Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 31 - Neal's Yard and Once

Hubby took off to Leicester Square and bought tickets to Once, which I will talk about later.  When he returned, we headed to Neal's Yard.

Neal's Yard with Hair by Fairy
Neal's Yard is a small alley in Covent Garden between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street which opens into a courtyard. It is named after the 17th century developer, Thomas Neale. It now contains several health food cafes and New Age retailers such as Neal's Yard Remedies, Neal's Yard Dairy, and World Food Cafe.  In addition, Neal's Yard has a hair salon named "Hair by Fairy."  Not sure, but I think the clientele would be limited for a salon with this name in the USA.  From the decorations on the building you can tell they are referring to the magical creature, though it could indeed be a play on words.

Another "famous" place in Neal's Yard has the Neal's Yard Remedies store on the ground floor.  If you look closely, you can see a small blue badge next to the blue window.  I blew it up below so any Monty Python fans could see where they stayed from 1970-1987.

Upon leaving Neal's Yard we went searching for a place for dinner and finally selected "The Spice of Life" pub.

It is thought that there has been a tavern on the site of The Spice of Life since around 1750, although its present incarnation was built in 1898.  Even so, the building survived two world wars and retained its traditional charm.  The pub was known then as The Cantons, and this name can still be seen in the building's stonework as well as on the flags held by the rooftop gargoyles overlooking Cambridge Circus.

The tavern underwent a few name changes over the next 80 years, becoming The George and 13 Cantons, The Scots Hoose, and then finally The Spice of Life in 1986, when McMullen (the Hertford Brewers) became the owners. The Spice of Life is apparently a reference to a line in the William Cowper poem ‘Task' …variety's the very spice of life / that gave it all it's flavour…”.  As well as being a listed building, The Spice of Life also has an esteemed musical heritage.

In the 1960's and 1970's The Scots Hoose (as it was called then) was a popular venue for folk musicians, and saw many great acts of the time, such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, Bert Jansch, The Strawbs and Sandy Denny performing here.  Then in the heyday of punk in the late 70's The Spice of Life became a regular haunt for many punk musicians and followers, including The Sex Pistols.

In the late 90's a thriving Jazz Club started up at The Spice, and has attracted many top acts, such as Jamie Cullum, Soweto Kinch, Darius Brubeck & Daryl Sherman.  However, we were there to eat and not listen to music, since we had theatre tickets.  So, I had a gin and tonic and the ribeye, which is pictured below.

Hubby had the Cumberland sausage, mash and green beans (no picture, sorry).  The food was good, and I really enjoyed my drink.  After we finished eating we thought it was too early to get into the theatre, so we strolled over to Foyle's and browsed.  I tried to find more information in a pub book about The Spice of Life, but they failed to mention the pub.

About a half-hour to showtime, we strolled over to the Phoenix Theatre where "Once" is playing.

Phoenix Theatre
We should have gone over earlier since the actors come out on stage and conduct a jam session while members of the audience join them and take advantage of the bar they had set up on stage.

Cast and members of the audience on stage with them
  The house lights remain up until it was time for the audience members to leave.  At that point, the cast continued to play Irish folk music as they stomped on stage in a rousing number.

The book for the musical was written by Enda Walsh, retaining many of the songs written by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for the film, including the Academy Award-winning "Falling Slowly". The musical premiered at the New York Theater Workshop in 2011, before transferring to Broadway in 2012. The production received eleven 2012 Tony Award nominations, and won eight of those awards including Best Musical, Best Actor, and Best Book. The musical also won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

In the musical, the cast also serves as the orchestra. A minimalist set is used, including a bar in center stage with chairs lining stage left and right. Exiting cast members simply step to the side of the stage and sit down. They serve as the orchestra from these chairs. The bar is used at intermission as a working bar for refreshments.

Set in current day Dublin, the plot is simple.  Boy is ready to give up on his life's dream of playing music when girl enters his life.  Using some persistent persuasion along with a dash of humor, she convinces him to make a recording.  Within five days girl has turned boy's life around, but she has a child and an absent husband, and he has a girl friend in New York, so even when he asks her to join him, she knows her life needs to follow a different path.

Being a die-hard romantic, I cried at the end as did the actress playing the girl (note, the two leads have no name in the script or the program, they are simply listed as "guy" and "girl.")  The musical ends with the signature melody and she's smiling through her tears as she plays on the piano guy bought for her and he plays the same song on his guitar, even though they are now miles apart.  I had read a bit of the script, but haven't seen the movie and didn't know beforehand that it didn't have a "boy and girl get together in the end" finale.  All the same, I didn't see any other way it could end, either.

After the show we walked back to the flat and discussed what we'd just seen.  This is clearly an ensemble show with the leads always taking their bows with the other cast members to indicate everyone has an equal part in telling the story.

I have to say I highly recommend this show.  I was so impressed by everyone's performance, and I loved the music.

Now it's time for me to finish up and get to bed, so I'll check in again tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I'm getting quite a vicarious thrill from your travels. "Once" is new to me. I haven't followed Broadway for many years. But I was amused to see that Monty Python plaque. We're going to see John Cleese performing in his "Last Chance to See Me Before I Die" tour, tonight. So looking forward to it. There's nothing wrong with him, BTW. I think he might be retiring.