Monday, November 12, 2012

Celebrity Encounters of the West End Kind

A few weeks ago I got to meet Matthew Lewis from Harry Potter and Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who. And it was amazing. And really it was all the result of a few decisions that could have easily gone another way. Which of course, I need to explain, so you'll have to wait until near the end to read about my celebrity encounters of the West End kind. 

My mom and I had planned to see a show on the West End from the beginning of my parents trip planning because of my long standing interest in theatre. Ideally, we would have like to see Les Miserables since we saw the US National Tour at the Kennedy Center in DC two years ago and fell in love with it. However, as Les Miserables is a seminal show and currently only playing on the West End in London (no longer showing on Broadway in New York) Les Mis tickets are hard to find and rather expensive if you can find them. Because of this and the the fact that there is an upcoming Les Mis movie to be released in a few months, we determined that we didn't want to pay a lot to see it. 

Because of this, we had to decide what show to see. We decided to go to the TKTS booth in Leicester understanding that we probably wouldn't get Les Mis tickets. It didn't really matter anyway because it was sold out and we had to decide what we wanted to see. Mom had never seen Phantom of the Opera and that really is a classic, but I had seen it on Broadway a few years ago and wasn't especially thrilled by the stage show so I didn't especially want to see it again. We really didn't know what we wanted to see.

A few weeks ago when I was in London I'd seen a poster in a Tube station for the show "Our Boys". It caught my eye because the poster featured Matthew Lewis of Harry Potter fame (Neville Longbottom) and Arthur Darvill from Doctor Who (Rory Williams) two actors whom I admire. When I first saw the poster I had no idea what it was about other than the fact that the characters are army-related given their fatigues in the poster. After I got home I searched it and discovered that it's a comedy about a group of patients in a military hospital.

So when we were at the TKTS booth and found that the tickets were £30 (down from £45) and were very good seats, I told my mother about it. We didn't know much about the show, only what was on the blurb from the pamphlet at the ticket booth:
"This searingly honest and explosively funny play is based on the author's own army experience. Six young soldiers are killing nothing but time as tehy recover from injuries incurred in the line of duty. Suddenly, the joshing banter and easy camaraderie of this unlikely band of brothers is jeopardised. A dangerous incident and an act of betrayal result in charges of misconduct looming--and as accusations fly, the fighting really starts.  
Fired by anger at the neglect of our wounded heroes and set in 1980s Britain, Our Boys remains as relevant now as it was in 1993, when it won a Best New Play award for its premiere production. This West End revival comes from the creative team behind the international hit Journey's End."
We knew that seeing "Our Boys" would be a risk because we didn't really know much about it other than the basic plot and the fact that it'd gotten good reviews. From the description and its acclaims, it was clear that it was going to be a good show, but whether or not we enjoyed it is a different story. But we decided to take the chance.

And because it was a play not a musical, it was a comedy and if focuses on boys in the military we called my dad to see if he wanted to join us (he went to a military school for uni) He said he would be willing to give it a shot, which made me happy but also a little anxious because it put more pressure on myself since I'm the one who chose it, so we bought three tickets. I was pretty nervous that the show wouldn't be interesting and it would be all my fault (I tend to put way too much responsibility/pressure on myself in this type of situation).

In the end it was a really good decision and we had a really nice evening. My mom, dad and I all dressed up (I opted for boots instead of heels because it had gotten really cold in London that weekend). We took the Tube to Covent Garden and had dinner near the Duchess Theatre where the show is performed. There were at least three other theatres in the area--those for Lion King, Shrek and Mamma Mia--so the Italian restaurant at which we ate had a distinct pre-theatre crowd. Our show did't begin until 7:45 (a quite random time and the latest of the four shows in the area) so even though it was packed when we arrived, by the time we left nearly the entire bottom floor of the restaurant was empty.

We got to the theatre in plenty of time to buy a program and get our seats. When we got there we discovered that the Duchess is actually quite a small theatre by West End standards: less than 500 seats. Our seats were in the 10th row, eye level with the stage. I had never been in a professional theatre of this size so it was pretty cool. A glance at the £3 program told me that the six faces on the "Our Boys" poster are actually the only six actors in the cast. I was excited because we were in a small theatre with a small cast and only one set (a hospital room at the Queen Elizabeth Military Hospital and interestingly whenever techs had to come on stage to change the set around or exchange props they were dressed like military doctors; it was a nice touch). I knew that we were in for something special.

The show started on time and for the first twenty minutes or so I was pretty nervous about what I'd gotten myself into. For those of you who don't know, I really do not like potty humor and although I can stand them, I'm not a huge fan of dirty jokes. And the first twenty minutes were filled with a lot of this kind of humor. I was expecting it: it is a show about six injured men stuck in a military hospital and lots of rules and no women after all, so you can imagine what they talked about. Add in the fact that Mick (Matthew Lewis) had just had a circumcision and you can guess that there were a lot of sex jokes. They were quite funny, but I felt some pushed the line, especially with my mom and dad beside me and twenty minutes in I was afraid that this was going to be the entire show. But never fear, after they'd established the reparte of this group of five young men--Mick, Parry (Arthur Darvill), Joe (Laurence Fox), Keith (Cian Barry) and Ian (Lewis Reeves)-- they were able to get on with the development of the story: that Potential Officer Menzies (Jolyon Coy), their new roommate doesn't quite fit in.

One hilarious scene is the end of Act One when the group is playing Beer Hunter, a Russian Roulette type game where one person shakes up a number of beers and mixes them all up. The players then have to pick a can, hold it up next to their head and open it, hoping to just hear the click of the can, but sometimes instead getting sprayed with beer. Combine this plot point with the reparte of the group and some hilarious impressions and you get an unforgettable scene.

What I did find strange about this show was that it had a very slow plot development. The interactions between characters during the first act are hilarious and entertaining but as I watched, I couldn't rightly tell you what this show was actually about other than these five guys hanging out and a sixth guy showing up and kind of crashing their group. By today's standards this would be the set up not the actual plot. It's not until the end of Act I, over an hour in, does a major plot point actually occur. The second act, following an accident in which one of the boys is injured when they are drinking (against the rules) details the investigation of just what happened when Keith was injured and what the circumstances behind it were. Tensions are high as they all face punishment and even expulsion from their respective branches of the military.

The show takes a really dark turn, so different from its hilarious beginnings, at the end when the true nature of some of the characters come to light, people are injured and some even die. It was such an abrupt change in tone that when it ended I felt left in a lurch. But I suppose that was the point. That war can have a terrible effect on people beyond just the physical injuries. And not everything turns out well and good after an injury in the line of duty, even if one physically heals. The show really got me thinking, and I would definitely recommend it. I'd like to see it again even if just to pick up on the intricacies that I missed the first time round.

And the excitement of the night didn't end there. While in the theatre I had looked up the location of the stage door and found a very vague description so didn't plan to pursue it. We exited the theatre and took some picture in front of the theatre and then planned to head home. The prospect of missing out on the stage door was just too much for me though, so I asked my parents if we could just do a lap around the block to see if we could find the stage door. So, exiting the theatre and turning left, we walked all the way around the block and couldn't seem to find it. We turned the corner onto the street the theatre's entrance is and there it was, right in front of me. It was directly to the right of the main entrance.

Because it’s such a small theatre the crowd wasn’t too big and it wasn’t long before actors came streaming out. Cian Barry, Lewis Reeves and Jolyon Coy came out first and I got the first two's autographs on my program. I feel like meeting and getting autographs from actors can be awkward because there really isn't much to say that they haven't heard already. Yes, I could echo what everyone else was saying: "Really good job" or "I loved the show" but that's not very original is it? I did have a short exchange with Cian Barry though, along these lines:
Me: Really good job. The Duchess was the perfect place for this show. I loved that it was just the six of you on such a small stage. It made for a performance that was more...
Cian: ...intimate, yeah, I know what you mean. And that's pretty unusual for a West End production.
Me: Exactly! I loved that about the show.
Then we waited another moment or two until Matt Lewis came out.  I could feel my heartbeat increase with excitement. We were having trouble with my camera and I was afraid the picture wouldn't come out (and you can't really ask to have another go if you mess up) but luckily there weren't an technological difficulties and I was able to get a picture with Neville Longbottom as well as his autograph. My mom kept remarking on how "Neville" his smile was.

Next out was Laurence Fox, who is actually quite famous as well for his work on the television show Lewis and his marriage to Billie Piper (a successful British actress) so there were people rushing to meet him as well, so I didn't bother. Especially since he came out smoking a cigarette, which really turned me off from wanting to get his autograph. I mean really, you're about to sign a bunch of programs and  take loads of pictures, you couldn't smoke before you came out or wait a few minutes and do so on your walk home. (In the end though, I'm kind of disappointed I didn't get to meet him because I've since become a fan of his work Lewis as well as his music. But I couldn't have known that at the time, could I?)

Out last was the person who I was most anxious to meet: Arthur Darvill (I'm a bit obsessed with Doctor Who, which you'll hear about soon when I post about my trip to Cardiff).   He came out and was signing autographs right in front of the door so I was making my way forward to ensure that I got a chance to get an autograph and a picture. About a minute it, a man (presumably his manager, bodyguard, assistant or something like that) came out and spoke quietly to Arthur and put his hand on his back as though he was going to lead him away. My heartbeat increased. No! He can't leave yet. Luckily, Arthur said "Go on, I'll meet you all at the pub" and the man left. Phew. As it became my turn, my knees were shaking from nervous excitement. Arthur was standing on a ledge and as I stepped up to take a picture, being the clumsy Amy that I am, my foot slipped and I stepped on his toes. Of course. It wouldn't be me if I didn't. I apologize and made some comment about how we wouldn't want what happened in the show to happen in real life (his character's toes were amputated) and he laughed it off. And at least I have a small story to tell about it, right?

Afterwords I was giddy with excitement. I couldn't believe that I had met Arthur Darvill and Matt Lewis. My dad said that when we first got to the stage door he noticed a woman and two girls who were freaking out about meeting someone and he laughed good naturedly at them. He then turned around and realized I was acting in the same way! (I think I might have embarrassed him a little!)

In the end I am so glad that we made the decision we did to go see this show. It ended up being really good and its a show I couldn't see anywhere else at any other time than here and now. It is only playing on the West End, for only three months so it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience this show in that intimate theatre with that band of actors who thrive off each others energy. And I got to meet two of my favorite actors. So I'd say yeah, good choice.

1 comment:

  1. That's such a cool experience! Don't you love when taking a chance ends up being great?! Matthew Lewis is adorable and his smile is very "Neville". haha :)