s latest, I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT. Since they didn’t have autographed copies, I held off on this. I then did the rounds of my usual used book shops on Charing Cross, but found nothing intriguing. I’m just not buying like I used to any more (time to start reading 5,000-6,000 tomes I already have) and most of what I buy when here is theatre.

The library
THE WAR HORSE, as I expected…or feared…did not hold me in its thrall as before. Everything was competent, the puppetry suitably amazing, a perfectly pleasant evening, but it could not diminish nor live up to the memory of my initial experience with it. Too soon, too soon for me to see this again. It was interesting being in the New Theatre again though. The last time was in ’82 when I went to see Brian Blessed, part of my HOUND cast, playing Old Deuteronomy in CATS.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cats_(musical).
Brian Blessed in my Hound of the Baskervilles

(END OF PART ONE:  Still to come: Will Pogue get in to see all the plays he wants?  Plus close encounters with Richard Eyre, Danny Boyle, Simon Callow, and Michael Billington.  Stayed to tuned for Part Two, coming soon!)