Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Craptory

It could well be a bit of a late night. Nathan and I have been working on a document all day which we’ve promised to send out before tomorrow. We’ve worked on it on the tube, in the car, for seven hours in an office and at one point as we gobbled down soup for lunch. Whilst not working on the document, Nathan has been gallivanting around North London to get his blood test results back from the doctors and to have more blood taken at the hospital. These days, certainly up in Highgate, you can’t actually book a useful appointment with a GP. Last week, as they sent him away for the tests, they told him the results would be back in a week, but that they couldn’t book him an appointment for three weeks. The advice instead was to call at 8am for an “emergency appointment,” which involves a peculiar lottery system where you call and call and call in the hope of catching the receptionist when she puts the phone down on the lucky person that managed to get in before you. When Nathan finally got through, all the morning emergency appointments had gone, so he was advised to call back at 1pm for an afternoon emergency appointment. We had a land line and two mobiles on constant ring-back for ten minutes until Nathan finally got through. He was seen later in the afternoon… 

This evening we were lucky enough to get a pair of tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, which has to be one of the most iconic theatres in the world. It’s certainly one of the biggest, oldest, most beautiful… and most haunted. Nathan actually worked there for a year, performing Miss Saigon in the late 90s. He tells the tale of returning to the theatre late at night to pick up a bag he’d forgotten, and being let in by the 24-hour stage door keeper. He walked down a darkened corridor backstage just as a pay phone started ringing randomly. Thinking it was the stage door man trying to get his attention, Nathan answered, but the line was silent. He got a bit freaked out, but went to his dressing room to collect his bag. As he returned along the corridor a few minutes later, the same phone started ringing again.  He picked it up, but again it was silent…

There are so many ghost stories attached to that particular theatre, including the tale of the Man in Grey, who appears in an 18th Century hat, sitting in the fourth row of the Upper Circle, before walking along a row of seats and disappearing through a wall. Apparently he only appears during shows which are destined to be successful. In the 1840s, when they did renovations in the theatre, they found the skeleton of a man with a knife in his chest in the very wall cavity where the grey man disappears. In 1939, the entire cast of a show witnessed him. I’m pretty sure I’d rather see the Man in Grey, however, than the floating disembodied head of Grimaldi the Clown, who is apparently sometimes seen floating in the auditorium's boxes. Slightly less terrifying than that particular pair, is the “helping hand” ghost, who nudges actors into better positions on the stage, and pats them on the back when they get big laughs. TERRIFYING!

During the late 90s, I worked for a few years as the stage door keeper at the New Ambassadors Theatre. At the end of each shift, I had to walk around the theatre locking up, and always found the experience rather unsettling. As I walked into the darkened auditorium, I often felt that I could still sense a residue of energy from that night’s audience. When there’d been a funny show, I swear the house felt lighter, somehow. Tragedies, like The Wear, where, on first preview, one of the ushers had to be carried out of the theatre by the audience because she was so distressed, always left the theatre feeling rather heavy and gloomy. Of course I was probably only imagining it, but if I had a pound, as they say, for every unexplained noise I heard in those late night lock-ups, I would be a very rich man. I was most grateful to the intruder we found in the gentlemen’s loos one night, (fortunately before all the staff has left the building) because from then on, the theatre’s fireman was rostered to do the lock up with the stage door keeper. 

I wasn’t a massive fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by the way. I thought there were some wonderful sequences: the Oompah-Loompahs were absolutely brilliant, the acting performances were strong and there were some glorious (if a little clunky sets), but the music was just a bit, well, meh. It just bumbled away in the background, never really hitting a huge climax, or taking the audience anywhere exciting. It was just there. Written, as they say, on the back of a Cornflakes packet. There’s also an issue with the pacing of the story, in that it takes such a long time to reach the chocolate factory itself. In this production, you don’t actually see the magic inside the building until after the interval, which means there are one or two too many slow and static scenes involving Charlie’s extended family, all of which, frankly, leave you wondering why on earth they’re all so poor. (In this particular stage show, although the father was unemployed, the mother seemed to be working as a nurse, so quite why they were living on a rubbish dump and couldn’t even afford a bar of chocolate, I’m not sure! What was she spending her nurse’s salary on? Crack?) 

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