An Evening with “Sir” Hugh Bonneville

I’ll be the first to confess, when it comes to Hugh Bonneville, I was VERY late to the party. I hadn’t really seen anything with him in it until Christmas 2019, when my much younger half siblings declared me “the worst” as I wouldn’t let them watch Paddington 2 as I had not yet seen Paddington. Traveling to work the next day, I downloaded Paddington to watch, and after seeing Mr Brown thought ” oh, hello, he’s a bit good, wonder what else he has been in”. Of course, Downtown Abbey was the obvious answer, so roll forward 3 weeks, and I had watched every single episode, Christmas special, and the first movie. Since then there has been Notting Hill, The Viceroys House, The Silent Hour, To Olivia, and the exquisitely creepy I Came By.

Imagine my excitement then, when I heard a book tour was coming! I immediately sent out group messages to the gang, and all was booked.

After what seemed like an eternity, 15th October rolled around. After a few scares (emergency X Rays, COVID outbreak at work and potential train strikes, to name a few), we find ourselves in a beautiful theatre off Sloane Square .Cadogan hall is one of my favourite venues, and the perfect size for something like this.

After a faux pas in the introduction “Sir” Hugh Bonneville, (and would that be such a stretch!?) enters the stage, and immediately owns it. He is not Lord Grantham, Mr Brown, or , mercifully Hector Blake. He is Hugh, warm, funny, and just so intensely likeable. You feel as if you are old friends having a cosy catch up in a small coffee shop.

This man was born to tell stories, from being a child digging a grave for his sister, to a Roman soldier facing the wrong way(!), we hung on every word, not noticing the time flying by. For me, working with those living with dementia, his stories of his father struck a particular cord.

His passion for his work and career are evident, when talking about Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, or the misbehaving dogs of Downton, he frequently left his seat to re enact one scene or another and we lapped it up. Very rarely do we get to see a star of his stature so up close and personal, so every single second was a dream.

The Q&A session in the second half was revealing, hilarious and charming, and the night was over far too soon.

The ticket I purchased included a signed copy of his book, Playing Under The Piano. And, I am so glad it did. Hugh writes like he speaks, funny, passionate and down to earth. Some of the stories he told on the night are in there, as well as many, many, more. To be fair though, the book is worth it for the pictures alone!!

To anyone wondering if you should get a ticket, or buy the book, I say do it, and do it now, as tickets appear to be selling fast

Now, I’ve just realised he is speaking at Alleyns in Dulwich, where my friend is a to make a phone call…..


Man of La Mancha.

Confession: I may have only booked tickets to Man of La Mancha because of who was in it.. Kelsey Grammer, best known as Dr Frasier Crane, and the amazing Cassidy Janson, who has appeared in Beautiful:The Carole King Musical, Chess, Wicked, and more.

This, however, takes nothing away from the fact that this is a brilliant production. I laughed, I cried, and at one point in the second half, hid behind my fingers.

Man of La Mancha tells the story of Miguel de Cervantes, who is imprisoned and awaiting trial by the Spanish Inquisition. Whilst there, his fellow prisoners set up a mock trial, with Cervantes offering a play as his form of defence. With some beautifully simple make up changes (its amazing how a set of false eyebrows can change a character!) Cervantes becomes Don Quixote, Knight errant, who along with his faithful manservant Sancho Panza (played brilliantly by Peter Polycarpou), sets out to right the wrongs of the world, (as he sees them), and protect his beloved Dulcinea/ Aldonza. …It’s actually really quite difficult to describe the storyline without giving away pivotal plot moments, so forgive me if those details are on the vague side!

The staging, in my opinion, was perfect, with the set easily changing from the prison setting where the story begins, to the roadside Inn, with nothing more than the rearranging of a few blocks, and the introduction of a (pretty creepy) staircase.

The cast, on paper, was quite intriguing… Kelsey Grammer and Nicholas Lyndhurst are so well known for particular characters ( Frasier Crane and Rodney Trotter, respectively) that I did worry that I wouldn’t be able to separate them from these. From the moment they entered the stage though, I knew I need not worry. Kelsey has such a commanding presence and way with the dialogue, that you forget anything he may have played before, and just become so engrossed in the moment. His rendition of the Impossible Dream at the end of act I was so powerful and emotional, it left us with goosebumps, and Nicholas as the tipsy inn keeper was just perfect, but most of his action was confined to the second half, which is well worth the wait.

The role of Aldonza/Dulcinea is shared between Cassidy Janson and Danielle De Niese. For the night I was in, it was Cassidy taking the female lead, and as usual, she was just sublime. Her character went from witty and feisty, to vulnerable and frightened, and each emotion was portrayed so brilliantly we could feel and see it from the upper circle.

This emotion was also tangible in the finale, the full, rousing cast rendition of The Impossible Dream.

I could go on forever about how brilliant this show is, and it really hasn’t got the credit it deserves. The reviews for it have been mixed, but personally, I think it should be seen by everyone.

Michael Ball Has Come Home

Make no mistake. Michael Ball was born to perform. It also helps that he is just so insanely likeable.

I had seen Michael perform live as part of a duo with Alfie Boe, as well as seeing him as Anatoly in Chess, but this was my first time seeing him do a solo concert. And my word, was it worth the wait.

The show was a mix of music from his new album, Coming Home to You (which earned him his first solo number one album for 27 years), and songs from musicals and a few other covers.

We started off with 4 tracks from his new album, and from the opening lines of the total track, it was clear to see, we were in for a fantastic night.

He then performed songs from his favourite musicals, including the beautiful Evermore from Beauty and the Beast.

From then on, the songs came thick and fast, with Michael effortlessly moving from one to the other. For some artists, you wish they would just stop talking and sing, this was definitely not the case with Michael, I have never seen so much content in one show.

Most songs were enhanced by simple, yet beautiful images being projected on the screens at the back of the stage, for example, Evermore was accompanied by the iconic rose in a bell jar, and He Lives in You (The Lion King) was accompanied by a majestic lion.

The first half finished with Anthem, one of my personal favourites, earning Michael a well deserved standing ovation.

The 2nd half was more upbeat, with the likes of All Dance Together, which had the audience in the stalls rushing to the front of the stage, and You Can’t Stop the Beat (how anyone sings that solo is beyond me, trust me, I try and fail to sing along!).

Michael has an astounding ability to be laughing and joking with the audience one minute, and then reducing them to tears wihh the power and emotion of his voice the next. No more so than when singing a medley of classics from Les Miserable, which gave me and my companions goosebumps from the first notes of Empty Chairs, Empty Tables.

The encore was the now iconic Love Changes Everything, and The Wonder of You.

I always think the sign of a good show is that you have no concept of time whilst being there, and we were all amazed when the end came, as it had flown by so quickly.

This truly was an amazing show, being part of the audience truly felt like coming home.

I cannot wait until September when I finally get to see him in Les Miserable in Concert

A Magical Evening With Alfie Boe and Friends

I’ll admit I arrived at The Royal Albert Hall not in the best of moods… A nightmare day at work, and the potential threat of climate change protesters disrupting our journey did not make for a relaxing start to the evening.

That, however was soon remedied from the moment the support act Hattie Briggs started to sing. Her rendition of Fields of Gold was on a par with the version by Eva Cassidy, and one of our group even said she reminded him of Joni Mitchell. Yes, she was THAT good. Where she really came in to her own however, was singing her own songs, the most noteable being Just Breathe, written for her mother. Spotted by Alfie himself, whilst busking at Paddington station, this woman is sure to go far.. and I can honestly say it was the first time I had seen an audience stand and applaud a support act.

Now, on to the main event, Mr Alfie Boe Himself. There had been reports that he was feeling the strain of touring and he has been described as “looking exhausted” well, there was certainly no evidence of that in this show, but it would be quite easy to see why he would be exhausted. He bounced and danced around like an excited toddler, looking genuinely thrilled just to be performing. For me, the best moments of the night however, came when he just stood up and sang. Bring Him Home will always be a crowd pleaser , and never fails to make me cry, and his version of Run is the best I know of. This is not to take away from the more upbeat songs on this journey through the ages of music, it is just personal preference on my part. Starting in the 30s and 40s with Sing Sing Sing, and working up to more recent times (via an amazing stripped back version of Sweet Child O’ Mine) There was something for everyone.

Onto the cameos… There was not a dry eye in the house when the children from Rays of Sunshine children’s choir joined Alfie on stage for Bring Me Sunshine. From there, it was a touch of comedy, when Alfie welcome to Ben Miller onto the stage to sing Wagon Wheel with him. Unfortunately, from where we sat, we could not hear his voice, as Alfie completely overpowered him, so, for us at the back, at least, it added nothing to the show. The real trump card however came, when Kelsey Grammer was brought on stage and the Royal Albert Hall erupted. Kelsey is best known for playing Dr Frasier Crane in Frasier, and also sang the theme tune, so we all knew he could sing a bit. Well, as it turns out, he can sing A LOT. His deep, gravelly voice on Minnie the Moocher was in total contrast to his rather endearing Dad dancing.

The encore was classic Alfie, As Time Goes By, followed by Run. Seeing the lights of thousands of phones lighting up the Royal Albert Hall is a sight I will never forget, and I even have goosebumps thinking about it now.

Signing off as one extremely tired, but extremely happy little Londoner X