[Note: this is really not worth reading unless you were there. Sorry. It’s mainly an aide memoire to ourselves]
Biggins must have had other plans. But gosh – even the Whingers had other plans. But happily the first preview of Blood and Gifts at the National got cancelled enabling the Whingers to sweep back to the Noel Coward Theatre for the opening night of Deathtrap. Happily Sir Nicholas of Hytner could now also attend and he did so with Samuel Barnett in tow.
And it seemed that everyone else in showbizzland had a gaping hole in their diaries too. Andrew’s alleged prosopagnosia was stretched further than some of the more “enhanced” famous faces on display. And his recognitions skills were not aided by the fact that he doesn’t do much in the way of telly so it was left to Phil to peer through his lorgnettes to fill in the blanks.
Wasn’t that Siân Phillips greeting Sue Johnston, June Brown and bubbly Barbara Windsor (with hubby Scott) two rows behind in the stalls? Goodness.
In deference to Phil’s fading eyesight we were seated in the centre of the front row of the stalls (with Louie Spence on the end – what does that say about the Whingers’ place in – or off – the celebrity pecking order?). But the craning of necks did make celebrity-spotting a trifle inelegant so we stood at the side and leant against a box with what we hoped looked like a nonchalant and disinterested air of “seen it all before”.
But it was difficult watching the mwah-mwahing without passing comment. Does everyone in showbusiness know each other? Do they all live in one big house? Or did Ms Phillips do a stint in a soap opera that passed the Whingers by? Lynda Bellingham, Denise Welch and Helen Lederer were a few seats away and seemed to be getting on like a house on fire. Are they old mates or do they just recognise each other off the telly?
Ooh, and who’s that failing to blend in by wearing a conspicuous white flat cap back to front? He’s with Helen McCrory it must be Damian Lewis. And how on earth does Nigel Havers know Deathtrap‘s director Matthew Warchus? (A: He did a stint in Art)
If the Noël Coward Theatre had gone up in flames the Whingers would also have been trampling towards the exits over the likes of John Barrowman, Clare Francis, Trevor Bannister, Marc Almond, Clare Higgins, Charles Dance, Twiggy, Leigh Lawson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Geoffrey Palmer, Toby Jones, Michael Medwin, Michael Ball, Cathy McGowan, Pamela Cundell (Dad’s Army‘s Mrs Fox), Amy Lamé, Lesley Joseph, Con O’Neil, Michael Grade, Stephen Fry, Patina Miller, Shirley Anne Field and someone from Heartbeat, to name quite a lot.
Heck, someone even had the brilliant notion of inviting Crimewatch’s Nick Ross. We assume he always kept one step ahead of the plot. And with all those antique weapons on display on the set the Whingers thanked their lucky stars that Lord Webber seemed to be the only one not in attendance.
Anyway, when it eventually began the Whingers are happy to report that despite knowing the twists and turns of the plot it repaid a second viewing, the comedy works particularly effectively and Simon Russell Beale kept everything ticking along switching from potential murderer to potential victim with charismatic comedic finesse. Jonathan Groff’s allure remains undiminished with the passage of time (two weeks but at that age it’s downhill all the way, isn’t it?).
The shocks worked very well on the first-nighters. And the show’s marketing department should sell it as an easy way to make new friends. Deathtrap doesn’t sound an obvious date play, but the woman in the seat next to Phil screamed and grabbed Phil twice. Thank goodness Andrew had seen it before.
It all got very messy and by the time the Whingers had been prised away from the free champagne and oysters (the tofu oysters Andrew having been lured with failing to make an appearance) and forced out of the theatre it was too late to make any new friends among the glitterati although Phil – for reasons he can not now recall – turned down an invitation for a post-party dinner with Clare Higgins and the three attractive young men who were accompanying her. She related that at 6.30 (the curtain was meant to go up at 7pm) she was still rehearsing Hamlet‘s “cupboard scene” with Sir Nick.
Still, we did manage to catch up with Estelle Parsons and National Treasure Simon Russell Beale who was lovely, just lovely. And having held his feet to the fire for only an hour or two we succeeded in getting him to make a quite startling admission: