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

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!)


  1. Thanks for sharing all the photos and the info....it was ALMOST as good as being there!

  2. I enjoyed living vicariously through your trip! I wish I could go back...one day. :) Love the cat!

  3. Charles... Just wanted to say thanks for the kind guidance and feedback you provided many years ago. We were discussing an amateur script at scriptshadow and our interaction came to mind. You were great. Wish you the best.

  4. Hi there Charles. Great blog! Just stumbled upon it while doing some research for a visit to London. I thought I should make this suggestion to visitors who come to your blog with a London theatre tour like yours in mind: there is a website called Tube Hotels that allows you to search for accommodation based on proximity to specific London theatres and tube stations. Anyway, just thought I should throw that out there and thanks for all the information!!!

  5. Hi Charles, I wanted say I've enjoyed some of your work, and these pages are very helpful.
    However, there is one issue I've had for many years... regarding Dragonheart. I loved the film when I was a child, but now I find the outcome... extremely unsatisfying, to say the least. I'm debating to myself whether to read the book, but unless the outcome of genocide changes, I can't bring myself to do it. The issue is that an entire blameless race was wiped out for no good reason. As someone studying environmental science, I find extinction a terrible tragedy. I just wanted to know, if possible, your thoughts on why you thought the dragon genocide was necessary, and whether this issue is actually discussed and/or resolved in your novel.

    1. I don't look at it as Dragon genocide. It's reconciling myth to reality. we have no dragons today, hence an explanation of what happened to them. Draco longed to do one act of sacrifice that would reunite man and Dragon and earn him a place in the stars. Given the ending I'll let you decide. The book is better than the movie. It is, in my opinion, the definitive version.