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All at Sea with Dames

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There was only a handful of us in the Union Theatre on Saturday for the matinee performance of Dames at Sea, but nobody cared. It's a joyous production, and great fun.

Even one of the notorious West End Whingers seemed to be having a good time and was kind enough to say hello when we adjourned to the pub opposite afterwards; I wanted to keep an eye on the cricket score in this thrilling Test Match between England and India.

The whinger seemed pleasant enough. Even I was amused when he (or his counterpart) once said that they noted which shows I enthused about then made a point of not going to see them. I suppose they were referring to my enthusiasm for recherche items in the European repertoire, or perhaps shows directed by Deborah Warner or Steven Berkoff.

(One of Deborah Warner's first jobs was stage manager for Berkoff, though I've never detected any similarity in their work beyond a knack for creating theatrical theatre in very different ways and getting up the noses of the critics, a good place for strong-headed artists to be, in my view.)

There's not all that much to say about Dames at Sea except that it's great fun and a funny pastiche of the 1930s musical comedy films that used to star Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. I wasn't quite sure why we were listening to a bit of cross talk between Bob Hope and Betty Hutton before the show began... but the minute it started I stopped trying to work that out.

Anyway, I preferred seeing dames at sea to being all at sea myself the day before. I'd gone to buy a rail ticket at Charing Cross station en route to lunch with Liz Robertson at a nearby private members' club we both patronise.

All went well, the lunch was splendid and Liz had lots to say about the experience of appearing in Love Never Dies which is coming towards its end, helped on its way, of course, by the Whingers' amusing but totally inaccurate description of the show as "Paint Never Dries."

One thing Liz would not comment on was my surprise that anyone should think that a production by Jack O'Brien could be in any way improved (and it wasn't, in my view) by the intervention of Bill Kenwright, a splendid producer but a less renowned director.

Anyway, I left Liz and went in search of an all-weather coat for Edinburgh later this week. I found something suitable in Long Acre and went to the till. I rummaged for my credit cards and found them missing. I rang the club. No show.

I retraced my steps to Charing Cross station and, as I approached the kiosk, my friendly counter clerk waved at me through the partition and retrieved the missing pouch of credit and travel cards. We've all done something as stupid as this at some stage -- yes, I admit that leaving a bunch of cards on a counter is pretty extreme -- but I don't have to express the relief I felt for you to appreciate my joy and gratitude.

I rushed back to the shop and picked up my purchase and the staff there joined in the jubilation. En route, I had bumped into designer Bill Dudley and theatre photographer Nobby Clark, both on separate missions with mutual colleagues, the first with director Bill Bryden, the second with Bryden's regular designer, Hayden Griffin.

Later that night, my better half and I went out for dinner with producers Paul Elliott and Carole Winter and, over coffee, I recounted my adventure as a confessional anecdote, one way of deflecting (for a brief time, anyway) all local accusations of careless stupididy and advancing, even accelerating, senility.

So you can appreciate I was in a happy mood for Dames at Sea, and that's the way to be for the show. And if you're not, you will be when you emerge afterwards. You might even be transformed into a West End Whooper.


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