It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday really... Entertainment writer in Blackpool, heading to London for a theatre break.
But, I readily admit, I am a musicals geek.
So a midweek trip with the husband was an ideal chance to catch up with some of the best the West End has to offer.
And with Blackpool’s reopened direct rail route to the capital, it’s an easier choice than ever should you want to escape the coast.
That said, as we were travelling via family in the south, we hit the internet and booked Megabus bargains, as well as three nights at the Travelodge. The latter was an especially good rate for the smart-but-simple chain, five minutes’ walk from the Tower Of London and London Bridge.
The location was perfect, with underground stations round the corner too, connecting to key lines District, Circle and Metropolitan to reach the heart of Theatreland in a matter of minutes.
Top of my ‘must see’ list were Memphis and Matilda - I had other shows in mind, with longer titles, not beginning with an M, I promise - with tickets secured through TheatreBreaks.com.
With 30 years’ experience, the site allows you to plan everything for a ‘perfect city break’, from theatre tickets and hotel accommodation, to the extra details, such as pre- or post-show dinners and event or attraction entry.
At two ends of the scale, Memphis is a pretty gritty tale set in 1950s Beale Street, often credited as the home of soul and birthplace of rock n roll, at a time where segregation is the order of the day, while Matilda is the stage version of Roald Dahl’s book about a little girl, hated by her family, who discovers she has special powers.
Starring in Memphis is British soul sensation Beverley Knight, making it something of a two-for-one deal.
Her voice is outstanding, and her portrayal of undiscovered singer Felicia is heartbreaking, set against Killian Donnelly’s quirky Huey, the DJ who ‘finds’ her – and himself, thanks to her music. (Although past X Factor winner Matt Cardle is soon to take on this role.)
With a massively deserved Olivier Award under its belt for choreography, the music is very much at the heart of Memphis’s story. And the supporting cast and ensemble are exceptional too, setting the scenes of black versus white and the two worlds they live in side-by-side yet separated.
Sadly, there’s not too long left to see Memphis, as it’s been listed to close in October, just a year after it opened, having seemingly dipped under the radar.
Conversely, Matilda, now considered a West End long-runner, seems to show no signs of stopping... Unless they run out of stunningly talented children.
Any slight apprehension at overly sickly sweet stage kids was soon crushed, as the perfect mix of talent and tongue in cheek humour was established from the get go – in opening track Miracle, hilariously parodying today’s trend of over-praise on our younger generations.
Comedian Tim Minchin’s score and lyrics perfectly capture the madcap world of Dahl’s stories, by turns drawing tears of hilarity and of sorrow at little Matilda’s plight.
Not wanting to gush, but it really is a dream of a musical, combining some stunning coup de theatre and supremely smart direction, with a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story.
And I’m not ashamed to admit, come the curtain call – and standing ovation – I was sobbing at its sheer brilliance.
Celebrating our inner child was something of a theme for this get away, as we also ventured out to Watford for the Warner Bros Studio Tour – The Making Of Harry Potter.
This is a great value for money day out, we could have spent even longer there than the five hours we did, checking out a huge range of props, sets and costumes from the Harry Potter film series, and we’d recommend the audio guide for added information.
Having previously visited the Imperial War Museum at Manchester, we gave the London branch a try too.
You could probably spend a week there, but we made our choices and focused on the phenomenally detailed First World War galleries, and the Fashion On The Ration: 1940s Street Style exhibition, a fascinating showcase of how the Second World War altered the way people dressed forever.
A day’s adventuring round the Tower Of London, meeting the cheeky ravens and experiencing the great banter of our Beefeater guide, as well as a boat trip on the Thames and lunch with friends at the South Bank all added up to keep us busy.
With the summer holidays now approaching, London’s a great option for an easy escape from home, without some of the minor hassles that go with foreign travel – awkward flight times, changing cash and packing everything but the kitchen sink, not knowing if you’ll be able to get it there.
- For London ticket and hotel packages, visit www.theatrebreaks.co.uk
- The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Matilda the Musical is at the Cambridge Theatre. Visit www.matildathemusical.com.
- Memphis the Musical is at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Visit www.memphisthemisical.com.