Welcome to Pogue's Pages!

I'm POGUE...known by many as Chuck Pogue, a few as Charles Pogue, and billed professionally as Charles Edward Pogue...just because it really looks BIG splashed across a theatre programme or a movie screen. From that last remark and the profile on the left, you can see I'm a theatre man...And the term "theatre" encompasses stage, film, TV. I've been shooting my mouth off on other people's blogs and message boards for forever. So having finally gotten the hang of it, I've decided to build my own soapbox from which I can pontificate, blather, and muse...mostly on theatre, film, writing, music, books...but ultimately anything that interests me, irritates me, or just catches my fancy. I invite you to join me. I'll try to be faithful and update regularly, so that when you visit there will always be something fresh percolating and maybe even provocative that we can discuss, dissect, or debate.

Charles Edward Pogue

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pogue's London Theatre Diary, Part One

From January 14th to January 28th, The Lovely Wife, Julieanne, and I took off for our annual orgy of theatre-going in England. Here’s the skinny on the current London theatre scene.


We hit the road for the Cincinnati airport, after depositing Nigel, the pup, and the cat, Mosby, the Grey Ghost, at Pets Suites in Hamburg Place in Lexington. Nigel, having spent a day there last week, took to this new incarceration with unsuspecting good spirits, not realizing this would be an extended stay. Mosby was his usual grumpy self, more resigned than defiant, long ago learning resistance is futile. We strictly adhered to Caesar Milan’s Dog Whisperer mantra of manifesting calm, assertive energy and escaped with a minimum of anxiety-inducing cooing or blubbing goodbyes.

And the word “incarceration” is unfair. The critters are pampered in this pet hotel. Nigel has a view of the television and Mosby one of the bird feeder. They’ll survive…better than Julieanne, who’ll constantly call to check on them from London. For just such a purpose we arranged for an international cell phone rather than pay the outrageous phone charges incurred from the hotel/flat.

Our first mishap happened grabbing the airport shuttle from long-term parking. A snowboard fell off the luggage rack onto Julieanne’s ankle. Visions loomed of her hobbling around London for two weeks…or worse, us having to take cabs everywhere. But she allayed the fears of both snowboard man and our overly concerned shuttle driver who wanted to stop and wait for medical attention.

Because the weather was causing flight delays…always a concern of mine when traveling in winter…our American Eagle ticket agent finagled us onto an earlier flight. This was great but meant a long wait in Chicago for our connecting flight, once we had shuffled from O’Hare terminal 3 to terminal 5, through British Air ticketing, and through security.

I whiled away the wait with a book of Elmore Leonard western short stories. It, one other slim paperback, and my London travel portfolio are the only things in my briefcase, leaving plenty of space for the plethora of books and plays I will purchase in London.

The flight was uneventful. Not accruing enough mileage for business class, we’ve opted for our occasional alternative: Premium Economy. British Airway’s Premium E is not quite as luxurious as Virgin Atlantic’s…no bubbly or meals on china crockery …but the seats are wide enough and no sharing bathrooms with steerage…er, coach.

Being inveterate transatlantic fliers for fifteen years, we’ve learned the inadvisability of allowing oneself to be plied with massive quantities of alcohol, heaping dollops of warm nuts, and other premium perks that wreak havoc on the system and contribute to jet lag.

We endeavour to be abstemious; not even overdosing on the vast array of video offerings. A drink or two, a meal, and then as much sleep as possible…which usually amounts to a few fitful hours at best.

I read more Elmore Leonard…a lovely terse, unadorned style…and knitted up the raveled sleeve of care until something resembling breakfast in a box was unceremoniously tossed in my lap…croissant, fruit cup, orange juice. Terrorism and inflated gas prices are the excuses for perfunctory service on airlines these days. Not the British Air I once knew. Most missed were the warm moist towels once periodically bestowed to revitalize you.


The new Heathrow Terminal Five, which seems exclusively for British Airways use, is very posh. Retrieving our luggage and sailing through customs, Julieanne made her usual first stop to the loo and I made mine to the cash machine or…as it’s called here, Hole-In-The-Wall…for spending cash and fare for the ensuing cab ride. The exchange rate is better using the ATMs than a Thomas Cook outlet. We then hit W.H. Smith for some bottled water, a packet of Flame Grilled Steak Crisps (steak-flavoured potato chips…our favourite), some English papers, and the London Time Out.

Thus suitably arrayed, we hit the cab stand. Burdened with luggage and reaching a certain age, I regard a cab to and from the airport, rather than a cheaper bus or train shuttle, the same way I regard my theatre tickets…a necessary luxury of the best seat available. And the “best seat” is the back seat of a black cab that drops me right at the door of my destination. Traffic was remarkably light, due to the “credit crunch”, our cabbie claimed, whose whirlwind driving got us into the city in record time.

Our room was ready on our arrival, despite a 3pm check-in time. Our old mainstay, a nice one-bedroom flat on Upper St. Martin’s Lane, was taken off the market our last time here. Our new crash pad, an efficiency, with small kitchenette and en-suite bath, run by the French, is off Trafalgar, a half-minute walk to the Jubilee Bridge which takes you to the South Bank and the National, ten minutes away. So it’s still close to all our haunts.

The hotel/apt also houses the AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY cast and my old stage comrade, Deanna Dunagan, the Tony-winner for Best Actress last year. Deanna and I did Shakespeare in Odessa, Texas, a zillion years ago and later dinner theatre out of Dallas. She’s the best actress I’ve ever worked with, so her Tony is no surprise to me. We’ve been communicating via computer. She used her clout to get us tickets for both THE WAR HORSE and THE PITMEN PAINTERS at the National, which were sold out.
After unpacking (shallow and narrow closets) and a revitalizing shower, I went walkabout while Julieanne flopped for a post-flight nap – our usual ritual. She’s pooped and I try to stay awake until 10 or 11 that night to get into the rhythm of the city.

The weather, much warmer and milder than that which we left, welcomed me “home”… for home it’s always felt to me since I was first here in ’82 for three months, filming my first screenplays…two Sherlock Holmes films that starred Ian Richardson.

Euphoria overwhelmed me as I jaunted to the Trafalgar Square Waterstone’s book store at the corner. I perused the new titles, surveyed some possibilities, but bought nothing. First time through is always a scouting mission. Until I’ve checked out Blackwell’s, Foyle’s, and a few other Charing Cross shops…and, of course, the glorious theatre book shop at the National, I’ll refrain from buying new titles.

I then strolled down The Strand to a card shop to find an appropriately scandalous card for a friend’s birthday; then back to the flat via Villiers St. to get the wife a cappuccino.

At the hotel, I futilely tried to elicit Deanna’s room number from the foreign desk clerks, apparently unaware that the cast of the hottest show in town resided at their hotel. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY brought blank stares. The utterance of Deanna Dunagan, finally prompted… “Ah, Miss Doonagin!” and they offered to ring her for me. Not wishing to disturb her so close to show time; I instead left her a note at the front desk.

Once Julieanne arose, we toddled to the Covent Garden Tesco’s to fill the larder and our miniscule refrigerator; she stocking up on her strange soups and sandwich spreads, me on microwaveable Indian food and Scotch eggs. We mostly eat in; given our theatre schedule and restaurant prices.

From Saturday on, we are booked with shows, but I booked nothing for our first two evenings. We rarely see a show our first night in and I wanted some flexibility if winter weather delayed any flights.

We took an evening stroll across the Jubilee Bridge. On the bridge stairs, we nimbly threaded our way through a mélange of jabbering French tourists spread four abreast across the steps, intent not so much on walking as meandering. On the bridge, we were greeted by the ever-spectacular view of the lighted houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We browsed our way down the South Bank shops, past the London Eye…which we’ve never gone up in…ending up at the National bookshop.

Our arrival coincided with intermission for AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and the second show of EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR (it’s only an hour, so it plays twice a night, 7 & 9), so the shop was temporarily crowded. Once it cleared out, we were the sole denizens. Julieanne bought a pile of stuff, some up-dates of Ibsen plays that she read about in the paper and books for her educational theatre work. I’ll drop a chunk of change here, but tonight I was too tired to make any decisions. We chatted up the pleasantly jovial bookshop clerks while making our purchases.

Then it was home for a bite, some telly, and reading until we couldn’t keep awake any longer. I read several obits of actor Patrick McGoohan…which mostly rehashed his TV work with DANGER MAN & THE PRISONER. But one delved into his stage career and, in particular, his magnificent performance in Ibsen’s play, BRAND. I’ve a TV version that he did of this and it is an uncompromising, searing portrayal. One wonders what he might have achieved in the theatre had he chosen to concentrate on it.


So much for getting into the rhythm of the city… I awoke at 4 AM, my mind whirling.

My thoughts centered on Actors Guild; pondering on my effectiveness as a board member. I sometimes feel I’d have been a much better asset to it, if I had remained a free agent. My artistic or financial input probably would have been the same and yet I could have retained an independent voice on all artistic matters regarding the Central Kentucky area. My no-holds-barred opinions and often less than politic style (I’ve never suffered fools gladly) has been somewhat neutered because everything I say is regarded as having an agenda for the theatre and is rarely considered as having a broader philosophical context. I do have an agenda: thriving professional theatre in Lexington, which of course, coincides with Actors Guild’s agenda, but I often think I could make the case better for both professional theatre and Actors Guild, if I spoke as an independent observer from the outside rather than the inside. I don’t like having to edit or muzzle myself for diplomacy’s sake because my identity has become tied to the theatre’s. Nor do I like that the theatre must take the flak for my personal opinions.

I must have ruminated on this and other matters for a couple of hours before drifting back to sleep. We both rose about ten or so, eating oddities out of the fridge for breakfast and we easing into our morning.

We were discussing theatre plans when Deanna called. We exchanged pleasantries and some tix info about the shows she had booked for us. If she hadn’t done this, we’d have been cueing at the National box-office at seven in the morning, with no guarantee of getting tickets for the sold-out shows we wanted to see.

We decided to go see LOOT. My one reservation about the play was its location at The Tricycle Theatre in the north of London. Not in walking distance in unfamiliar territory. Ordinarily, I would have chosen to do this as a matinee, but I’m getting adventurous in my old age.

Calling to book, we discovered that our cell phone’s international mode was awry. While Julieanne wrestled with this, I made the reservation on the hotel phone. Seat selection was on a first-come; first-served basis. That meant getting there before the house opened.

After morning ablutions, I strolled up past Trafalgar and St. Martin’s Church to my favourite haunt – Cecil Court, teeming with used book dealers. I struck gold at my first stop – David Drummond’s, a dealer in theatre memorabilia and literature (Here I’ve acquired theatre programmes for Barrymore’s HAMLET; Olivier’s BEAU GESTE, and an 1880’s stage production of SHE, as well as the Beerbohm Tree promotional print for his RICHARD II that lurks on my mantelpiece). He also carries some 19th-early 20th century novels. In his stall outside was a book I’d been on the idle look-out for years, THE BLACK DOUGLAS by S.R. Crockett, a turn-of-the-century historical novelist. It was a nice, tight illustrated edition for 5 pds. A bargain.

I browsed the remaining shops for an hour, including Nigel Williams’ from which I’ve bought a lot. But with a library of over 5,000 books, I’m merely filling holes in my collection these days and not buying much vintage. The Crockett is my only score. But I’ll be back for another browse. The streets and Trafalgar Square seem bleakly empty and devoid of shoppers. “Credit crunch,” as my cabbie would say.

Upon my return to the apt/hotel, I noticed some of the cast of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY sitting in the lounge, primarily Chelcie Ross from my Dallas days. I introduced myself. I had seen Chelcie in a show my first day in Dallas…a musical version of Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Chelcie had played Oberon. It had started at the Dallas Theatre Center and was playing in a hotel as a dinner theatre venue when I saw it. I have since seen Chelcie’s distinctive mug in many movies over the years. They told me I had just missed Deanna.

I ate a late lunch and read the papers, which are full of John Mortimer’s death, the author of Rumpole of the Bailey as well as a great deal of theatre – notably VOYAGE AROUND MY FATHER and an adaptation of FLEA IN HER EAR, done at the National during Olivier’s tenure. Julieanne and I had performed the leads in the same version back in 1970 at University of Kentucky.

The Tricycle Theatre is on Kilburn Road which, heading south, becomes Maida Vale, then Edgeware Road, then runs into Park Lane. To save cab fare, we decided to walk to Park Lane and pick up our cab there. The barren streets earlier were now cluttered with commuters and night-lifers as we wove our way into Leicester Square down Picadilly. Julieanne and I have developed a style where we can separate, bob and dodge through the mob, and re-join each other, maintaining a brisk pace and not getting caught in the crush.

Things cleared up as we headed north along Park Lane past the posh hotels. Crossing to the Hyde Park side of the street, we picked up a cab. The journey took us through an unexplored part of London. Lots of shops emblazoned with signs in foreign languages. The Tricycle is a funky little theatre in a bohemian-looking neighbourhood. I collected our tickets and we cued in a modest-but-not-yet-long line, waiting for the theatre to open.

We sat in the front row circle (our preferred spot), as Julieanne the director, always likes to observe the staging patterns. The theatre is cozily hip, lots of pipe scaffolding with tiny tricycles in the loud carpet pattern. No curtain with the set was in full view.

I had never read or seen any Orton onstage (only seen the film of ENTERTAINING, MR. SLOANE that Douglas Hickox, the director of my HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES had made). But my virgin voyage into Orton couldn’t have been more delightful.

The play is extremely funny and, even though it does not escape its sixties origins, it hasn’t dated much nor lost any of its subversive irreverent edge (I suspect the line about a brothel, “run by two Pakistanis aged between 10 and 15. They do it for sweets. It’s part of their religion. Meet me at seven. Stock up with Mars bars.” brings more gasps than laughs today than it did originally).

The cast is uniformly fine, especially Inspector Truscott, played by one of our favourites, David Haig (we’ve seen in ART, DEAD FUNNY, and DONKEY’S YEARS) and Fay the Nurse, played by the wonderfully named Doon Mackichan. A good start.

On those rare occasions when we must cab to the theatre (like The Almeida), after the play we usually start strolling back the direction we need to go until we hail a taxi. Alas, the few cabs we saw after having gone several blocks were booked and the neighbourhood was looking decidedly dicey…it may not have been, but it was dark, most shops closed, and what do we know. We beat it back to the theatre, frantically flailing at every cab that went by, all with passengers. The theatre was closed, so the vague idea of calling a taxi or getting directions to the nearest tube station was abandoned and we made for a bus stop across the street, at which point an empty cab miraculously appeared.

We had the cabbie drop us off at Oxford Street, the main shopping drag of the West End. This time of night everything was closed, so there was plenty of elbow room as we casually drifted down the usually teeming sidewalks. We cut into Regent Street, past Hamley’s five floors of toys, and at Picadilly Circus, turned up Shaftesbury Avenue, which is London’s Broadway. Sadly, it was looking like Broadway. In the past, we have walked out of a late matinee from one theatre on this street and right into another for an evening show. I realized there was probably nothing we would see here this trip. It glittered with the marquees of tatty, over-tired tourist musicals or comedy acts, even a Cirque de Soleil show. No real theatre to speak off.

We ambled through Chinatown, past our old haunts around Charing Cross and Leicester Square, then home for a late dinner and sleep. Again somewhere in the night, I woke up, my mind racing…this time on idea for theatre benefit.


I slept fairly late, then went to the National to pick up all the tickets I’d booked. I briefly stopped at the books stalls under Waterloo Bridge, but few dealers had set up yet, so there wasn’t much out…and some that was, I remembered from when I was here two years ago. But it always pays to look. I’ve scored rare finds at bargain prices.

I picked up my tickets; then went to pay for the tickets that Deanna had reserved for us. My card was declined. I was furious. Embarrassed. Then furious. Before I left the states, I had called my credit card accounts to inform them I’d be in London and to note it, so just this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. I paid for the tickets with another card and stomped home, checking the book stalls again and being slightly soothed by picking up a first edition Terry Pratchett I didn’t have.

As we had yet to fathom the mystery of the cell’s international call feature, I ran up a hotel phone bill, pushing buttons for various options before I got a human to speak to me about my credit card. I’m afraid I was a bit curt, particularly after finding out my England info had indeed been duly notated on the account. Anyway, I elicited their not- quite-convincing assurance it would not happen again.

After this, I took off on a book hunt. Julieanne and I have been here so many times, we just come and live and rarely play tourist anymore. Occasionally, we embark on a mutual excursion together, re-visiting some museum or discovering a new sight, but mostly we indulge our private whims and rendezvous later for theatre – always the main object of the trip. She has her shops and squirrels in St. James. I my bookstores and aimless rambles with no particular destination in mind – this desire of mine to get contently lost in some obscure mews of the city usually drives Julieanne crazy.

Up past Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard, I stopped at Forbidden Planet…a shop that my young theatrical cronies, Eric Seale and Mike Van Sant, would go crazy in – two floors of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, comics, graphic novels, anime, models, etc. The goodies are so overwhelming that after awhile, your eyes just glaze and you can’t focus anymore. I tried to check my favourites, but a book-signing with an author unknown to me but apparently popular had drawn such a crowd it was impossible to sleuth the stacks.

On Charing Cross, I hit Foyles, Blackwell’s, and Borders. I don’t know whether I’m jaded or whether it’s the internet convenience of Amazon and ABE, but the thrill of the hunt is not what it was. It’s partly the market. Chains limited themselves to the current and hot. Gone are the wonderful finds of the independent bookseller. Sadly to compete, even Foyles has declined…having disposed of their older stock and rare books. Blackwell’s still has a cracking good history section, but I walked away with nothing except a Jack the Ripper book found for 3pds in a remainder bookstore.

Heading home, I prowled the used bookstores on Charing Cross below Shaftesbury. Again, diminishment. I was dismayed to learn that Murder One, a once- great store specializing in new and used mysteries, was closing. Killed, they claimed, not by the rents, but the internet. They had already moved from a spacious shop to cramped quarters across the street and had eliminated their large fantasy section. Soon they’d be gone. What a loss. Other dealers in a block that used to be nothing but bookstores have also disappeared.

In a surviving shop, I mentioned to the dealer, “You seem to be one of the last standing.” He was French and drolly replied. “Coffee shops. Everybody needs coffee. Can’t get too much coffee.” It’s the truth. Venerable bookshops have been squeezed out by American sandwich shops like Quiznos and Subway and a proliferation of coffee shops…within a stone’s throw, there was Nero’s; Starbucks, Costa; Coffee Republic. The city’s becoming a landscape of franchises -- Subway, Borders, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, MacDonald’s, KFC. As London’s quirky shops and uniquely British stores are crowded out by stuff seen in every bloody American mall, the city sadly loses some of its lustre and allure.

On my way home, I picked up our tickets for Twelfth Night tomorrow at Wyndham’s. Julieanne was home and had had the same credit card declined on her. Fortunately, she had got the cell phone working and had already straightened it out with a credit rep. They had been getting similar complaints from customers all day -- apparently a computer glitch on their end, supposedly fixed by now.

Studying a giveaway theatre guide, I found that there were currently eleven straight plays in the West End and twenty-six musicals. Distressing. Particularly when the musicals were of the ilk like STOMP, WE WILL ROCK YOU, MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER, DIRTY DANCING, GREASE (with Jimmy Osmond, no less) or just tired, clapped-out revivals of JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, PHANTOM, LES MIZ, SOUND OF MUSIC, HAIRSPRAY, MAMMA MIA! Snoooze!

Fortunately, the antidote for this was our evening at the National and Tom Stoppard’s and Andre Previn’s collaboration of actors and orchestra in a play about prisoners trying to hang onto their souls and sanity in a Russian gulag hospital, EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR. I have had a recording of the original production of this play for years with Ian Richardson, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart in the leads. Rich, expressive voices. I did not think it could get any better than this. But seeing the play, as well as hearing it and Previn’s score, was an incandescent experience. Both Toby Jones, as the patient who hears an orchestra in his head, and Joseph Millson as the dissident were both terrific; and the production once again put the lie to the old canard that Stoppard is only intellectually facile. The play brims with Stoppard’s trademark wit and cleverness but is also powerful and moving.

Our seats were fourth row, on the aisle. Excellent, but almost too close. One would’ve like to been a little further back as the actors are often weaving through the orchestra. But the design and staging are well done and good use was made of the Olivier’s revolve. How lucky we are to have the chance to see theatre of this quality so often.

When I hear certain locals in Lexington boast that the theatre there is as good as anywhere, I just shake my head. They don’t have a clue. Of course, the people who are always bragging like that are usually the ones who rarely see anything outside of Lexington and, truth be told, don’t really see all that much inside Lexington. I probably see more theatre there than anyone and I never seem to encounter these rabid boosters.

As the play runs only an hour and we attended the seven o’clock performance, we had dinner back home at a reasonable hour. The hotel has expanded its cable TV stations and I have discovered one channel curiously dubbed DAVE, which during the later hours, re-runs a lot of comedy-quizzes hosted by wits like Stephen Fry, with an array of amusing panelists like Paul Merton, Alan Davies, Andy Hamilton, and others that I frequently enjoy on the BBC internet radio. I think I’ll be staying up late each night, laughing a lot.


I awoke with a cold…a mild one that hopefully will not get worse. I attribute it to forgetting my Airborne on the flight. It’s my birthday today and Julieanne has planned a steak dinner for me after the matinee of Twelfth Night. Many of the theatres have now instituted Sunday performances; so this will be a first for us. One of my indulgences when here is the weekend papers with all their magazines and special sections. The apartment was already cluttered with Friday and Saturday editions, when I brought home a teetering mountain of Sunday papers.

Two Shakespeare plays I don’t ever need to see again are TWELFTH NIGHT & MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. I seen too many productions, even been in a TWELFTH NIGHT (with Deanna, oddly enough) and I can’t say either top my list of favourite bard plays. Yet they’re the ones we’re seeing. I trust the RSC to deliver on MIDSUMMER and how can one pass up Derek Jacobi as Malvolio?

And Jacobi was, as expected, a very good Malvolio. The production was quite good…with lots of actors I’ve seen onstage and admired. Ron Cook (VASSA, JUNO & THE PAYCOCK) as a wonderful Toby Belch; Guy Henry as Augecheek (ANOTHER COUNTRY, MERRY WIVES, and another production of TWELFTH NIGHT in which he played Augecheek); Victoria Hamilton as Viola (TROILUS & CRESSIDA, MONEY, JOE EGG). I enjoyed the production, found nothing to fault it, it also boasted a lovely Feste…but I can’t say it kicked me in the butt. Maybe it was because it was a matinee audience. Maybe it is merely my indifference to the play. I have never much cared for any of those Shakespeare plays where girls disguise themselves as men (…and I think I may actively dislike AS YOU LIKE IT). I spotted actor Ben Miles (from the tv show COUPLING) in the audience.

It was then home for a lovely birthday dinner, my plethora of weekend papers, and watching several telly tributes to John Mortimer, including a few Rumpole of the Baileys.
(So ends part one...more to come -- A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM; AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY; THE WAR HORSE; MRS. AFFLECK; BE NEAR ME; COMPLICIT...the longest set change I've ever seen and what is that thing in Richard Dreyfuss's ear?)

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