Always when booking multiple dates for a new show there is this utter bewilderment amongst our friends and families: But what if you hate it?? We can shrug this off quite casually. We never hated a single thing we saw of Michael’s. He has exceptionally good taste or just luckily the same as ours. We trust his judgment completely. Now with Mack and Mabel we weren’t so sure as you hear so much about this doomed show. But again we went with our gut feeling and said we’d trust him. How right we were! We actually underestimated how much we would love Mack and Mabel. So at the end of our first trip we began suffering severe withdrawal even before we had seen our last show. In fact, each time we saw it we fell in love with it just little bit more.
To cut a long story short. We ended up adding an extra day (and thus another two performances) to our “end of Chichester run” trip. Only fair as we had to miss the final Saturday. Ages ago Benedict Cumberbatch was announced to perform in Hamlet at the Barbican and we thought: great, Mr. C and the first West End venue of Mr. B. (Les Mis originated there) which we still had not seen - two excellent reasons to try for tickets. Naturally these turnd out to be the hottest tickets in town and were sold out within minutes. Now THAT is a booking experience we don’t want to repeat ever. Think tour ticket booking times ten! Sods law had it that the one day we managed to get tickets for (very last row of the upper circle) later on was announced to be the last day of Mack and Mabel in Chichester. GAH!! But we knew it would be extremely foolish to sell the Hamlet tickets (though we could have made a fortune, of course). But believe us, we did question this decision every time we saw the show and knew we couldn’t be there for the final day.
Why didn’t we write about our trip sooner? We simply did not have the time to do it. We had the lovely Arnoldt family with us in Chichester and met up with other friends, so no chance during (also very patchy wifi situation at the hotel) and after we got home we got straight back to work which was madness these last few days. So now we literally use the first little break to work on it.
Oh how good it was to be back in Chichester! We did not have brilliant seats naturally, as we booked so late, but were extremely lucky to be able to upgrade on the day, as there were some returns. This meant great seats for the matinee, and for the evening performance we were sat on that wonderful aisle Mack walks down at the beginning of the second act. And having him stood next to you mid-performance all focused energy in this beautiful suit and – yes, we know, this next part is sad – to feel the soft vibration of the floor when he is walking down the steps still gives us goosebumps.
Some friends said they were curious to hear how much we liked it now after our “little” gap. We had seen the opening week and now were back for the final week. Gosh, how much we loved it! Even at our first trip everyone was fabulous and we loved it, now though it had evolved so much! Everyone really had settled into their characters. Mostly it was just a slight change in emphasizing certain words, nothing major really, just nuances here and there that did make a big difference though to the feel of the scene. But Rebecca had changed Mabel so much! Mabel now was much more self-assured and sassy. She and Mack were equals now with regards to their determination. He was determined to make people laugh; she was determined to make this difficult man love her as much as she loved him. Mabel is such a great character with this amazing arc from feisty deli-girl to the hugely successful movie star and finally broken actress at the end. Michael and Rebecca made it all feel real for us. What an emotional rollercoaster (that’s us being happy and sad during the show, not an actual rollercoaster throwing a tantrum, just saying in case this lost in translation).
Apart from our leads we have to give a special shout out to Ashley Andrews. For those who have seen the show: he is the dancer that does the bodysurfing over the three huge beach balls during the “Hundreds of Girls” routine (also the writer Mack fires in New York). Such elegance and precision in movement! A true joy to behold. We made it our goal to spot him in every single scene; trickiest is the one with the Keystone Cops. But we managed eventually.
And, it goes without saying – almost, Michael was just brilliant on and off stage and a joy to talk to. Even when he was very poorly one day he took time to chat and have pictures taken. What a star. We hope he made the most of the one week off he had.
Another highlight we have to tell you about though was our backstage tour of the theatre. The Festival Theatre offers these tours regularly and as we love seeing theatres that way we spotted that they offered one on the final Saturday as well. It started at 10:30am and lasted for 1.5 hours in which we were shown the (unglamorous as is the norm) backstage area, the green room which was laid with the original stage flooring from when the theatre opened, the tiny dressing rooms (they don’t have star dressing rooms, all were roughly the same they said, democratic theatre), we saw the wigs, the costumes (they were just working on Michael’s), were told about the history and architecture of the theatre by our fabulous host Harriet. And we got to go behind the stage, see all the sets, which is always incredible. Although we had seen it almost a dozen times on stage there was so much in the sets that never registered. So many little details you never truly see during the show as you tend to be distracted by the storytelling. And the highlight surely was to walk on stage from the wings and getting an idea of what it is like for the cast. Now that is a unique and thrilling experience. Theatres are magical places filled with creative energy even when no performance is on. It was most fantastic (and humbling) feeling to be able to switch perspectives for a change. Little note to everyone who has seen the show there: The top step, when you get down from the stage into the auditorium is really incredibly high! How they ran down into the aisles from up there in the dark without breaking their necks is a minor miracle. We were so sad we couldn’t see the show again after this experience and it gave you a whole new feel for the place. Alas, it was not to be. Surely there will be a next time someday.
However, our time in Hollywoodland was up. We just had time to wave good-bye to Mr. Ball from way back at the stage gate, as we already said good-bye the night before and didn’t want to rob others of the chance and then we were off to London for Hamlet and to meet up with the Arnoldts for dinner.
And that day won’t be forgotten too quickly. It was crazy. We got to the Barbican in good time and decided to collect our evening show tickets early so we’d have time for a relaxed dinner. Thank heavens we did! When they looked up our booking they told us that in all the booking frenzy and amidst system crashes etc. we had had booked tickets for the matinee – which was just having it’s interval as we stood there. We were utterly stunned. Definitely a first for us and no repeat performance planned, thank you very much. Now, while going in we had spotted loads and loads of SOLD OUT signs posted through the vast foyer area. Our hearts sunk. No Mack and Mabel AND no Hamlet?? Resigned we asked the kind lady at the box office for returns on the off chance. She immediately phoned someone more senior then. We were confused. This conversation ended after a few minutes (us calculating whether we could make it back down to Chichester in time) and – miracle of miracles – told us that yes, she actually had a return of two seats next to each other and just had to make sure she was allowed to sell them already. Okay, so we ended up paying the price twice BUT had most amazing seats now in the circle right next to the stage. PHEW! That could have been a disastrous end of our trip otherwise. Hamlet was wonderful, dark, creepy, and intense. Everything we hoped it to be. Mr. Cumberbatch was quite a force of nature. Such presence!
After the show we went to the stage door and even got in second row. We waited almost until 11 and then there he was, signing away and posing for a handful of photos. He must have been exhausted after two three-hour shows but was happy to sign and pose for the waiting crowd.
But our evening was not yet over – oh no: it had only just begun! We got our car out of the car park and we kid you not. The way to our hotel should have taken 15 minutes by foot. At first getting there took well over an hour as the city was crazy mad with traffic AND our sat nav is 10 years old, hence was not QUITE up to speed with the one way streets etc. When we finally got there we were circling our hotel trying to find a car park, but could find nothing (and this was Liverpool Street Station so not out in the woods). Loads of spaces on the streets, but only for permit holders. The only car park we found we could not get to due to millions of building sites and when we finally just took the first one we found we were utterly and truly lost, had no idea where our hotel was and were bone tired. The navigation app of our phone said the hotel was 13 minutes walk away. That was good then. We did so much circling and backtracking that we could have been in Oxford by no, so that was seriously good news. The bad news was that we couldn’t use our car sat nav and the batteries of our mobile phones were down to 8%. We made it to reception with 1% power left and a mere THREE hours after getting into our car. And we are NOT joking. Never been this tired on our lives.
Luckily no more travel nightmares after that. And a tiny hitch like this won’t keep us from going again, of course, so here’s to the next adventure in November when Mack and Mabel are touring Edinburgh. Permalink