|Image by Manuel Harlan|
Wyona is the walking encyclopaedia of times, dates, prices and current lists of West End musicals.
She knows the days that matinees are held, when there are concessions and which actors have moved from one venue to star at another.
Yesterday she called from the centre of the city asking if anyone here at Woodlane would be interested in going to Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
“Tickets can’t be found half price,”, she reported. “There are only two seats available tonight, box seats, a bit cheaper because at one point your box will be filled with singers doing one of their choruses from your space ... prices for the shows are going up by six pounds in the next few days, are you in or out.”
That is how Duncan and I found ourselves walking along the street in a light mist of evening rain, making our way to the Cambridge Theatre at Seven Dials to see Matilda. We had found a small utube clip of the show the night before, and learned the lyrics of one of the songs: ‘when I grow up’. That was our only bit of pre-performance preparation. A good song to know: ... when I grow up / I will eat sweets every day on the way to work / And I will go to bed late. That was my childhood dream as well, though mine was, I will stay up until the TV goes off every night. Of course, that was in the days when the TV programming really did end about 1 am.
Oh, there is always other preparation that goes on to get the theatre ... a trip to Tesco to buy six kinds of candy for the evening, getting the treats into zip-lock baggies to prevent theatre noise pollution of the unwrapping of sweets, a stop at a local news stand to buy a cold drink, that final sprint around the house to find Duncan’s bus pass. “I remember now. Rebecca always keeps it at the front door,” Duncan said, after we had looked everywhere else.
And now for our review of the musical. The standing ovation at the end of the show of all of the audience is all that needs to be said. Small wonder that the producers can raise the price when other shows in the West End are going down. We were part of a full house enjoying complicated cultural themes – the British school system gone awry, blended family constellations (where name calling is the norm), bullying by peers and teachers, the imaginative escape of awful conditions through story and fantasy. All of that and still a wonderfully entertaining show with the singing and dancing talent found in all of the cast, but especially fun to watch in the child actors who are about one half of their numbers.
Mrs. Trunchbull, the principals, is played by a man. Before bed, I was telling Wyona that the female character was constructed in a remarkably dignified way –not with mockery of the female form that I sometimes see in one style of that performance, but more in the style of the grandmother in the most recent production of The Importance of Being Ernest, that I saw in Calgary at the HD Live production that came out of the London Theatre a couple of years ago (and that I also got to see live, on stage when I was there).
Just before he was leaving for school this morning, Duncan and I were discussing that character, since Duncan had laughed so hard at the Phys-Ed episode where Mrs. Trunchbull had jumped on a trampoline and then flown right over the box horse and landed on a mat. I said to Duncan, “You might not have known it, but the part of Mrs. Trunchbull was played by a man.” He nodded his head and said, “I kind of knew it by the voice and because a large woman couldn’t be that flexible. Did you see how high she could raise her leg?”
Going to shows with grandchildren is one of the backpack of my acknowledged and probably unearned privileges. I say unearned because I do minimal care-giving for them, and get maximum leisure time in return. I do it in Calgary at the HD New York Met performances, in London at the West End theatre and in Salmon Arm at the Sturgess North Biker Fesitval and Roots and later in the month to the Blues Festival.
When the performers came to our box to sing, they slipped in so silently that Duncan and I didn’t know they had entered and were standing right behind us. When Duncan heard their voice at our backs, his bottom rose right out of his seat. He ducked his head and pretended they weren’t there. I keptmy eyes trained on them, thinking with a swelling heart while listening to the close harmonies in my ear, “Hundreds of people in the theatre and I get to have this happen to me.” And I pay less for the priviledge.
Later, the noise generated by the explosion of confetti that sprinkled down from the ceiling falling over people in the stalls below, originated from our box. And then angular beams of light criss-crossed the ceiling and walls and both of us were wondering where we should duck so they didn’t slice through us. As an added bonus, the monitor that shows the actors the face and arms of the conductor was right above our heads, and Duncan was mesmerized at points with her face and arms and not watching the show at all.
Before the curtain fell, and totally engaged with the theatre Duncan, gave me a whack on my arm to show me how to clap my hands along with the performers, by then. Duh! to a grandmother who has to be shown that.
At the end of the evening, I thought back to Duncan’s mantra to me, on the way to the theatre: “Why are you always taking me places I don’t want to go, Grandmother?”