We saw three shows in three nights in London, which is a big giveaway. It tells you plenty about my notion of a night out in one of the world’s greatest cities. And it tells you I’ve reached that phase of life when I can afford to be in London, on holiday, sallying forth to live performances. Some of which involve singing.
In my defense, the third show (night three) was somewhat spontaneous. We had come out of the Piccadilly tube stop and were navigating towards a coffee shop that was highly ranked on Yelp when we passed the theatre hosting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. On a whim we tried a door, which scraped reluctantly ajar after a good yank. The box office was open and a doughy, haphazardly pierced young woman offered us rush seats for that evening. Far left, very front row, £12 each.
“You just can’t see the floor of the stage from the front row,” the pierced girl informed us.
“The stage? As in, you can’t see their feet?” I asked. “Are their feet important to the plot?”
“You can’t see the floor of the stage,” she intoned again.
On our second night out in London we went to see a musical, The Book of Mormon. We paid full-pop for these tickets (£79 each), which in retrospect was way too much.
I’d been warned. “Pee your pants funny!” the posters exclaimed.
“It’s written by the guys who wrote South Park,” my husband clarified. And while I laughed a fair bit, I think I’m getting too old to find this kind of shock-humour very funny, if I ever did.
Surveying the audience before the lights went down it occurred to me I was on the older end of the age spectrum. And the heterosexual end, although that’s an aside. This is what women my age do, we peruse a crowd, pick out someone — usually female — who looks particularly good or particularly bad and we ask ourselves: is she my age? I do this watching movies and television too. I will pause a show just so I can look up an actress or actor on my iPhone to see if imdb.com lists a year of birth.
At my lowest, I’ll quiz my husband: Do you think I’m older than so-and-so? Like all of the questions that fall into this category, his best response is to remember something left boiling on the stove.
On our first night out, we went to Jersey Boys (half price tickets, £38, Leicester Square discount TCKTs booth). This was by accident — we bought Jersey Boys, but I was thinking History Boys. Even during the opening musical number followed by a soliloquy in a strong New Jersey accent I kept thinking: when will they flash back to the British grammar school when all the boys first met each other before going on to form an American pop band performing under the street lights of Newark?
I loved Jersey Boys, which sort of makes no sense. I’ll often tell people I don’t really like musicals, and Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons had their greatest hits at least a decade before I was born. If asked, I’d have said I don’t know a single Frankie Valli song, yet as it turned out, I know all of them. Sherri, Oh what a night! Can’t take my eyes off of you.
I got teared up, as I do easily, because the show was so well done, but also because the music was so simple and rousing and heartfelt. I loved the ladies in the crowd — these ones old enough to be my mother — bopping in their seats, singing along to all the words. It made me miss my mum with an urgency that took my breath away, now that I can’t ask her if she did or didn’t love these songs. And the older ladies, shoulders dipping and wriggling as if in the control of the music itself — they could be me, I thought. Twenty, thirty years from now, I wondered, whose music will be made into a Broadway musical, that transports me into gleeful unawareness?
I can’t help but think it’s going to be some singer that I actually turned my nose up at as a teenager. I fancied myself something of a music snob back then, but these days I can be overcome with a kind of auditory revisionism, catching myself humming along to Phil Collins or Brian Adams. If I was my own daughter I’d be rolling my eyes at me. But give me time. Music does have the ability to lift you up at the same time it’s wringing you out like a towel.
It was a relief, really, to go to The Curious Incident on the final night. A play: no music, no dance numbers. There, I noticed, it was an all-ages crowd, which was what made me realize there’d been no children or teenagers at the other two shows. Jersey Boys was a place for the oldies and the getting-oldies to be ageless for an hour or two. The Book of Mormon was so outrageous and insulting, it had to have had some kind of 18-and-over restrictions. Mind you, 18-year-olds are pretty much looking thirty-something to me these days.
At The Curious Incident, there were grandparents with their grandchildren. A group of youngish boys horsing around during the intermission in their best theatre-going clothes.
What the ticket-seller should have mentioned was that while feet were largely unimportant, the play’s protagonist, an autistic boy, spent a good 20% of the performance lolling on the floor yowling, drawing things with chalk, or playing with his train set. We had to keep craning our necks and hovering our bums over our seats to get a look at what the floor had to offer. £12 indeed.
The woman who played the boy’s mum stayed pretty vertical. She did a lovely and nuanced job with the role of being a less-than-perfect mum to a difficult child.
I caught myself thinking something I think about more and more these days. I’ll think, gosh, I probably won’t ever perform on the London stage. Huh! I likely won’t learn (m)any more languages. I probably won’t go back to school for electrical engineering. I’m okay with it; I just find it sort of surprising.
From my front-row vantage point I could clearly see the lines around the mother’s wistful smile, conspicuous crow’s feet furrowing her stage make-up. When the other actors lifted her in the air to suggest she was diving into the sea you could see the cellulite on the back of her legs.
There was no Wi-Fi in the theatre, and cell phones had to be switched off, of course. Otherwise I would have been googling her age.