London Theatre "Weekend" - A Report

Feb 10th, 2005, 01:01 AM
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London Theatre "Weekend" - A Report

This is not meant to be "all-inclusive" but hopefully someone will find the information contained useful in one way or the other.

Left Washington-Dulles on 1 February via Virgin-Atlantic flying in "Premium Economy."
Since the flight ended up being only about 1/2 full having the "dedicated check-in" was of little use since hardly anyone was checking in when we arrived at the airport.

The extra legroom was welcome but other than that, the glass of bubbly offered before take-off, and the "foot rest" (which Virgin describes as a "leg rest" and IMO it isn't), the service and the food were no different than in regular Economy. Whether or not the additional $600+ per person fare-wise makes this "worth it" I'm not sure. I still like Virgin's in-flight entertainment system although the seatback screens couldn't be much smaller than they are. I'd fly them again with the pros and cons clearly in mind.

On-time arrival at Heathrow and an easy passage through Immigration and Customs. Heathrow Express to Paddington using pre-purchased tickets (on line) retrieved at the ticket machines; got cash out of the ATM next to the machines.

The usual 20-minute wait for a cab at Paddington (during rush hour-expected) and another 20 minutes through congestion to the Covent Garden Hotel. Cab fare was 12 Pounds.

The room was not ready so we went to a nearby bakery for some coffee and goodies. One half hour later the room was ready. I had e-mailed the Concierge and requested that flowers be in the room as this trip was a Christmas present for my partner. The flowers were nothing short of spectacular.

I cannot say enough GOOD about this hotel. The staff do not know the meaning of the word "no." They remember your name and your room number and are helpful in every possible way.

"Deluxe double" room with king bed. Very well-decorated in an understated but very classy manner. The room measured 18 feet by 22 feet (Yes, Fodorite "room size" mavens, I took a tape measure just for you so we could, at last, have some objective data about at least one European hotel room; I'll let YOU decide if this is "small" or "big").
The room had lots of closet space and a large workdesk, two phones (one cordless), safe, mini-bar, and windows that opened fully.

Fully marbled bath, two sinks, separate shower with a Speakman showerhead and great pressure; thick bathsheet towels, robes, and slippers.

We got a rate including the full English breakfast which was more than adequate. The hotel is located about two blocks or so from the Covent Garden tube stop and within easy walking distance to major West End theatres; shops and restaurants abound in the neighborhood.

The hotel is pricey by most people's standards, I think, but seemed worth it to us. A possibly cheaper alternative would be the Radisson Edwardian a few doors away on Monmouth Street.

We had tickets for four shows: "Man and Boy" with David Suchet, "Mary Poppins", "The Woman in White", and "His Dark Materials" all of which I'll comment on when I continue this after I get to work later this morning.

Intrepid1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 02:29 AM
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A few subjective thoughts about the city before continuing.

I've loved London ever since my first visit in 1970. These days we particularly enjoy reading the London papers, including "The Times" since it seems there is always some "crisis" or "scandal" or "controversy" brewing or full-blown. Last week's included the controversy about some American billionaire trying to buy one of the football teams; the change in worth of the investment portfolios of the Duchy of Cornwall and ditto for the Duchy of Lancaster; the amount of money being spent on Camilla and just WHO is footing that bill???; the "crisis" in breast cancer care; the controversy about the possible changes in Immigration schemes, and on and on. Never a dull moment.

Weather was mild (in the 40's) but we noticed a lot of people had scarves on AND there definitely seems to be a particular way in which a scarf MUST be worn..that loose ends through the loop look.

The Tube: despite the "overburdened" sytem, the "engineering works" and the cancellations, delays, stoppages, I still think the Tube is a great way to get around the city and IMO it still ranks with the Metro in Paris and the extensive urban rail network in Berlin.
And despite the number of users the stations seem immaculate: no trash between the tracks, nobody taking a whiz at the end of the platform, no police patrols with attack dogs watching for muggers and intimidated-by-Hillary people with guns.

The shows:

due to my partner's professional "connections" with a major theatrical production organization in New York we had "house seats' (at cost) for all four shows. These are the best seats you can get. I used to feel that London was a theatre "bargain" as compared to New York but with the current exchange rate and ticket prices I no longer believe that. I do think London is an "expensive" city to be in BUT that definitely depends on where you stay, what you do, and where you eat.

"Man and Boy" with David Suchet of Hercule Poirot fame. This piece was in previews last week at the Duchess. It is a powerful drama and I thought it was well-acted and pertinent even though it was written some years ago.

Alan Rickman was sitting across the aisle from us. He is a lot taller in the flesh than he looks on screen and very gracious when approached, too.

We had eaten prior to the show at Tutton's Brasserie at the Covent Garden "piazza." Great service and we enjoyed the food; two entrees, two salads, two soups, two desserts, one diet Coke and a bottle of Hildon still water cost 59.63 Pounds including a 12.5% service charge.

Thursday 3 February I went to Fortnum and Mason mainly to buy take-home gifts. Lots of people shopping. Walked back to the Piccadilly tube stop along Jermyn Street where I find it very hard not to buy something, especially clothing or shoes, but managed to resist.

Dinner at a local Italian restaurant, the Piccolo Diavolo on Old Compton Street. Two entrees, two salads, two soups, one bottle of water and one diet Coke was 32.45 Pounds including service.

On to the Prince Edward theatre which, I was told, has recently been refurbished to the tune of 2 million Pounds. "Mary Poppins" which is, apparently, one of THE shows in London right now. The lead's singing was IMO very reminiscent of Julie Andrews. However, despite excellent miking and a gigantic sound board with every conceivable gadget at the rear of the stalls I thought the diction in some of the parts was poor. The audience, particularly the many children in attendance, loved it, however. And to echo the thoughts on another current thread, the programs are not free as they are in New York and the big ones cost several Pounds.

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Feb 10th, 2005, 03:03 AM
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Friday 4 February: the Concierge at the hotel had made reservations at Mon Plaisir across the street. It is a very nice restaurant IMO and the service was fantastic. Although we thought some of the food was very good and everything was well-presented, we were less than impressed with both the soup course and the main dish (coq au vin). Total cost (with the requisite bottle of still water and the Husbear's diet Coke) was 67.28 Pounds.

"The Woman in White" at the Palace. This is ALW's latest and being touted as "the greatest score since 'Phantom'"...well, perhaps. We didn't come away humming any tunes but thought it was a great show from a theatrical perspective: there are no conventional sets or scenery...everything is done by a combination of front and rear projection and it was interesting and enjoyable to experience this. I thought the diction was much BETTER than that experienced in "Poppins" too.
Great singing voices in some of the parts and all the great ALW "drama" one expects.

The thing is being advertised as a show that will "run and run"....we'll see if it does.

Saturday 5 February. We had tickets for both parts of "His Dark Materials" at the National (in the Olivier). The first part started at 2PM and ran until 5PM or so; the second part started at 7:15 PM and ran until a little after 10:00 PM. This is definitely "theatre saturation" and depending on the piece it can be wonderful or a disaster. Kinda reminded me of our all-day sessions at the Passion Play in Oberammergau back in 2000.

This piece is an adaptation by Nicholas Wright of the novels written by Philip Pullman (an author I was unfamiliar with). Pullman is definitely "anti-established religion" perhaps even atheistic and there is no doubt about this in the production. The "Church" does NOT get cast in the most favorable light and if that bothers you I would skip this prodcution.

How to describe this thing??? One way might be to say it is Eastenders meets up with StarTrek and Flash Gordon and sails off with Dr. Who.

The costumes were absolutely wonderful and there are so many different sets that it is hard to imagine this peice being mounted anywhere else. I doubt it will replace "Our Town" as the local high school senior play any time soon.

Diction was great and it was, overall, an unforgettable theatrical experience. The audience (sold out) seemed to enjoy it, as did we.

Sunday 6 February. Spent time at the Tate Britain where I particularly enjoyed viewing some of the G.F. Watts works. Unfortunately, the Turner-Whistler-Monet doesn't start until today.

For our last night's meal we decided to check out a place called "The Eagle Bar Diner" on Rathbone Place (off Oxford Street) to see if the hamburgers are as "good" as everyone on the hotel staff was claiming. Two burgers, one big order of fries, two diet Cokes, and one strawberry shake came to a total of 26.75 Pounds.

Two people in the next booth asked us, "as Americans", what we thought of the food. I thought the fries were good and so were the burgers and shake. However, as we told them, the "best" burgers are probably made with the fattest meat, are loaded with salt, and are fried!!!! Ours was a fun meal and not the least bit disappointing.

Trip back home on 7 February was uneventful. We enjoyed this "weekend" and I hope someone gleans a little useful information from this report.

Thanks to all here who made comments and suggestions prior to our departure...they were all deeply appreciated and very helpful.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 03:20 AM
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Intrepid1 : thinks for the interesting report.

I'm surprised you don't seem over enthusiastic about 'His Dark Materials', though. We were there the week before you & thought it was absolutely stunning. We go to the theatre a lot (maybe c.80 times a year ?) & thought this may have been the most amazing production we'd ever seen. Did you look around the exhibition on how it was put together ? Maybe you'd have appreciated it more if you'd read the books ?
caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 03:28 AM
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Oh, believe me...I thought the production was WONDERFUL...and great fun, too. I cannot imagine it being done as well ANYWHERE else, either. What a piece and those "daemon" animal "costumes" were mesmerizing.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 04:18 AM
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Thanks for the report, intrepid1.

I was thinking that eating out in London wasn't all that expensive until you got to the Hamburger, fries and a shake for $25.
ira is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 04:21 AM
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Oh, the food prices seem high everywhere over there..but you and I both know a lot of that has to do with where and what you eat..we chose this place because we thought it might be fun to do and it was. "Fine" dining it isn't nor was that what we wanted.

The "Full English Breakfast" in the hotel, if taken separately, is more than 20 Pounds so it was a bit easier to "digest" because it was part of the nightly rate.
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Feb 10th, 2005, 05:25 AM
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Very nice report IMO. I "feel" a London trip coming on! LOL.
Judyrem is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 05:27 AM
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If I add up the cost of two tickets on the Paddington Express and the 12 pound taxi fare, I see that it cost you easily as much for two of you to go that route as to hire a car service that would have taken you right to your hotel. Since it took 40 minutes to reach your hotel from Paddington (counting the usual taxi wait time) I also doubt that you saved any time either from start to finish. With the added "inconvenience" of having to haul your luggage and wait for a taxi at Paddington, thank you for once again confirming that for two or more people, hiring a car service is both cheaper and easier than the Paddington Express/taxi route (unless you happen to be staying right next to Paddington).

Thanks for the theatre reports, all interesting. I guess Michael Crawford had left Woman in White when you saw it? And I love your overall description of His Dark Materials.

And glad you liked the Covent Garden Hotel. I have recommended it often, despite my lack of actually having stayed there. And yes, my London standards (or just about anywhere else for that matter) an 18 by 22 foot bedroom is absolutely "palatial".

This was like a visit to my old "neighborhood" and I can't believe how many of "my" restaurants you ate at including the cheap and nondescript, but decent Piccolo Diavalo.
Patrick is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 05:57 AM
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Judyrem: Yes, I kinda just like hanging out in London because it is so much fun and easy to do. I wish I were back there right now despite the poor exchange rate!

Patrick: glad you mentioned the Michael Crawford bit..actually, he is still listed as being IN the show and there was the usual printed notice on all the windows at the Palace that "in this performance the part of....will be played by...." It was disappointing but certainly the "understudy" in the Crawford role was very good IMO. My understanding is that Crawford came down with some sort of illness in JANUARY!!!! and still hasn't recovered so who knows?

As to the "trip into the city" issue...
last November we flew over and had arranged for a pick-up by Ray Skinner who was to take us directly to Waterloo International so we could catch a Eurostar for Paris (I know that whole arrangement seems as bizarre as "His Dark Materials" but anyway we came back to London a couple days later..but i digress...)

The flight last November..took the luggage FOREVER to get onto the carousel and Mr. Skinner was just about to leave without us. This time, for some reason, I had the uninformed notion that it would be easier??? cheaper???..I don't do the HEX-cab from Paddington thing.

We actually didn't mind the wait at Paddington and given the congestion any car coming into the center from anywhere would have gotten caught up in it. But if we do this again I'll undoubtedly go back to the hired car or a taxi from Heathrow plan.

If wish YOU could see "His Dark Materials" really is an experience..the lead, Lyra kinda has the "Eastenders" accent; there is this periodic "radio/video transmission" from spies that reminded me Dr. Zarkov and Dale Arden, and the whole thing really does seem a little like "Dr. Who." This is more ways than one!
Intrepid1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 06:07 AM
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The Archbishop of Canterbury went to last year's performance and at one point was surrounded by gleeful children asking what he thought of the bit where God is killed.
He praised the production and had an interesting discussion with Philip Pullman afterwards.

MissPrism is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 07:47 AM
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Intrepid1, yes, the daemon puppets & the actors manipulating them were fantastic, weren't they ? I believe they were from the company who did the 'junk opera' called 'Shockheaded Peter' a few years ago.

I think Lyra's accent was meant to be West Country & was about the only thing I thought not very good - I found it a bit impenetrable at times & was glad of the surtitles.
caroline_edinburgh is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 08:00 AM
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The day we were there the surtitles were only on during the second session..why they weren't on during the first part I'm not sure.

I must admit to being a complete know-nothing when it comes to British "accents" so perhaps I should have said it was like the West Country meets Flash Gordon and StarTrek.

Anyway, I am glad we attended as I have never seen anything in the National on any of the stages.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 08:34 AM
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Intrepid1, Thanks so much for that great report.

You've made me even more excited about seeing "His Dark Materials" when we are in London next month. Unfortunately, we could only get tickets for Part II, but I have read all the books, so at least will understand what came before.

In case you're interested in following up the theatre experience with the literary one, I highly recommend the Listening Library audio versions of the books. I have both read the trilogy in print and listened to it. Pullman narrates the audio version -- definitely an exception to the rule that authors generally do a bad job of reading their books aloud. But the voices of the characters are read by a variety of quite talented actors, so the audio is almost a theatre experience, even though it includes every word of the printed books. Spellbinding.

A very interesting article / interview with Pullman is this one from the Times:,00.html
nonnafelice is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 08:58 AM
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Thanks for that additional information. I read the article cited above by MissPrism which was also interesting.

Of course, there are always those who will claim that seeing a piece such as this one somehow "weakens" one's faith. Frankly, I see it as having just the opposite effect in many cases and if nothing else it offers one the opportunity to ponder and reflect..and in this case see some really great theatre, too.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 06:14 PM
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That meal was not $25 it was $50. There are plenty of inexpensive places to eat in London. I keep my food costs to 10 GBP a day and definitely don't starve. I wouldn't pay 26 GBP for that meal. You could get the same meal at Burger King for 10 GBP.
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Feb 10th, 2005, 06:32 PM
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Intrepid1, thanks so much for posting this information. Your posts were fascinating to read.

nonnafelice, I read the three books a couple of months ago. They were compelling ... I no sooner finished one volume when I was picking up the next. My wife has listened the the audio version you mentioned and loved it.

My daemon is a cat.

AnselmAdorne is online now  
Feb 10th, 2005, 07:20 PM
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Very informative report, Intrepid1! I am taking my daughter for a surprise 13th birthday trip to London in March, and we will see Mary Poppins and Woman in White among others. I'm glad to hear the feedback and hope Michael Crawford is well by then. We are also spending 3 of our 7 nights at the Covent Garden Hotel, so I'm glad it's as great as it's touted to be and will look for some of the nearby restaurants you mentioned! Cheers!
Carmen is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 08:06 PM
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Thanks for this interesting and concise report Intrepid. What a nice Christmas gift!

rj007 - half of the meal in question comes to $25US. I'm sure that's what ira meant with "burger, fries and shake" which was one person's share of the order.
I know you're great at bargain trips to London, with your B&B and cheap eats. But you could lighten up a bit. I'm pretty sure most of us know there are Burger Kings and the like there. Not everyone wants to eat in those kinds of places, though.
taggie is offline  
Feb 10th, 2005, 09:39 PM
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On our many trips to Europe we have, more than once, eaten at both Burger King and MacDonald's and, frankly, not the least bit "ashamed" of it. I will say, however, that I will never eat at the Schiphol Plaza Burger King again as long as I live...I thought that food was BAAAAAAAAD. And, by the way, the "double burger" I had was a lot, LOT bigger than anything one could possibly get at Burger King and it tasted better, too.

In this particular case several of the hotel's Concierge staff had mentioned the Eagle so we thought we would try it out. We are fortunate enough to be able to eat pretty much anywhere we want and are grateful for that.

Carmen: from what we could tell there seemed to be no answer to when Michael Crawford would return to "The Woman in White." I love to hear him sing but I think you will enjoy the current "replacement" who was really wonderful in the role and a big hit with the audience, too.

As to the hotel, you already know that it is NOT a cheap place to stay and I think only individuals can decide if prices like these are "worth it" and I hope you come away feeling as we did.

You might want to ask them to show you the room with the "biggest bed in London" and also the "loft room" that has the additional "library." The staff was very eager to give us this "tour" of the other, unoccupied rooms while we were there. Be sure to visit the screening room as well.
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