Dining Out Magazine

The West End and Me.

By Amy Jensen @missamyjensen

My first ever “London Show” was The Lion King, for my eleventh birthday with my Dad and my Grandma Jensen– it was also my first ever visit to the capital! Exciting time, indeed. I was in absolute awe of everything. I mean, it was just so big. Coming from little ol’ Newcastle, which is like a village in comparison, I couldn’t believe (my god, I wrote “beliebe” there, damn good save Amy!) how hustley-and-bustley it was. I’ve never really gotten over the atmosphere change in London – and I’m not just talking about the CO2 emissions. Like the typical tourists we set off to be, our short stay was filled with jewels, animal-puppet-actors, a weird large mechanical eye thing and a whole manner of shiny new stuff –metaphorically of course, most of them were actually quite old…

Before we set off on the trip the thing that excited me the most wasn’t the theater but the tomb of King Henry V and his wives, not that I even knew where they were, because just-turned-eleven year old Amy Jensen was a bit of a history nerd. It’s true, I wasn’t a jazz-hands and sequins drama queen like you might be thinking; I wanted to be an archaeologist and about 4 other things too, but above all an archaeologist. Believe me ‘Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’ is still firmly ingrained in my memory. Luckily, you don’t have to want to be a performer to enjoy a trip to the theatre, which can often be forgotten.

I was brought up on pantomime at the Theatre Royal, religiously, but this was the only time I ever went to the theater –unless I was on a school trip, like when I went to see The Twits at the Sunderland Empire in primary school. Note to children: the word that sounds like twit but has a different vowel in the middle is not the same word and does not have the same meaning and if you say it you might get told off, I learnt the hard way – be warned. So with my pantomime experience and deep Disney knowledge at hand, I was taken to a West End theater on our adventure to the big smoke and was greeted with something that flipping blew my ickle head right off its shoulders – again metaphorically of course, this was not a massacre. I must have annoyed the hell out of everyone around me for weeks afterwards and if I didn’t It must of taken everything I had to hold it in, because I still remember how I felt walking out of that theater like it was yesterday. No, it didn’t ‘make me want to be an actor’ it just made me want to go to the theater ALL of the time; I wanted to see a musical every week! Note that word ‘musical’ there. In my world, there were only musicals: Shakespeare wasn’t in the same category, he was history. Oh how naively we begin. Maybe this is our culture? Wait no, this is our culture. Big statement that, I know. Unless a play has a rather famous actor in its midst, the general public will usually go for a musical, generally speaking – possibly wrong, but it’s an opinion nonetheless. So why is it that straight-plays aren’t so popular or commercialised? Is it something to do with Peter Brook’s outlook on the different types of theatre, expensive musicals being of the “Deadly” variety; just for fun, exploitative, money-making, sparkly? Anyway, probably because of this whole stereotype I did not go and see Hamlet or whatever else was on in the West End for my eleventh birthday, I went to go and see The Lion King and successfully fulfilled a childhood dream: London, Disney and a real life fairy tale just like my pantomimes. It was lush.

The reason why I bring up musical vs. play however, is because I find it a little sad that it has taken me until my late teens to realize that, actually, Shakespeare and ‘plays and stuff’ are pretty incredible. It’s a tough job for the person trying to get me to see a musical now, that’s for sure! I don’t dislike them at all, I’ve just found my niche. Again, it’s sad that I find my niche after finding my career path though, don’t you think? I’m waiting for someone to tell me I’m wrong. Anyone, please? Tell me that going to the theater isn’t pretentious, artsy-fartsy and a one-off occasion. Go on. I’ve seen the reactions when I start talking about plays or Shakespeare, either that glazed-over look, the brush-it-off attitude or the ‘she’s a bit pretentious’ raised eyebrow, I get similar looks when I talk about being an actor. Not all of the time, obviously. I’m not trying to make out that everyone in the world thinks that the theater is only for a certain kind of people! Because I know that the entire human race does not think that and I’m probably not giving them enough credit as it is. I’m not even trying to suggest that non-musicals should get just as much hype, it’s not about that anyway. But isn’t it a bit of a shame that, for many people, going out to the theater in general (musicals included) doesn’t feel as natural as going to the cinema, when it can actually be a far more incredible experience? Maybe without the out-of-this-world stunts, mind-boggling visual effects and gory deaths but just wonderful in the magical way that the theater works.

If you know the names Tarantino, Spielberg and Hitchcock I wish you knew  Beckett, Shakespeare and Miller too. I also wish that I hadn’t just listed the names of six men, but that’s by the by and another blog posts’ worth of discussion. Honestly though, they don’t bite, Shakespeare and that I mean, they don’t require astronomical levels of intelligence (not trying to contradict myself by using big words there at all) or even an interest in theater. Imagine, there is a play that a London audience pushed to one side and couldn’t understand, only for it to be picked up by the inmates of an American prison and treated like gold. It’s safe to say the critics soon changed their minds, being loyal to their word? Waiting for Godot is now a modern classic and has been performed by some of the best actors this country has to offer. Hows that for a turn around?

With all of this in mind, I think you can guess what kind of show I didn’t go for when it came to choosing something as a Christmas gift. It wasn’t hard, after eliminating all of the musicals. My gift-giver had done his research and thought I might like to see ‘Ghosts’ by Ibsen at the Trafalgar Studios and after a quick sweep through our other options, he wasn’t wrong. Well done him.


I had an audition the morning before the show and it wasn’t the best of auditions, boo hoo, cry cry, whatever. I was fine, honestly. You have to take the good with the bad, all that jazz, “this is an actors life Amy” – yes, I know, I know. Trust me, I can handle rejection [holds head high and carries on with her life]. But it was an added bonus I had the show to look forward to or else I might have let myself wallow. I got back, we cooked (Jamie Oliver recipe, I’ll have you know), got ready and ran out! For once I wasn’t the last one to be ready either!

The Trafalgar Studios are a really nice little venue and the staff were extremely friendly, not fake or pretentious at all – always a plus! The theater isn’t pristine or perfectly arranged, just warm and welcoming, letting you relax quickly and take off the fur coat and pearls you thought you would need to fit in. After getting some drinks and sweets – unfortunately we were the annoying people who rustled sweet packets in the theatre, sincere apologies etc etc – and me getting all confused about ‘Wine Pastels’; as far as I knew there were only ‘Wine Gums’ and ‘Fruit Pastels’ the mixture of the two unsettled me… Not that they weren’t nice, just confusing. Rustly sweet packet at the ready, we took our seats in the auditorium and settled down for the show. Sorry, again.

It was a teeny-tiny bit slow at first, but found its feet very quickly with the work of some very talented actors and of course a good script (Ibsen, we salute you). The traditional set and costume design didn’t make it same-old, same-old or boring at all, it was just exactly right for a play which is so firmly submerged in the affairs and laws of its time and the speeches given by Oswald (Jack Lowden) were so modern that they created a brilliant juxtaposition in comparison to the rest of the text anyway. The lighting was just beautiful and literally took my breath away in the last scene, which was heart wrenchingly well done, just as the set added a new dimension as it allowed you to see into the other room, usually unseen offstage but here with the actors remaining in full view, staying in character. It’s a weirdly mesmerising thing to watch an actor stay in character for long periods of time without saying anything, simply living on the stage. Also a good test of characterisation!

For a show as well staged as this, it’s hard to find many faults: if they’re not obvious – don’t try to find them. We thought that Lesley Manville’s Helene was a little over-acted, but then again all apart from maybe Oswald’s performances were the same and probably were what the play needed. After all, not every show has to be like a reflection of real life, or else it would all start to get a bit boring.

I’d give it a firm 7/10, definitely worth seeing and a perfect Christmas present. Hint hint, wink wink…

Tagged: Birthday, christmas present, ghosts, ibsen, london, newcastle, plays, shakespeare, the lion king, Theatre, trafalgar studios, weekend away, west end

The West End and me.
The West End and me.
The West End and me.

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