There are some things in the theatre that hack the Whingers off even more than everything else: the lack of a DBE, the absence of a proscenium arch, anything in the round, square or traverse staging.
But to be fair there are some things over which producers and directors have no control: the weather.
Well, we assume they have no control although the Whingers are convinced that Nicholas Hytner or Kevin Spacey might have some sway and they are entirely certain that Dame Judi Dench could help them forget it, whatever it was.
All of which is, of course, a pointless preamble to the fact that for many weeks the Whingers have – through their weatherproof wallets – been clutching tickets for Gigi at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (or, as the publicity insists on having it: Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi).
It had taken a great deal of gentle coaxing (“But you like Millicent Martin, don’t you?”, “Myra Sands is in it!”) to get Phil to agree to go. He is still sulking from his cold and wet evening there many moons ago when he saw either The Boys from Syracuse or The Comedy of Errors (he isn’t sure which).
So with forecasts of heavy showers and 40mph gales (enough to blow off even Andrew’s tightly-laced Cranford-homage bonnet) the stakes were high with the threat of a massive depression blowing in from Kentish Town.
Andrew had anxiously been tapping his barometer on an hourly basis while Phil kept a close eye (less helpfully) on the Bagnold Barometer. Thinking about it, perhaps a new device needs inventing for the Open Air Theatre: a Gigi-Counter or Millicentimeter perhaps, or even a Topolometer to check if the rain would be piddling on the roof (a metaphorical one, obviously).
Anyway, this is how it eventually panned out:
6.45pm The Whingers lounge about on the grass in Regent’s Park with a “sumptuous” picnic rustled up by Phil who had been slaving in the kitchen all day in his Betty Crocker pinny. Andrew mentally makes a note to look up “sumptuous” in a dictionary when he gets home as he had evidently been under a misapprehension.
7.30pm The Whingers knock back the dregs of a bottle of Merlot (found discarded in a nearby litter bin) and head for the Open Air Theatre as the sky begins turns the colour of Andrew’s complexion – an ominous yellow/brown/blue.
7.40pm The Whingers huddle under the limited (the staff were dry) protection of the theatre box office roof as the heavens open.
7.42pm Never ones to waste an opportunity for a costume change the Whingers don their stylish plastic ponchos.
7.45 and 30 seconds pm A bolt of lightning.
7.45 and 33 seconds pm A clap of thunder. Andrew deduces the storm is very close. Phil refuses to leave the side of a tall woman holding an umbrella who looks to him to be a far more attractive lightning conductor.
8pm (planned start time for Gigi) The orchestra tunes up despite rain still falling.
8.05pm Audience in rain gear start dribbling into very wet seats.
8.15pm The Whingers take their seats watching stage hands trying to dry the stage (which is now wet enough for Michael Phelps to win another gold on) with squeegees and tiny towels.
8.20pm Show starts. Topol comes on and sets the scene in the Bois de Boulogne. The costumes are glamorous but can not compete with the Whingers who keep their ponchos on for the duration.
Gigi tells the story of a glorified prostitute’s courtesan’s apprenticeship in 1901 Paris. If you don’t know any courtesans or anything about them it’s well worth reading the programme notes beforehand otherwise – as the Whingers discovered – this is a rather bewildering story.
Timothy Sheader, who has made a good job of directing this slick and delightful production, takes great pains to explain in the programme that courtesans were not simple whores:
To reduce them and the story of Gigi merely to the world of hookers and pimps is wrong. The courtesan of the Belle Epoque is an important chapter in the continuing history of the liberation of the liberation of women.
Mmmm. Well, the notion that Gigi might be reclaimed as part of a feminist meta-text is pushing it a bit but – as with so much in the theatre – you just have to let it pass. As indeed you do with the terminally dodgy opening number, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”, which Mr Sheader wisely does not attempt to re-frame in the cause of sexual politics.
The famous songs (“THFLG”, “The Night They Invented Champagne”, “I Remember It Well”) all appear in the first act but the funniest appears in the second act. “The Contract” features Gigi’s formidable Aunt Alicia (ex-Avenger Linda Thorson, superb) negotiating with the lawyers of her playboy suitor Gaston (Thomas Borchert, charming) over the terms for Gigi’s courtesanship.
Indeed, Gigi is surprisingly packed with amusing moments and some great lyrics (“annoyingly cloyingly gay”). The Whingers laughed most heartily when Gigi wrongly identifies one of Aunt Alicia’s jewels, prompting the indignant response, “A topaz amongst my jewels – are you mad?”
Topol is utterly charismatic and starry despite his erratic grasp of the script and the lyrics which is a bit biddy biddy bum at times.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly Miss Martin’s hat which drew a round of applause from below the Whingers’ ponchos.
“Charmed, I was charmed,” muttered Phil as they fumbled their way back through the darkness of Regent’s Park after the show.
High praise indeed. And it is hard to imagine a better stab at Gigi coming along any time soon.