Saturday 31 May 2008

Making a bad farce out of a tragedy

No idea of my weight; a colossal 16.0 units of alcohol yesterday, compared with the “not more than 3.0 per day” recommended by the Government for “responsible” males; 1,344; Brightelmstone.

So this is what it is like being three days off turning 54. Most unusually, I am suffering from constipation, and fear that I am about to suffer a recurrence of piles as a result. My gums bled profusely when I brushed my teeth this morning, and I am unusually conscious of my long-standing tinnitus. On top of which, I have had a sore throat for more than six months and am more than ever convinced that it betokens something sinister and ultimately fatal. All I need now is for someone to confirm that diagnosis so that I can stop fretting about the need to go back to work, and crack on with squandering the remainder of my meagre life savings.

But apart from that, I’m absolutely on top of the world.

I took a taxi from my club to Victoria in the late morning, feeling slightly guilty about asking him to make such a pathetically short journey, but the closure of The Mall for a Trooping the Colour rehearsal meant that he was able to rack up a respectable fare by going a remarkably long way around. I’d allowed more than half an hour to buy a ticket, but everything progressed remarkably smoothly until I asked for a return to Brighton, coming back early on Monday morning. I was informed that no such thing was obtainable, even for ready money. However, the lady behind the prudently reinforced glass did graciously consent to sell me two individual tickets: a “cheap day single” for my outward journey, which was a bargain at £19.00; and a full price single for my return during Monday’s rush hour, which cost an eye-watering £19.50.

There is presumably some sort of logic behind this pricing structure and the names given to the various categories of ticket. I wonder what it is?

I stood slap bang in the middle of the concourse where the LTCB could not possibly miss me as she made her way from the tube to the Brighton departure platform, so of course she did. Miss me, that is. But through the miracle of text messaging we were soon united on the 12.06 train. Well, not literally united. We are still very fond of each other, but certain standards of decorum must prevail. We took a taxi from the station to my friends’ flat on Marine Parade and sat on their terrace in the sunshine happily drinking New Zealand fizz and admiring the view. After a couple of bottles we walked along the front to the Regency fish restaurant, where my host explained for the umpteenth time how superbly retsina went with fish and chips, and I explained that I would much prefer to have almost anything else. Yet ended up drinking retsina again, as I always do.

It’s what they call a ritual, I expect.

I’d originally expected this meal to take place in the evening, but our hosts had received a late invitation to a birthday party, so announced that they would be leaving us to our own devices. Casting about for alternative entertainment, I rang an old school and university friend who lives in Lewes, and asked if he and his wife would like to meet us instead. As it happened, they were already coming to Brighton to see a production of La Boheme at the Theatre Royal, and asked whether we would like to join them for that. The correct answer to this question, as it turned out, was a categorical “no”, but I made the mistake of consulting the LTCB and she thought it sounded like a pleasant enough way to pass the time. And I remembered the story about King George V being asked which was his favourite opera, and why, and instantly replying, “La Boheme. Because it’s much the shortest.” So off we went.

Our host in Marine Parade had gleefully predicted that we would have an absolutely SH*T evening, and I had countered his remarks by pointing out that some of these obscure east European opera companies are surprisingly good. For example, the best production I have ever seen of Gounod’s Faust was given at the Edinburgh Festival many years ago by the Slovak National Opera of Bratislava. However, on this occasion he was bang right. I knew that it was going to be truly dreadful from the minute that the fat old bloke playing Rodolfo opened his mouth. He looked disturbingly like Gordon Brown, only minus the ready smile and powerful charisma; and, if he hit any right notes in the course of the evening, it can only have been by accident.

To look on the bright side, Marcello sang quite respectably and, in this company at least, Musetta actually seemed reasonably good. The orchestra meanwhile seemed to be of altogether higher quality than the singers. Perhaps they had come to the wrong theatre by mistake. The sets were little more than painted cloths, and the bed on which Mimi expired was so rickety that one had fears that she might well meet an accidental death before her scheduled demise from consumption. In fairness, the woman playing her wasn’t altogether bad if one shut one’s eyes, but the fact that she appeared to be well past pensionable age took away much of the pathos of her death. Instead of the customary sobs at the end, one heard whispers of “Well, at least she had a good innings.” In fact, the audience talked to each other quite extensively throughout, mainly saying things like “Oh dear”. Normally this would have annoyed the hell out of me at an opera, but on this occasion it did not seem to matter in the slightest.

A particular highlight for me was the exchange I witnessed when we foolishly returned to our seats after the interval. The old boy next to us turned to his wife and said, “Well, at least it can’t get any worse”, at which point the woman sitting behind him accidentally tipped a full glass of pomegranate juice over his freshly laundered white shirt. Which just goes to show the folly of making positive predictions.

The dramatic impact of the urgently whispered “Marcello, she’s dead!” in the final scene was somewhat reduced by having it bellowed in a tone that would have woken a stone deaf centenarian having a deep sleep in the Pavilion Gardens down the road. Even allowing for the fact that Rodolfo was evidently several potatoes short of a Russian banquet, this made it very hard indeed to understand his subsequent puzzlement and his traditional question of “Why are you all looking at me like that?”

For some reason I was reminded of my father’s favourite theatrical story, of attending a performance of Murder at the Red Barn in the Grand Theatre, Byker, when he was a young man. After the foul deed had been committed, the villain inquired rhetorically, “What shall I do with the body?” And a loud Geordie voice from the balcony helpfully suggested another foul deed that he could advantageously commit while the corpse was still warm.

It seems needlessly cruel to name the company responsible for this fiasco, so I shall merely observe that they were indeed Russian, and from a part of that great country to which no-one has ever been sent as a reward.

After this treat, we walked through Brighton to another fish restaurant, which had apparently attained a sort of distinction by being sorted out by that Gordon Ramsay on TV. I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry, but overcame my prejudice against ordering oysters when there is no “R” in the month as I remembered their reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac. An old wives’ tale, it would seem. Perhaps I should have offered to suck the pomegranate juice out of that old man’s shirt instead.

1 comment:


Typical of the old Grand theatre at Byker. I grew up in the place! and caused many BAD moments as a child! My Dad ran the place and I ended its days as House Manager with Patrick Dowlings Rep Company production of Night Must Fall. As we stood at the footlights and said farewell to the audience of 62old folk Smoky the theatre cat came down to the footlights and gazed up at the rows of dark empty seats for the last time..........
Has anyone got a good photo of the Grand?
David Hinge