Tuesday 31 December 2019

Theatre and New Year's Eve

The main feature of the visit by Alice and Jess was to go into Birmingham for the afternoon performance of The King and I at the New Alexandra Theatre, closer to New Street station.

We parked at Droitwich station and caught the 11:33 train into Birmingham - arrived on schedule. Jess had already proposed that we find a Pizza Express for lunch - there is one in the Bull Ring shopping centre. However, we walked up to New Street and along just to see if anything else took our fancy but by the time we reached the bull statue we were still targeting Pizza Express. We looked up its location on the centre plan but by the time we thought we should be there we arrived at a glass window from where we could see out destination only a few metres away.

Christine took advice from one of the security staff who assured her that by far the quickest way involved going outside, around the edge of the building and back in again, up to the top floor!

We were quickly seated, our orders taken and the popular dough ball starter arrived soon after. However, we then had a long wait before the main dishes arrived - black mark for something with 'express' in its name. Perhaps 40 minutes after ordering we were tucking in - the food was very tasty.

Next we had to find out way to the theatre. Amongst all the tall buildings our GPS struggled to find its place and we took a rather longer route than we should have, despite thinking that we were following the directions from a street plan outside New Street! (It turns our that we really should have gone back into the shopping complex over the station)

We were still in good time when we arrived and located our seats. The theatre was still filling up but by the time the show started few seats were empty. Looking around, it did look as if the show's appeal was less to the customary family seasonal outing and more to those  with nostalgia for when the musical was originally created! (LTRU)

Of course photography is banned during the show but, along most other people, we managed a sneak shot before the start so all you can get to see, dear reader, is the decorative curtain - the rest is up to your imagination!

It was show with strong production values - the publicity aid that the cast numbered over 50. This meant that the songs were sung by good singers and the dances featured really good dancers.

The story, set mid 19C, had much stronger, even at times quite dark, themes than we had recalled: the role of women and gender equality, slavery, empires and the impact of excessive kowtowing to those in power. The King was intent on modernising his country in order to fend off the unwanted attentions of predatory empires and large corporations. This was why he hired an English teacher to train his family and court ion Western ways so that they would not be though of as barbarians, just because their customs were different. The relationship between king and teacher was sometimes stormy, sometimes tender as both struggled with ways that were new to each of them. The end, when the king had died and was to be succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince, the story was ambiguous - had there been real change or was it, as so often happens, merely a veneer and power stayed where it always had been? As far as we can see from a limited internet search, the musical's book stuck reasonably closely to actual history but, of course, sometimes a bit sanitised for the original; 1950's American audience.

After the show had finished we walked back to the station - this time by a very much shorter route, helped by directions from a very pleasant and helpful member of the theatre staff. As a result we had half an hour to wait on platform 10b! There was a slight further delay as the (in)famous congestion at New Street meant that our driver had to wait for another train  to clear our path. Once on our way it ran smoothly and we arrived back at Droitwich just after 7 pm.

After several years the girls expected their traditional NYE schedule. We would have some food later than our usual dinner to be followed eventually by Jools Holland's Hootenanny welcome to the new year (even if it was recorded a month ago!)

A new feature this year was a musical Christmas Program which Alice and Jess had been rehearsing and they even produced a programme sheet for us to follow! We have been following Alice's violin playing for some years but were especially surprised by the strength of Jess's singing.

This year's lineup on Hootenanny maintained the quality that we had come to expect and time passed very quickly until the arrival fo the Scottish pipers and the singing of  Auld Lang Syne.

Time for bed!

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