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Groundhog Day in the City

By • West End
By peculiar coincidence, I seem to have spent most of this week going in and out of Waterloo station: on four successive days I passed through en route to the Young Vic (twice), the National and the Old Vic.

Determined to break out of this Groundhog Day routine and squash the mounting panic of serious deja vu, I wondered if there was a way of combining my theatre-going with an entirely new direction, mode of travel, even. And, as so often happens, the solution presented itself perfectly yesterday. My schedule was a morning appointment at the Barbican, a lunchtime matinee in Shoreditch and an evening show at the Almeida.

Quite incredible how those three destinations were all in walking distance of each other, so I walked. From the Barbican I went along Whitecross Street, which has the most wonderful food market, to Old Street.

On the eastern side of Old Street tube station, I dived into Shoreditch and found the Tramshed, temporary home of the National Youth Theatre; they are currently performing Relish by James Graham, an ambitious, slightly too long epic about the Victorian celebrity chef, Alexis Soyer.

The theatre itself is a brilliant conversion from an electricity generating sub-station, but its theatrical days are numbered, sadly; it may soon become yet another Mark Hix restaurant. Mark Hix already has a chop house in the city. Lamb chops were a speciality of Soyer, a French cook who also pioneered a salad with strips of grouse and helped to found the Reform Club.

The NYT play is short on really vivid company set pieces, but the sixty-strong cast present a series of informative scenes and tableaux, itemising Soyer's spectacular, slightly tragic life. On the way, we meet Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Madame Tussaud, Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria.

There's an excellent bar and grill opposite the theatre where I took a late lunch before heading north to Islington and the opening of Richard Bean's House of Games (from the Mamet movie) at the Almeida.

On City Road, I passed the Eagle pub, source of the nursery rhyme famously sung and recorded by Anthony Newley emblazoned on its outer wall: "Up and down the City Road, in and out of the Eagle; that's the way the money goes, pop goes the weasel!"

The tributaries of the Regent's Canal around here are completely built over with flats and warehouses. Coming from this direction, Islington proper seems to start with Noel Road, where Joe Orton lived and died. There's no plaque to commemorate Orton, perhaps unsurprisingly -- there was nothing "great or good" about him, which was his real virtue, of course -- and the road leads, eventually, into Camden Passage and Upper Street.

With time to spare and a book to read, my original plan was pleasantly scuppered by bumping into my old friends Hatty Hayridge and Flavia Malim heading out to dinner, but with time for a drink and a catch-up in the Bull by the cinema.

House of Games proves a pleasant surprise, a new farcial thriller based on Mamet rather than a tame staging of the film; which, in any case, would have been impossible. I see the Attenborough dynasty is flourishing, with artistic director Michael's son Tom serving as assistant director to Lindsay Posner.

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