A serious joy of living in London is that there are so many utterly fabulous places a mere over-stuffed tube ride away from you. One vows to spend evenings in glamourous bars and days pottering around educative art galleries, or take spontaeous trips to festivals or feted restaurants. But then one gets a mortgage, faints on checking one's bank statement and never leaves the house. I wander past gorgeous twinkly-lit windows inside which beautiful people sup champagne and think, I must go there some day. Rarely do I ever get round to it. Rarely, but not never.
The other night the Accidental Ally (remember her? She keeps me sane at work and is wonderfully up for accompanying me on many mad adventures...) and I went to the theatre, as we are occasionally wont to do. We started out theatre-going with a trip to see 'The Little Dog Laughed' one night when there was nothing on at the cinema we fancied seeing. (Bloody hilarious, Tamsin Greig was outstanding - a real show-stealer.) And driven by a deep respect and awe for the utterly stylish and fabulous Kristen Scott-Thomas, we recently saw Betrayal which was also excellent. Although on that occasion our last-minute sprint through Leicester Square, scattering gormless tourists, to make the first act did not ensure a particularly decorous start to that evening.
The other night however we had learnt our lesson, and thus pitched up with three-quarters of an hour to spare at the Harold Pinter Theatre. The HPT was until recently called the Comedy Theatre, which we thought was a little prescriptive; probably wise to change the name to allow them to stage some totally unamusing plays as well. As we skirted the eye-searingly bright M&M World (just what on earth can they cover 5 floors with? And don't say M&Ms - I simply don't believe you can get that much mileage out of a tiny chocolate pebble), we caught sight of a large letter 'W' picked out in fat light bulbs which were slowly shifting colour.
The clientele was decidedly moneyed, many of them of the Euro-smoothie persuasion. Both business and pleasure seemed to be in full swing. A thirty-something guy playing with his iPhone swivelled on a high stool up at the bar, a bottle of champagne and a single glass in front of him. Suits clinked glasses of red wine, and tourists in jeans and jackets nudged their backpacks under their tables as their eyes scanned around the room. The Ally and I took our own glasses of wine to one of the low tables and watched the black-clad wait-staff slide up and down the sleek corridors. We gossiped about a certain A-list actor whom the Accidental Ally knew back in drama school, and she regaled me with tales from her own days of treading the boards. When curtain up at the Harold Pinter Theatre was only ten minutes away we drained our glasses and I had a brief terrifying moment in the toilets, as the omnipresent mirrors struck yet again, transforming the washroom into a fun fair's House of Mirrors ride, trapping me within. Fortunately the lift behaved itself on the way down, and we were soon back out in the whirl of Leicester Square, wishing our whistle-stop wine stop could have been longer.
And then we went to the theatre to see 'Death And The Maiden'. The play itself is a thought-provoking effort - a tale of human rights abuse in an anonymous Latin American country - and I left endlessly turning over what had really happened in my head. The two male actors were splendid, even if I spent a large portion of the play trying to work out where I recognised them from (Doctor Who and Midsomer Murders apparently). But Thandie Newton, making her West End debut...oh dear. There were moments during the performance when I had to poke the Accidental Ally as Ms Newton's am-dram melodrama induced in her endless fits of inappropriate giggles. Reviews have expressed a hope that Newton will grow into the role she plays as the performance continues its run, and maybe she will. The disappointed (but much amused) Ally summed up as we headed home: "Tis a shame. I was ready to be blown away by old Thandie but my own brother managed a better performance as a Scottish housewife in a school play aged 9." We vowed that on our next theatre trip we would avoid the Hollywood A-listers...unless they happened to be hanging out in the W Hotel bar.