When you are lucky enough to live tube distance from the West End and studied for an English degree it’s not very socially acceptable to admit you don’t always enjoy going to the theatre.
I used to tick off ‘must see shows’ and accompanied friends to almost anything without question. I saw some fantastic performances (which I remain glad of); but the embarrassing truth is sometimes I was not really taking them in.
I guess I loved the idea of ‘culture’. But in reality after an 18.45 office escape and wine on an empty stomach in the interval, I wasn’t savouring the tragic catharsis of Patrick Stewart’s portrayal of ‘Macbeth’. I was staring blankly on, wishing it would end, realising that in the quiet of the theatre this was the first time in a week that I’d had time and space to think. A similar thing happened when I went to an experimental Proms composition in 2008. To Pygmalion at the Old Vic. And again at the ballet – Mayerling – (but then I was just plain bored).
I know that part of ‘experimentation’ is realising what you don’t like, as much as what you do. I came to the realisation that I am just not the kind of person who is ever going to be moved to tears by the opera. What I craved most was entertainment. So now I am far choosier. Nothing too heavy or hardcore (unless I’m geared up for it and have read the York notes). Nothing on Mondays, Tuesdays (and ideally not Wednesdays). No restricted view seats. Nothing in French.
I know how blasphemous and ungrateful… some people will find this admission. So I apologise for all that I am. I will openly admit I also love Magic FM, McDonalds and other such things that many find lazy, commercial and vapid. But…I have a feeling I’m not the only one with such tendencies deep down. So if you are similarly minded or would just like to stress test your theatre choices against the preferences of a semi philistine, here is my list of my favourite musicals for ‘comfort food culture’:
- Matilda – I went two weeks ago when I was in need of switching off from real life. This production has brilliantly bottled and sold childhood from the moment you arrive, it takes you back to being a kid in the strangest way imaginable. It was incredible, adorable fun. The children are talented geniuses (but I warn you, this could make you feel shit about your own adult life achievements). One of my best friends has been three times. I get why.
- Jersey Boys – Loads of great, feel-good songs (I never realised the true range and talent of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons until I first watched Jersey Boys). Genuinely amazing musical performances. You leave with a little bounce in your step. I went twice. Parents love it.
- Book of Mormon – Outrageous and hilarious. Clever and satirical. For some reason rather than get offended I spent a long time thinking about its surprisingly subversive, powerful message about hypocrisy. But maybe that is because I now lack the energy to do this with Shakespeare.
- Billy Elliot – another talented child lead. There is a theme here. He dances up a wall . Its very inspiring. If you are Northern you are likely to find this production particularly nostalgic and worthwhile.
- War Horse – this is more serious and sad; but the technical brilliance of the puppetry is mesmerising and beautiful and it has a historical ‘Downton Abbey-esque’ charm
- Wicked – A tourist/teeny boppers dream. But this has belting numbers that will carry you away to fairyland and a truly lovely twist on the way we read traditional ‘baddies’
Please note – this is not an exhaustive list. I like making lists, so I will return to this as needed. I am already plotting my Christmas edition.
Good night x