During our flat-hunting weekend up in Hampstead we had the good fortune to see another play at the Donmar Warehouse on Saturday. This time it was the turn of Simon Gray’s The Late Middle Classes with Helen McCrory, Peter Sullivan, Eleanor Bron and Robert Glenister. I have to admit to an initial disappointment that the cast did not include that other, to me rather more dishy Glenister, Philip, who Husband had promised I’d get a close look at. He feebly admitted his mistake in the foyer when faced with overwhelming evidence that it indeed was not the chain smoking, whisky swinging cop from Ashes to Ashes who was to take the lead in that night’s play. I was gutted.
But having recovered from that blow, I settled down to watch the play, a story of a talented boy’s coming of age in 1950’s, post-war England. Unlike Christopher Hart in today’s Sunday Times, I didn’t think that the story of the boy was a sub plot. The first act started with a confrontation with the now grown up Holly, and his old music teacher, the rather lecherous Mr Brownlow played by Mr (wrong) Glenister. The play ended with the same scene and in between we witnessed the momentous events that unfolded in the year before Holly started senior school. To me this signifies only one thing: the play was indeed all about the boy, Holly, and what happened to him.
I also don’t agree with Mr Hart in that the play was dull. Far from it. Without giving too much away, all I can say is that the small sexual gestures and subtle innuendoes made by Mr Brownlow sent shivers down the spine of our party, making us very much engage with the play, and wonder throughout: did he or didn’t he?.
Perhaps because I’m foreign, the portrayal of the middle-class English couple trying to solve their marital problems rang very true indeed, as did the way the Father could not discuss sex with his son. And the observation of Mrs Brownlow, the music teacher’s Austrian mother, of how the English are ‘Always so very nice but not often so very kind,’ could not have hit the nail more on the head.
Seeing The Late Middle Classes at Donmar was a great pleasure, as was a meal afterwards at Hix, where I had the best asparagus with Hollandaise sauce I’ve ever tasted. This was in stark contrast to our digs during the two days in Hampstead. We had the unfortunate luck to stay in the most shabby, uncomfortable, overpriced B&B I’ve ever come across. The room, which hardly fitted the four-poster bed was dirty, hot and badly kitted out. The bed was so hard a 1950’s camp bed would have been more comfortable. The TV was new, but the small desk, the rattan chair (who has rattan chairs any more?) and the bathroom had seen better days. I’m not sure what has happened since 2003 when La Gaffe won a price for best value in the Which guide. Were the gold plated taps, plastic bath with a jacuzzi and a film-star mirror lights (one bulb of which wasn’t working and the rest were mismatched) less worn out then? And one would assume that the crack in the basin occurred some time after 2003. But worse than the shabbiness of the room was the inclusive breakfast. At £125 per night one would expect more than a self-service meal of sliced bread (to be toasted by the customer), a few slices of suspect-looking and tasting cheese and ham, over-cooked cold eggs plus some cereal stored in plastic containers and a pot or two of warm yoghurt. The coffee was the only redeeming feature, the only item bought to the table. I felt most sorry for a German couple who meekly asked if there was a chance of some fried eggs. ‘No,’ was the short reply. Surely in London the least a tourist could expect is an English breakfast?
I was left wondering why there is so little choice of good hotels and B&B’s in NW3. And even though we were left less than happy by our ‘gaff’ at least we didn’t this time have to stay in the ‘Suicide Towers’, otherwise known as Hampstead Britannia Hotel…And the surprise bottle of champagne our good friends left for us went along way to make up for our poor lodgings.
Roll on the summer’s Big Move when hopefully we can sleep in our own Gaffe in London.