Review: Wicked, Victoria Apollo, London – 24 September 2016

Diane modelling one of the ladies’ fit official t-shirts.

At the weekend we headed off to London for a first for both of us: a live London musical. This is one Devon recommended to me a while ago and I’ve wanted to see it ever since.

We bought our train tickets well in advance, on 16 August. We were travelling from Birmingham as my dad was looking after the dog overnight for us, and return tickets to London are usually quite expensive.

However, I was able to secure 2 singles each way for £11 each (apx $14) – the returns started at sixty-odd pounds (apx $80 US) and reached as much as £143 (apx $185 US) – and the seat reservations were FREE. What a bonus those were. The 11-coach train going and the 10-coach train coming back were both rammed to the rafters.

Our train left on time and it arrived around 3 – 4 minutes ahead of schedule. Coming back it was bang on time. Well done Virgin Trains.

Our accommodation for the night was Travelodge Euston. It was reasonably priced for a central London hotel for less than £170 altogether (apx $220 US) and I don’t think we could have got much closer to our railway station, as it’s just across the road.

At the time of booking, we also booked an included breakfast, 24 hours of wi-fi and an early check-in, so we were able to go there first, dump our luggage, freshen up and get changed in good time for the matinee performance.

The hotel itself was quite warm and stuffy in the public areas, but the room was deliciously cool and not so cold that we needed an extra layer. The carpets were a little tired and grubby, but security was very good, the room was comfortable, and the food was great. You can choose from a light unlimited breakfast or a full unlimited breakfast. The poet had full-English followed by toast while I had a slightly smaller English followed by cereal. We didn’t eat in the restaurant on the evening as we had to eat mostly on the hoof in between events and places.

We could have done with some extra storage space in the room for clothes that don’t usually go on hangers. But there was a new television in there with plenty of channels to choose from, and we were high enough up, on the top floor, that the sounds of Euston didn’t reach us.

The Apollo Victoria theatre is only a few minutes away on the Victoria line tube. We weren’t sure how close to the main station it was, though, so we asked one of the tourist information officers. “Outside,” she said, pointing to one of the exits. Well, that narrowed it down, we said, but we’d already guessed it would be outside somewhere. Never mind, we’d ask someone else once we got outside

… but when we got outside, there indeed it was. Right opposite us! (We took it all back!)

What a lovely old theatre this is. It was designed in 1929 and opened in 1930, initially as a cinema, and the first thing we noticed was the wonderful art deco interior. The lighting was soft and there were fairytale-grotto-like features throughout, in the foyers and bars and inside the auditorium.

The drinks were a little expensive for us. It cost £19 (apx $25 US) for 2 glasses of pop and 2 small bottles of lager, but we did like the fact that we could order and pay for our interval drinks too (included in the £19! – we couldn’t afford much more). The theatre is a little tired-looking, needing paint touched up on the stairs, for example, with very small toilet cubicles, toilet doors that didn’t close properly let alone lock, and quite primitive plumbing. But it’s still a magical place.

The poet bought me a t-shirt, which cost £25 (apx $32 US), and I was mortified to have to buy a size XL, but they’re VERY small, and the t-shirt I chose was a “ladies’ fit” t-shirt. These usually come quite tight and quite short. I’m very happy with the fit and the length of this one, but XL? No wonder we get paranoid about our weight!

Our seats were right at the front of the dress circle. We’d noted the requirement to “dress” for the occasion, and had done our best. But when we got there we realised we could have gone in ordinary jeans if we’d wanted. That always disappoints me if I’ve dressed up for something and didn’t need to, even if “dressing up” does only constitute a button-up shirt instead of my usual t-shirt.

We had quite a good view and were delighted to see that we could take our refreshments to our seats or have further refreshments delivered to our seats. The poet did have to ask a hen party in front of us (at the rear of the front circle) to remove their witches’ hats for us, so we could see, and I had to ask a lady next to us to keep her 2 children under control – they chattered at the top of their voices for most of the performance (which is a VERY long performance) and when the said hen party ladies in front of us even started to turn around and glare at them halfway through the second part, I decided it was a reasonable point for me to remind the parent that the rest of us were trying to listen to a show we’d paid good money for (bah, humbug). But it was a terrific show.

The sets were great. The actors were great. The music was great. Once or twice I found the whole ensemble singing and playing at the top of their voices and notes to be a bit of a cacophony. But the poet loved every single second, clapping the loudest, whistling. I thought the costumes were brilliant, they looked very well made. And the special effects were perfect.

The performance started at 2:30pm and the interval was at 4pm. It restarted again at 4:20pm and finished about an hour later. That’s quite a long time for the performers to be working, and they do it 8 times a week.

We paid £68.75 each for our seats (apx $90 US), plus booking fee, and we thought it was worth every penny.

Wicked has been playing at the Victoria Apollo in London since 2006 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. This will probably explain the professionalism of the sets and the costumes, they all looked so permanent. The main cast changes every few months, but we saw Suzie Mathers as Glinda, Rachel Tucker as Elphaba, Anita Dobson as Madame Morrible, Mark Curry as the Wizard of Oz, and Oliver Saville as Fiyero. The book the story is based on was published in 1995 as Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire, and was written while the author was living in London in 1990.

(This review also appears on Diane’s Gig List.)

Boot camp (major list alert)

P1030806Ever since the poet went off to Scotland to work, just over two weeks ago, this pile of work has been sitting on a table in the living room waiting for me to go through it.

The binder consists of several ebook and worksheet pdfs:

  • 5 in 10: Create Five Short Stories in Ten Weeks by Devon Ellington
  • How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck: Learn to tell a complete story in 500 words by Holly Lisle
  • worksheets for The Kaizen Plan for Organized Authors by Lynn Johnston
  • The Confident Freelancer by Lori Widmer and Devon Ellington
  • 7 Steps to Beating Page-One Rejections by Holly Lisle
  • Introduction to Plotting: Professional Plot Outline Mini-Course by Holly Lisle
  • 30 Tips for 30 Days: Kick Start Your Novel and Get Out of Your Own Way by Devon Ellington
  • worksheets for The 30 Day Novel Success Journal: Overcome Procrastination, Figure Out What Happens Next and Get Your Novel Written by Lynn Johnston (don’t ya just love those snappy titles?)
  • worksheets for The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing: A 16-step program guaranteed to take you from idea to completed manuscript by Evan Marshall
  • 2 more easy-way-to write books that may actually go straight in the recycle bin.

The pile also consists of 2 shorthand notebooks, 2 Pukka A5 notebooks, an A4 notebook and a pencil tin. I do love my pencil tins.

Aside from this pile, I also have books on the Kindle that I’m currently reading:

  • The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell
  • Writing Non-Fiction That Sells by Jackie Sherman
  • Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris

Now, as I said, this pile has been glaring at me from a coffee table in the living room for the best part of 3 weeks. And last night I finally settled down to sort it all out.

My notebooks usually consist of the following:

  • a shorthand notebook for ideas and outlines
  • a shorthand notebook for draft 1s
  • an A4 notebook for draft 2s

I also have a see-through brightly coloured polypropylene folder (see picture) containing several A4 see-through brightly coloured plastic wallets, each containing a draft 3 awaiting proofing.

After last night I now have:

  • 1 Pukka A5 notebook for ideas, notes, exercises, market information, WIP schedule
  • 1 Pukka A5 notebook for outlines
  • 1 shorthand notebook for draft 1s
  • 1 A4 notebook for draft 2s
  • 1 bright pink see-through polypropylene folder containing several bright yellow A4 see-through plastic wallets

Welcome to my own personal writer’s boot camp.

After last night, the main binder has gone back onto the bookshelf. When I’ve caught up with all the stuff I’ve already started, it’ll come back down again and I’ll go back to the beginning. Meanwhile, though …

I sorted through all of my notebooks filled with outlines and 1st drafts, discarded a few that really aren’t working, and came up with a brand new WIP schedule.

I shared a copy of my WIP schedule with blog readers before, and a few went slightly green at the gills at the thought of it, and at the seeming rigidity of it all. This WIP schedule is, in fact, written in pencil, which means it can be rubbed out if it isn’t working or if something comes in that’s more important. The order isn’t cast in stone either. If I need to get a January-related story to a short story market in the next few days, for example, then that comes to the top of the priority list.

Here’s what the first page of that WIP schedule now looks like, showing one project from start to finish:

O The Complete Angler SS

#1 Peters and Lee F

#2 Breaking the Ice SS (the 1st Stevie Tarot tale)

#3 My Operation RTE

E My 1970s Holiday Memories RTE

O Aren’t Men Daft RL

#1 The Complete Angler SS

#2 Peters and Lee F

#3 Breaking the Ice SS

E My Operation RTE

O Don’t Break a Leg SS

#1 Aren’t Men Daft RL

#2 The Complete Angler SS

 #3 Peters and Lee F

E Breaking the Ice SS

O Dancing on Ice SS

#1 Don’t Break a Leg SS

#2 Aren’t Men Daft RL

#3 The Complete Angler SS

E Peters and Lee F

O Shaking the Tree SS (a sequel to The Spirit of the Wind)

#1 Dancing on Ice SS

#2 Don’t Break a Leg SS

#3 Aren’t Men Daft RL

E The Complete Angler SS

(KEY: O = Outline; #1 = draft 1; #2 = draft 2; #3 = draft 3; E = Edit; SS = Short Story; F = Filler; RL = Reader’s Letter; RTE = Reader’s True Experience; WIP = Work In Progress)

I tick them off, or colour them with colour-coded highlighter pens, as I do them. Many of these projects were started off during my Camp NaNo in July.

For those of you still with us, this is how it always used to work before when I was prolific. I like the variety of working on something fresh, and I like to leave something bubbling away in the background while I work on something else. For me, the hardest parts are the outline stage and first draft. The rest comes really easy to me.

Aside from this short writing WIP, I also edit and proofread books and novels for clients. This is my bread-and-butter work, or what I now call the day job. I also have a couple of books of my own on the go.

Using this system for the short writing WIP means that once the 4th drafts have gone off on their merry ways, I have so many projects “out there” and so many more “in production” that a single rejection, or even a few at once, doesn’t faze me.

If I don’t have any editing or proofreading in, at least I still have plenty of other work to be getting on with. I just need much of it to be “out there” earning its keep.

Bag 2If I’m out fishing with the poet, the current WIP goes into a writing bag. Here’s one I prepared earlier, which includes an old diary and a purple polypropylene see-through folder that contains a novel, Catch the Rainbow I think is in this one. (I do love my polypropylene folders …)

Regular readers will have seen this picture before. It’s a different pencil tin (I do love my pencil tins …), and the black conference folder usually holds editing or proofreading.

So, with such a big to-do list just for the short writing WIP, I’d best crack on.

How do you work?