Tuesday 3 April 2018

Do this. Julius Caesar.

We do not often get to the theatre. Even less do we get to top London theatres. But when we saw a review for the Bridge Theatre's production of Julius Caesar we thought we really must see it. Booking early was vital, as was a matinée performance to avoid the need to stay overnight afterwards, and a matinée also gave time for a little while visiting our family after their working day. Checking dates with them we booked the theatre tickets and then the train to London: cheap tickets were becoming sold out for the London-bound morning trip but we were in no hurry and with a brief break at Peterborough were able to travel First Class as usual; coming back we chose the last train to connect for Stamford, the 21:00 from Kings Cross.

On the way there we had our 50-minute wait at Peterborough at coffee-break time and tried out the arrangement that Virgin Trains East Coast has with the Great Northern Hotel, giving free hot drink and cake for First Class ticket-holders. We bounded across the roadway to the hotel coffee lounge but were sent back to get vouchers from the Virgin Trains desk at the station: fair enough, I can see that they need those to reclaim the cost from the train company, but a prominent note on the advertisement  telling me to collect a voucher would have been handy. Anyway, hot chocolate a cake were really great and thus fortified we returned to the platform and boarded the train to London.

It was as well that we'd had refreshments because on this day we lost the Virgin Trains "catering lottery" and found there was no coffee available, although we did get a cold drink and a snack. Arrival at Kings Cross was on time.

The foyer and café restaurant at the Bridge Theatre
The Bridge Theatre is new. Very new. I had to look on their website to find its location and saw that it was where there had been an empty site when I last was there, on the south bank between Tower Bridge and the Mayor of London's office. The production we were to see was only about the second or third to be shown (or was it the first?). We caught a Circle Line Underground train to Tower Hill and walked over Tower Bridge, an interesting experience in itself, and were there nicely in time for lunch at the theatre's amazing restaurant, on the ground floor with great views towards the river, the Tower of London and the City beyond. There were interesting things on the menu (we had cottage pie) and the theatre's "signature" madeleines. We then took a brief stroll along the riverbank and returned to hand in our coats at the cloakroom and take our seats for the play.

The auditorium is built in the round, although rather elongated, and the stage is very flexible with sections that rose and sank according to what was needed for the various acts and scenes, and this Shakespearian play was delivered in modern dress and with some of the leading political figures (notably Cassius) played by by women as female characters - which worked very well and made this a modern play about modern politics rather than a medieval play about ancient politics. Thoroughly recommended but this is a travel blog not a theatre blog! The theatre is also recommended: if you are used to the lack of space at West End theatres, this one comes as a pleasant change, with the spaciousness associated with provincial theatres. The restaurant is worth visiting even if you are not attending a play, and many people do just use it as a café or restaurant.

After watching Julius Caesar we made our way back to Tower Hill Underground station and travelled to Hammersmith to visit the family and then, after time with them, made our way home via Kings Cross and Peterborough as usual. As it was a weekday we took advantage of the later travel time home that has been available since the timetable change a couple of years ago when the last train departure from Peterborough to Stamford was put back by seven minutes to allow a quick connection out of a train half an hour later out of London. We left London on time but somehow lost a few minutes on the way to Peterborough and when we had arrived and made our way over to platform 7 we got there just in time to see the doors closing and last train home leaving the platform. We remonstrated with the train dispatcher that he might have held it for just one minute for the advertised connection and he replied with the absurd observation that he could not see us from where he was and didn't know we were coming. Is he there to serve the traveller or to run empty trains on time, one might ask! There turned out to have been five people who were stranded by his indifference to the customers' needs, and Virgin Trains East Coast paid for taxis to get all of us to our destinations: two to Stamford, one to Melton Mowbray and some further away. Can that really have been cheaper than paying a fine for a one-minute delay, a delay that could probably have been made up by Stamford anyway and incur no penalty at all? So we arrived home by taxi; we left Peterborough at about the time we should have been arriving in Stamford, but actually reached home only about ten minutes late because the taxi was going through to Melton with the other passenger and dropped us off near our home. It did not spoil the day but it is hard to get over the stupid decision to let go a train which had been timed specifically to connect with one that had just arrived and from which passengers were already well on their way. We are comforted by the thought that his colleagues may well have had a word with him since ...

Do see Julius Caesar if you get the chance, and do find a reason to visit the Bridge Theatre. Actually, just finding any reason to visit London is worthwhile!

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