Falling Back In Love With London Part Two
After a summer spent working/ mucking about in different European countries I returned to London with a heavy heart, but was determined to learn to love this wet, grey, punishing city again. I’d hit some exhibitions and galleries, and now, as London takes its theatre very seriously, this was my next port of call; making a start on the autumn shows.
It can be an expensive business if you’re not signed up to cheap deals. With the change of season comes a tsunami of good serious plays, so I got deals on Martin McDonagh’s terrifying ‘Hangmen’, some fringe and some Shakespeare – and a charity night. ‘Stephen Sondheim – An 85th Birthday Celebration’. I’m a huge fan of the brain-tangling lyricist (I know he writes music too but my interest lies in his word usage) and it was for a good cause, Silverline, which provides the elderly with phone companionship (call 0800 4 708090 if you’d like to help) but perhaps there should be a moratorium on Sondheim celebrations for a while, even ones as slickly produced as this?
Charity galas always take place on Sundays (actors’ night off) and in this one the term ‘star-studded’ was somewhat loosely applied, most notably in the case of Rula Lenska, who couldn’t hold a note with the aid of surgical pliers. It was fun seeing old troopers like Millicent Martin and Julia McKenzie walking unaided, and to hear poor befuddled Nicholas Parsons (last seen being dropped on his head in ‘Into The Woods’) getting everyone’s names wrong. A good astringent was provided by comperes Kit and the Widow introducing Bonnie Langford with; ‘The Drury Lane Monolith – can she still do a 180? She must be 180.’ And there were some unusual choices of material, including part of Aristophanes’ ‘The Frogs’ turned into pure vaudeville.
Is Sondheim still a minority taste? His dark ballads offer lethal and often bleak views on life, love, loyalty and – a perennial favourite – nervous breakdowns. His two books on writing should be read by every budding author because they show the uncompromising level of attention one must pay to the words, and it was good to be back in ”The Lane’, a remarkable theatre (with a remarkable ghost). Drury Lane is as much a part of London as Big Ben, and demands attention.
So, is it working yet, the fall-back-in-love thing? Well, London does autumn well, from the new Goya show to the Barbican, Europe’s largest arts venue which is an entire world of culture in itself – but already the cost is racking up. There’s cheap fun and culture to be found, though. Last night I attended Suzi Feay’s brilliant Hallowe’en Authors Club event in the Conan Doyle-ish National Liberal Club (which comes complete with elderly gentlemen in wing-backed armchairs dozing by burning fires) where we talked about shamanistic Britain, Borley Rectory, and the link between Essex witches and Essex girls, and tonight I’m heading for Camden’s Proud Gallery for the launch of artist Graham Humphries’ book ‘Drawing Blood’.
What hikes the cost at most events, even the free ones, is the British capacity for drinking. With a pint of beer or a glass of wine currently standing at over a fiver, you find yourself counting the cost of enlightenment/ amusement, whereas jaunting about Europe drops the spending line dramatically because so many events are free and take place outside. As I write this with rain hammering on the roof knowing that I most likely won’t venture away from the keyboard today, I decide to keep the verdict open a little longer; if Londoners can’t afford to do what I’m doing then the arts aren’t open to all – something they always used to be.