For the first time in – well, years – I went to the West End theatre last week. Very unlike me, as I definitely prefer the cinema – a more convincing method of escapism I’ve always thought. But as my sister very kindly asked me to spend her birthday with her and she’d got tickets for a show, I was very much looking forward to our day out.
After lingering over coffee and catching up, we lingered again over lunch at J. Sheekey. I do think the staff have it right there, just sycophantic enough but not too sickly. As it was her birthday we went wild and had lobster & chips, followed by Twinkle Jelly. Once my eyes had stopped watering when I saw the bill, we walked (well sister tottered on heels while I marched along extolling the virtues of flat boots) past the clamouring crowds who had come to see the stars arriving on the red carpet for the premiere of Django Unchained.
Then it was into The Prince of Wales Theatre and up, up and a bit more up, into the dress circle to try and find our seats in the nick of time for the matinee performance. But we never got past the usher as, my sister suddenly froze at the sight of the vertiginous seating layout – even I thought we might need crampons to get to our seats. So, in some haste, we descended the stairs two at a time and spoke to the box office staff who very kindly (and quickly) gave us very good stall seats instead. We plonked ourselves down just as the performance started. This wouldn’t be too bad, I remember thinking, I like the Beatles music even though I am not keen on musicals. I was looking forward to some drama and perhaps finding out something about the Fab Four that I never knew.
As the curtains parted, we saw four faux Beatles as if in concert. They sang three or four songs. My sister and I started to get slightly nervous. When was the acting going to start? Then it dawned on us – this was like, well, a tribute band. No drama. No set changes. There was a screen on either side of the stage that showed sixties footage (on a loop) and pre-recorded versions of the false Beatles singing the very same song they were singing live on stage (but slightly out of sync). I sat more firmly in my seat. The words “rip off” started appearing in my brain.
I applauded at the end of every song because it was my sister’s birthday and I didn’t want to spoil her day, but I just couldn’t get into the “Oh we are all at a concert, let’s scream because the Beatles are on stage”. Because they weren’t. The mock Beatles were good musicians but they obviously weren’t Paul, Ringo, George and John. Saying that, my sister and I were about the only two people in the auditorium who weren’t up on our feet dancing as if we were actually in Shea Stadium.
As we were leaving the theatre it occurred to me that the young guys playing the fab four would probably be planning a very quick escape from their dressing room – after all, the only groupies that would be clamouring at the stage door would be wrinkly old women who, unlike us, really did get into the spirit of the show!