One of the joys of living in South West London is the sheer variety of things to do. In my patch, Earlsfield, we’ve still got a great range of local pubs, a large choice of good local restaurants and at least one cinema in walking distance. Unfortunately we lost the bingo hall, but you can’t have everything.
Sometimes though you don’t want to go out for yet another meal, or another drink…you want to be entertained and want someone else to provide that entertainment. Well here again it’s great that we live in this part of the world, because as well as having the West End within easy reach we’ve also got our own superb local theatres in Wimbledon & Richmond.
I’ve been going to the New Wimbledon Theatre for as long as I’ve lived in the area. As the Ultimate Rugby Fan (URF) would probably like to point out, back then the performances were all in Latin, followed by a rousing chorus of ‘God save the Emperor’ at the end of each show.
In truth it’s not been that long, but I’ve always had a massive soft spot for the Wimbledon’s theatre and have seen numerous productions there. I was privileged to see Rik Mayall in ‘The New Statesman’ live and more recently as reported elsewhere Marcus Brigstocke and Verne Troyer in ‘Peter Pan,’ at Christmas. I think it’s a lovely looking place, both inside and out, and I’m constantly trying to find reasons to go there.
The Richmond Theatre though is a different matter, until recently I’d never been until the URF convinced me to take her to something called ‘Thank Abba for the music,’ which being the amazing genius that I am, I felt could only be some sort of Abba tribute act. So one recent Saturday found me and the URF arriving at the theatre to pick up our tickets in what I can only describe as a state of slight bemusement.
OK, I admit it, I quite like Abba. When I was younger I even purchased a copy of Abba ‘Gold,’ the greatest hits album. When I was even younger I though the words of ‘Mamma Mia,’ went ‘Count of Monte Cristo,’ rather than ‘how can I resist him,’ as that was the name of the cartoon on after they’d shown the video (ah Saturday mornings with Sally James for those who can remember.) I was never however a complete fanatic, so I wondered how I’d react to two and a bit hours of 4 people jigging about on stage pretending to be someone they weren’t. Well if you look at it that way it’s not much different to the regular theatre then.
Richmond Theatre itself is a very handsome building and reckoned to be one of the finest examples of a late Victorian theatre extant anywhere in the London area. Proceeding to the box office we were able to pick up our tickets swiftly and we made our way to the bar to prep ourselves for the evening’s festivities. We were about 50 minutes from curtain up, it was therefore a little bit surprising to find that the bars were all shut, including the one we’d been expressly directed to.
This being Richmond however, there isn’t exactly a shortage of watering holes nearby, and we swiftly made our way to The Duke pub about a minute’s walk away on Duke street. This turned out to be an inspired find, with a good range of beers and what looked like a good menu, though of course it’s hard to judge when you haven’t actually eaten there.
Sitting in the pub we could tell immediately those other customers who would be fellow event goers. It was a pretty eclectic crowd, one group of female birthday party revellers stood out somewhat, resembling nothing but a ‘Pitch Perfect’ tribute act. They seemed to be set to have a very good time. As we headed back towards the theatre we could see the other people converging on it. Groups of young adults, still very much in their mid-teens, couples of all ages, groups of OAPs, more groups of women and girls. Yes there was a weighting towards this being a bit of a girl’s night out event, but its appeal did seem to go rather beyond that. It didn’t feel as embarrassing for instance as when I found myself the only male in the entire auditorium for a screening of ‘Bridget Jones’s the edge of reason,’ though whether I should be as embarrassed as those who actually made the film is a moot point.
So here we all were packed into the theatre awaiting curtain up, at least 50% of us ready to party, the remainder up for being talked into it and the sound of the helicopter from Abba’s seminal ‘Arrival’ album playing through the speakers. The first couple of numbers were oddities, oddities in that they were clearly Abba songs, but one’s that I didn’t recognise. A few songs in we had the first of the big numbers rolled out, ‘Knowing me, knowing you,’ and we had the first tentative dance steps in the aisles. More hits followed with the crowd becoming increasingly involved.
Just before the interval fake Benny asked the audience for any shout outs to be sent in through Facebook or Twitter. The URF, who takes as easily to embarrassing me as she does to breathing instantly wrote in suggesting that I deserved a shout out as I had actually attended the 1974 Eurovision song contest in Brighton with my then boyfriend. This ignored the facts that I would have been 4, didn’t live in Brighton and don’t happen to be gay.
As the curtain rose for the second half, I wasn’t that surprised that the URF’s shout out was not only one of two actually mentioned, but the one given star billing. Trying to sink under my chair or at the very least turn invisible, my only defence was to mumble, incoherently over and over again ‘lies, lies, lies! I tell you.’ Things looked bleak, with a mention that I might be brought on stage when they finally got around to playing Waterloo.
Prior to this my entire knowledge of the 1974 Eurovision song contest could be boiled down to these salient points. It was a Eurovision song contest, held in 1974 at Brighton, hoested by Katie Boyle and won by Abba. I also had a sneaking suspicion that the UK jury had awarded the super Swedes nil points, but wasn’t sure.
Bracing myself for my involuntary 15 minutes of stage fame (or simply shame as I shall now refer to it,) and ignoring the increasing frenzied bopping all through the auditorium I ran to the gents to see what further info I could glean on the 1974 contest from Wikipedia. After reading it hastily the only other fact that stuck in my head was that it turned out that the interval act were that group of South West London’s highly talented litter redeployment specialists, the Wombles. Is that it, it didn’t even list what song they sang.
Fortunately for me nothing came of false Benny’s threat and I was allowed the finish the rest of the concert in peace. And it was great, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would definitely go again. Whilst I was there I also noticed that there was some regular plays that I’d like to see which I would never have been aware of, including Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter,’ and the first dramatic staging of ‘Brideshead revisited.’
As the crowd left that night it was with a smile on its collective face. To me this proved that the local theatre could be the centre of a great night out, and not just for watching a play. Both Richmond and Wimbledon have a coming attractions list stuffed full of different things to do and see. Yes plays, well of course, as I said I’d love to see ‘Brideshead revisited’ (hint ATG theatres, hint,) comedy, children’s plays, stand up, more tribute acts. I would dare you to look through and not find something that excites you. So there you have it, my thoughts on the matter, we’re lucky to have such great venues on our doorstep. We should use them more.