Strictly Ballroom, Piccadilly Theatre, London W1.

Strictly

Strictly Ballroom is a crowd pleasing juke box musical. It certainly has a lot of good things going for it. The film, on which is based, is a classic Australian indie comedy of the early ’90s and it is wonderfully odd and funny. The songs are popular upbeat singalong tunes that the audience will know and love. The cast is great and the director and choreographer have some great musicals on their CV.

The show has been rewritten for the stage and a new character, a narrator, has been added. The idea is brilliant, he sings the songs, adds perspective to the larger than life characters and propels the action along with some knowing repartee. Matt Cardle plays this part, Wally Strand, and he does a good job. He has a great voice and he is nicely self deprecating. However there are 35 different songs in this 2 hour show, many of them delivered in two, three or more pieces. He rarely get to sing more than one bar without stopping. It would have been lovely to listen to a complete song in one go, instead of hearing them broken up into fragments.

The story has not been changed from the film and is simple but solid. The difference is that, in the film it was mostly played straight and the characters were unintentionally amusing. Here we have cartoon-like caricatures played for laughs and the comedy feels strained at times. There are funny lines and the caricatures are comical. The acting is  good, Matthew Stevens and Anna Francolini’s over the top performances as Doug and Shirley Hastings were both enjoyable.

Jonny Labey and Zizi Strallen are both good dancers and excellent as Scott and Fran. The ensemble look good, but the stage at the Piccadilly is too small fit the entire company  and the group set pieces feel cramped and uncomfortable.

The set is sparse and effective, it needs to be because of the lack of space. The costumes are wonderfully sparkly and camp. “Strictly Ballroom, the Musical” has been damned with faint praise, the show is fun and the audience gave it a warm reception. It is a good show, but the sum does not quite live up to all its parts. I liked it but the expectations are high and, in London’s West End, the competition is fierce.

 
 

Bar Americain, Sherwood Street, London

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This is a bar hidden beneath Piccadilly Circus. It is through a quite unassuming entrance in Sherwood Street. There is a café with some tables outside called Zedel, if you go through this café, down two flights of stairs, you will come to a surprising bright French looking foyer with a cloakroom,  a French restaurant called Brasserie Zedel and Bar Americain.
It is a beautiful, low lit, late art deco decorated room. It has lots of dark wood, the marquetry columns are particularly attractive. It has light jazz playing in the background, just audible but not intrusive. The atmosphere is that of a set of a 1940s film noir. The waiters are in suits or formal white jackets.
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The cocktails are very good, the list is classic. The martini was perfect and the whiskey sour was both tart and had a nice kick. They have a good wine list and also a nice selection served by the glass. The tariffs aren’t low, but the price is around what you would expect for somewhere this attractive so central and it is good value for the experience that you receive.
Its the perfect place to meet if you are eating in Brasserie Zedel as the waiters will come to fetch you and carry your drinks when your table is ready. It is also very handy to meet if you are attending the theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue or Haymarket as it within a three minute walk from either.
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A beautiful quiet cocktail bar in a very central position, a lovely place to meet for a quiet catch up or for a quick drink before or after an evening out.

The Gallery, Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London

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This restaurant is quite modest in terms of décor, with its unvarnished tables and plain wooden floor, which in Fortnum and Mason terms is definitely understated. I have seen this listed as a low cost restaurant, but I couldn’t say that I agree with that description.  I suspect that you could get away with £25 per person if you were to choose the absolute cheapest starter and main course, but you couldn’t have a dessert or wine and you could certainly not drink tea.  I noticed that tea was £8 and while I have no doubt that it is lovely tea and will come in a pretty teapot, it is hardly economical.
However, the restaurant is attractive with a view over Jermyn Street out through the window and a view over the sweet displays when you look in towards the shop. Everything is very high quality, as you would expect; pretty menu, nice napkins, good cutlery and crockery. The service is excellent.
The food is lovely too, the ingredients are top notch and each dish is beautifully prepared and presented. The beef was perfectly cooked and the gravy was rich and indulgent. So, although this is not somewhere to go if you are on a tight budget, it does serve a great lunch and I recommend it if you feel like a treat.