Saturday 1 May 2010

Thank Ali for critics

15st 7lb, 4.1 units. So we duly made it to London this morning, over my own dead body and despite the best efforts of Network Rail and their traditional “bank holiday weekend engineering works”, one casualty of which was the usual direct services between Chester and Euston. Still, we enjoyed a good laugh at Crewe station, as a heavily luggage-laden crowd of lazy sods and geriatrics endured a long wait for the one and only lift to ease their transfer between platforms; and then, when it finally arrived, an extremely technophobic, middle-aged mental defective had to be coaxed out through the doors by his elderly mother. A process that took so long that, with absolutely perfect comic timing, he managed to exit the lift a nanosecond before the doors shut behind him and it was whisked off into the ether before any of us had had even the whiff of a chance to step inside. Well I laughed, anyway. The assorted Zimmer frame dependents who were about to miss their connections seemed to find it less amusing, on the whole.

At Euston we grabbed a taxi to take us to the Old-Fashioned Club, only to find that it could not go there because most of St James’s had been cordoned off for the start of something called the Gumball Rally. Dumb-ball Rally might have been more appropriate. A load of f***wits, some with towels wrapped around their heads, stood alongside the sort of overpowered cars that would probably cause Jeremy Clarkson to come in his pants but just made me think that there might be something to be said for the “saving the planet” merchants after all. If I were looking for an unnecessary waste of energy to ban, I’d probably start here. I console myself with the thought that we must have wheeled our suitcase across several sets of toes as we fought our way across Pall Mall through hordes of idiots with cameras.

Having checked in at the OFC, we fought our way back through the crowds to have lunch at the Very Fashionable Club (hereinafter VFC) above a well-known restaurant on the fringes of Covent Garden and Soho. Of course, no-one who is anyone would be seen dead in a VFC in London at lunchtime on Saturday, so we were their only customers. They were very nice about it, without any hint of the simmering resentment that one might expect if one disturbed the slumber of a quiet Northumbrian pub under similar circumstances. We knew how it would be, because we had been before. Last time we were in town on a Saturday lunchtime I decreed that we should go somewhere livelier, so we went to the well-regarded Green’s restaurant in St James’s. We were its only customers. But, let’s face it, for most of my life I have been eating in empty restaurants completely on my own, so having Mrs H in tow to make impolite conversation is an infinite improvement.

I thought an afternoon nap would be a refreshing way to limber up for the evening’s entertainment, but unfortunately the bloke in the bedroom above ours at the OFC thought that it presented an ideal opportunity to train for the distance walking event at the 2012 Olympics by endlessly pacing the creaking floorboards above our heads.

Mrs H spent a while smartening herself up, while I took a quick glance in the mirror and pronounced “You’ll do”. Then we set off to walk to the Royal Opera House, with my spirits further lowered by the realization that the high-powered opera glasses I had carefully dug out in anticipation of the evening’s bare-breasted maidens were still sitting on top of the dressing table at home. And it proved to be absolutely chucking it down, though at least a conveniently timed drop-off at a neighbouring OFC disproved my long-held theory that you can never, ever find a London taxi when it is raining.

And how was Aida? Well, certainly nothing like as bad as I had been led to expect by the critics, who seemed to be at one in saying that the director could not direct, the singers could not sing and the conductor could not conduct, along with some more telling adverse comments. There is much to be said for having your expectations so comprehensively lowered that you would feel you had had an absolutely cracking evening if you simply escaped from the theatre without being smacked across the face with a length of lead piping.

Having established that director David McVicar’s Big Idea was to set it somewhere other than predictable old ancient Egypt, I devoted much of the evening to trying to work out where the hell it was supposed to be. Striving not to be distracted, in my pathetically literal way, by the libretto’s insistent references to Egypt and Ethopia. Dressing-up boxes that had been raided to clothe the cast of hundreds seemed to range from The Seven Samurai (for the Egyptian army) to The Canterbury Tales (for the Ethiopian captives). The shrunken heads on the priests’ canes looked like they might have come from Borneo, their headdresses seemed faintly redolent of Roman centurions, but surely the whole grisly human sacrifice thing was more Central American? The bare-breasted dancers, in so far as they were wearing anything at all, looked as though they were in costume for a Middle Eastern harem. The lighting and lack of opera glasses conspired against lechery, but Mrs H, who considers herself a bit of an expert in these matters, assured me that I would have found the breasts something of a disappointment if I had secured a proper view of them.

The management cast caution to the winds and did not kick the evening off with the usual Tannoy warnings against mobile phones and photography. Perhaps it was the absence of this that led the elderly couple in one of the boxes to fail to realize that the performance had actually started, and continue talking loudly throughout the overture, while someone in the stalls circle kept taking cheeky flash photographs during the first act. If I had been conducting, I would have laid down my baton for as long as it took to track the perpetrator down and punch him in the face, but milder counsels prevailed and the production lurched on. The singing did not strike me as at all bad, though I felt that the bloke who kept shouting “Brava!” from a box at the end of every well-known aria must have been a close relative or the agent of the divas concerned. The playing seemed positively good, and what if the trumpets positioned in the upper circle did strike the odd bum note during the Triumphal March? At least it meant that the most flawless performance of the piece Mrs H has ever heard was the solo by my old college chum Geoff as we walked down the aisle of Bunbury church together at the conclusion of our wedding. Mrs H and me, that is. Geoff did not walk down the aisle with us as he was fully occupied standing next to the organ and playing his trumpet.

Why Radames and Aida should have been entombed in a landscape inspired by an abandoned trolleybus terminus in contemporary Afghanistan (I am not making this up; it’s in the programme) is miles beyond me. And I think even I could have visualized somewhere more claustrophobically atmospheric for their death throes than a half-raised barn out of Witness, always assuming that the Amish had bought a cut-price barn kit from B&Q that had at least half the parts missing, and that they had read the instructions upside down while they were completely pissed.

But, having said all that, the prolonged applause at the end was not that of a full house which had just endured a bloody awful evening, and we left thanking the Great God Ali Bongo for his wonderful gift of critics, whose dire warnings left us feeling pleasantly surprised.

It was still pissing down when we left. I repeated my mantra about never being able to find a London taxi when it is raining, and Mrs H again proved me a liar by flagging one down. Though at least on this occasion London proved true to form and a rude woman raced her to the cab door and barged her aside. I’d like to conclude by reporting what Mrs H said about her, but it really isn’t suitable for inclusion in a non-X-rated blog.

1 comment:

CC said...

Well worth my wait.
You do have a way with words....
Many thanks for the late morning (here) laughs.