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March 26, 2014

Anyone for Tennis !! … Tonight’s the Night…

Saturday 22nd March – New Wimbledon Theatre. By Colin Baker

posted by Mike Walton

Well looks like I’ve made it to the 3rd round, although it’s taken over 10 years to get there!

Back on the 23 October 2003, a visit to the Victoria Palace Theatre saw the “not quite” West End original production of Ben Elton’s – Tonight’s the Night, back then the shocking “cheap seats” cost me £16:50 in the upper circle and I was a little disappointed on how many empty seats there were, but unlike the early days of Rod, if you wanted to move to the front you had to put your hand in your pocket – One does not storm the stage when at the theatre my good sir. The show I found typical Ben Elton, funny, but somewhat odd, a novel story line, good scenery and of course some great sing a long Rod songs … god what am I saying sounds like a Max Bygraves night at a London theatre…. What was I doing? Well don’t forget back then all we were getting from the man himself was “The Great American songbook” so what’s a man to do in times of need?

Roll on to 13 June 2006 and the show had blown out from the “West End” (is Victoria really the West End? – Superb for easy to get back home, plus being developed beyond recognition these days – but Billy Elliot is still there – still one of the best plays I’ve ever seen with a storyline that is all about an era that is close to those influential times, miners strikes, a boy that wanted to do ballet but had to pretend he liked football) – but let’s return to my story, on a lovely summer eve at Wimbledon theatre a little “better placed seats” in a much more compact theatre at a mere £18:50 gave us a second viewing of Tonight’s The Night. Many of the cast were the same, Stu (the lead role), Stoner (the Keith Richard type inspiration … or is he meant to be Woody?) and Dee Dee. Again I enjoyed every minute of it, still funny, perhaps a little less dramatic scenery but another night of sing a long to Rod’s hits – like any concert, I found myself walking away with the t-shirt, the lapel badge and the programme and dare I say it – even the CD (it’s in that pile somewhere in my back room!

As we visit Wimbledon theatre on average at least once a year to see something, the half yearly update of what’s on gave us good advanced notice that the show was back – in an attempt to try and play on Rod’s great success with the album “Time”, giving the play another circuit of all the countries theatres seemed like worth giving it another try, whether that leads back to another spell in the “West End” only time will tell….

With a good cluster of my wives friends having a liking of “our Rod” a group booking was made for the third row – so roll on nearly 8 years, and your ticket price is now £32 plus a booking fee – so according to Mr. Osborne’s budget statement, that was near 100% inflation for the first 4 years under the lavish Labour party and “austerity” measures meaning 0% inflation under the past 4 years of the Tories then … come on this is Wimbledon, an affluent suburb so one would not notice a theatre seat increase from one year to the next – unless of course your “just visiting” as opposed to having residence.

Stop moaning I hear you say, and quite right to, at the end of 2005 I was paying £45 for a ticket to see Rod at Earl’s Court ….how much is it now if I was going to Brighton? So it’s all relative whatever you might think.

Back to the evening and the show – Or shall I throw in a brief description of Wimbledon itself for those that have never been? Oh why not, make it a novel rather than short story.

If you come into Wimbledon from the “peasants district” …. No I don’t mean the re-branded Tooting (from the east) – more from the south via Morden and into South Wimbledon (follow the tube map if you want real bearings – remember they did not colour the Northern Line black for the wrong reasons you know - by that I mean a depressing colour no other inference please). The landscape is far from pretty, the pub on the opposite corner to South Wimbledon that would hold many “wannabe bands” is now gone, across the traffic lights you get the row of take away’s and the petrol station with a Tesco’s express attached. But reach the bend where you bear left and suddenly you have reached what they call “The Broadway” - as you drive on you find the “night clubs”, multiple restaurants and there on the left hand side Wimbledon Theatre – a grade two listed Edwardian building with it’s car park big enough to hold 25 cars at a push!! (I told the wife it’s easier by public transport years ago, but she never listens). If you carry on up the “Broadway” you have to follow the one way route before converging again with oncoming traffic and reaching Wimbledon rail and tube stations. (Note Wimbledon is on the District line – Green – much more warming). The recently developed “Centre Court Shopping arcade” has helped what had become a little “stuck in the past” shopping area. As you pass through the shops you are greeted by Wimbledon Hill, the climb will take you up towards Wimbledon Common with it’s famous windmill and of course the legendary Dog & Fox pub (where many a star name has frequented). If you carry on your soon on the way to Putney which indicates I’m rowing to far adrift of the point of the review…but before I leave Wimbledon could I have missed any landmark? Oh yes ..that sporting legend – I don’t mean the Speedway and Dog Track, that’s back in the “industrial side” of town, AFC Wimbledon perhaps, nope they got turfed out of town long ago, you need to go to Kingston (no not Jamaica) to see them play – of course stop teasing I really mean SW19 – Late June early July, when everyone who is anybody turns up (well Ronnie made an appearance last year on Finals day…thankfully no duet with that other sing a long star should it rain) – funnily enough having lived a “stones” throw away and being a sports fan, I’ve never been to “The Lawn Tennis Championship” – maybe when I’m retired and 5 or more hours of time to stand in a queue I might give it a try.

Let’s really now return to the night itself, well my sister-in-law who drove 5 of us got in the theatre car park alright, so again my scepticism was proved I’m just an old moaner, an arranged meet up with our other 4 friends across the road in the Pizza Express was designed for a quick meal before the performance that on the tickets quoted 7:30 start. Well as I’m in review mode, in truth, the Pizza Express gives you little choice – very basic, has the residential guy giving an audition for the next cornetto, which one our friends quickly said “Don’t get too excited ladies, he probably comes from Bermondsey and by day sounds more like – ‘core blimey this place is nuffing like the Sistine Chapel is it” …although between us there was plenty of banter and we found the time pass us by rather sooner than expected. Again the men started to throw disbelief that 7:30 would be the start time, but those knowledgeable women said well we want to get in by then …. And of course they proved right, there was very little delay, which is more like the updated Rod concert’s when a start time is quoted on your ticket, that is it, gone are the hour and a half delays before Rod, Ronnie, Kenny, Mac and Tetsu (or Ronnie for the original Faces fans would like quoted).

As ever the hardest part of any group meal is calculating splitting the bill – so what is £160.80 divided by 9 then !!! – Plus of course service charge not included… once again a mobile phone can always come to your aid in times of need.

As we crossed back over the road there was a little orderly queue to enter,I purchased a programme which for just £3 seemed worth it as a momento of the night and help my review – plus cheaper than the half bottle of peroni that was already pressing to leave my inner soul. As we made our way to the stalls there was the very centrally placed 9 seats in row 3 – marvellous and no sooner had I taken off my jacket (but kept the tartan scarf on of course) and the music began…. At this point I have to consider do I now tell it all as I saw it and maybe spoil the show for all those still
destined to venture to go see it? Or shall I give a brief story line plus star rating? Well this is where I turn from moaner to stoner and say “‘spose they asked for a review and after all it's just rock ‘n roll, so what else could I do sweet pea?”

Out of interest you could vote @bunkerb#2nitesthenite either “yes” for should the full story have been written or “no” for edited highlights…. Please send all messages on the first day of next month and the 100th message will get a fully signed picture of Ronnie Wood at Wimbledon on finals day last year, so I can gauge whether any future review was overkill and maybe spoilt your own planned night at the theatre or not.

On with the show, show – which given it’s Saturday night billing was a better option than the previous ones spend in front of the TV. If you have never read the review, well it’s Ben Elton style all the way, a storyline that uses 21 of Rod or The Faces songs and throws in plenty of other song titles in the cast names and lines they use, the show starts its base in Detroit, in a garage appropriately to the sound of Gasoline Alley, the story line is of a somewhat “weedy” looking Stu (Ben Heathcote) who is “Infatuated” by Mary (Sweet Lady as she is often referred to played by Jenna Lee-James) – but what he does not know is, she feels the same way about him. Whilst he’s meant to be mending a carburettor, he’s trying to compose a love song to her. Life around the garage is upbeat to the tune of Young Turks. Whilst the garage owner picks on Stu for not doing what he’s meant to, his friend Rocky (Andy Rees) asks him what’s wrong and he confesses his love for Mary and a few words to You’re In My Heart he has just written – Rocky says you should say it to her face, but he just does not have the conviction to do so. Frustrated by this and the jokes around the fact he’s just a freak that thinks he should be like Rod Stewart with his liking for all his music – in his frustration he says he would exchange his soul to be Rod …enter the Devil (Tiffany Graves) that opts to remove Rod’s soul and exchange for Stu’s – The next day feeling a totally different man, he returns to the garage to say he’s leaving to seek a life in Rock ‘n Roll – a visit from a girl wanting her motorcycle serviced briefly shows a new flirtatious side to Stu. I can’t remember whether Tonight’s the Night or Tonight I’m Yours is part of the scene … but soon Stu is leaving with poor Mary astounded and a little heart broken and to the words of Lost In You. Stu’s adventure find’s him in a bar where he meet’s whatever anyone wants to say, the star of the show – Stoner (Michael McKell) who just is in need of a new singer, when asked why by Stu he’s told ‘cause the last ones dead, how come? He was in the 10th floor of the hotel room and decided to throw the plasma TV out the window. So how did that kill him? He forgot to let go…. Whilst over in LA Baby Jane (Rod’s PR – also played by Tiffany) is planning the next big night – with the tailors getting a show from Hot Legs – only for Baby Jane to be told by Harper (Ricky Rojas) that Rod just does not want to do anything but stay at home and play with his model train set.

Back with Stu and Stoner and we get two numbers from the new band as I guess part of rehearsals that are always good to hear and extraction from the regular sing a long numbers – Stone Cold Sober and Had Me a Real Good Time – which the latter always summed up the Faces to a tee. However back in Detroit and Mary has not heard from Stu for some weeks and confides in her friend Dee Dee (Jade Ewan) who as it happens has a crush on Rocky, yet notices that Rocky is also smitten by Mary (all very confusing) – queue What Am I Gonna Do.

The first half is completed first by Baby Jane (yes the record) after she decides to take the band on as part of her promotions given that the real Rod Stewart has lost all interest in the Rock ‘n Roll business – remember when this was first released and you see the clever side of what Ben Elton felt of Rod taking the Songbook numbers on board. With the plea of course to the audience to “Stay With Me” as they take their 20 minute break before the 2nd half.

The interval gave the theatre staff time to hand out paper sailor’s hats in true American style as seen worn by Rod in that video back in 1975 – some of the audience looked bemused at first, but of course us Three Time Losers had seen it all before and knew what was required and more importantly when it was to be required…

The 2nd part begins with the three other main characters from the garage singing Reason To Believe – to express how they felt that “somebody could love somebody else”. Then switched back to Stu in a luxurious bed arising from the covers singing Maggie May and just a pair of under pants – afraid did very little to me though … soon followed by Baby Jane joining in. Stu sounding more frustrated with Rock ‘n Roll and wishing that his soul had not been transformed into Rod’s. The scene switches back to the reflection felt by Dee Dee, Rocky, Mary and Stu as they all sing along to This Old Heart Of Mine. Mary receives an invite from Stu to come to one of his shows, and although having earlier chased him across the country only to find him with more girls around him than “flies around your ice cream at Wimbledon in June”, his contact gives her hope once more and as he is the love of her life can forgive all his past – Every Beat of My Heart fittingly is next in line (but don’t peak to early with those sailor hats….). This leads Rocky to realise that he is never going to win over Mary, and Dee Dee also believing that Rocky would never fall for her so the reflection of each person felt brought very polished versions of I Don’t Wanna Talk About It.

The scene switches back to a bar where Stoner asks the bar maid with a glass of whisky in hand, ‘scuse me darling but where are we? – Minnesota is the swift response – and that famous missed placed line brings a chuckle and the lead into You Wear It Well.

As the climax to show is coming, you find a vast dressing room mirror with lights all around, Stoner saying he’s fed up with Stu because he has no love for the road which is what Rock ‘n Roll is all about and Baby Jane also losing faith in promoting him. As Stu stares in the mirror and reflects on his poor choice to make his pact with the devil, it leads to Ooh La La.

But as Stu bemoans in the mirror – even the devil is fed up with his inability to really be the iconic Rod Stewart and says to Stu she is willing to switch his soul back with Rod so the world can once more be given the pin-up star from 70’s with the unmistaken voice.

As Stoner discusses events with Baby Jane the humorous part that maybe if I was sat back to far I would have missed happened, as Harper came rushing in saying Rod has called he’s changed and wants to go back on the road again, he’s no longer a limp lettuce – to which Stoner, Harper and Baby Jane fall into a fit of unprepared laughter….

The planned show performance though goes ahead to the sound of Da Ya Think I’m Sexy and of course we now have everyone in love with who they want to be, Baby Jane is about to go back to arrange Rod’s next tour but first Stoner asks, don’t ‘spose you would do me the honour of becoming Mrs Stoner would you? To the response of “Are you kidding”, - Well would a shag be out of the question then?

We have now reached that key time all the cast are happy and the audience need to put on those paper hats as it’s time to sway in tune to Sailing for the closing song – although of course there is the Megamix of Stay With Me / Maggie May and Sailing to throw in after the original applause.

All in All a very good night, certainly a good crowd and you got the impression the cast felt they got good response from the audience – so you want a rating (well it is a review).. … oops that’s 4 star (out of 5) …. Good fun, Baby Jane’s voice (to American and sang to loud), Dee Dee (ex-Sugababe) had a very good voice, Stu started not so crisp but got better throughout. If your going, I think you would fail to enjoy it – and sorry if I spoilt the storyline for you.

Of course if like Dom if you were hopeful of a sing along to Sweet Little Rock ‘n Roller – I guess your disappointed – but if you go north out of Wimbledon up the hill, where on a good day you can look over the tennis courts, you just might hear the intro as the current champion takes his lovably named pet for a walk on the common.

Review By Colin Baker
TTN design By Trevor Mill
Exclusive Photo - Stoner at Wimbledon..Or is it Woody? By Colin's mate.

© 2019 SMILER Magazine

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