Wednesday, 26 August 2009

France! Voulez Vous! Petit Pois! Les Miserables! Mmm Danone!

We are taking the motorhome and we're taking a road trip to France! With Partner, the boys and Best Friend. It's a bit free and easy - we don't have a fixed itinerary but it will be in the South West region. There will be stopovers in St Emilion and Bordeaux (I wonder why!).

Back in early September, and I'm expecting a plethora of adventures and thrilling undertakings. Failing that, some pretty pictures at least!

Things That Make You Go "Hmm..."

We had pizza last night, courtesy of the Hut. Partner's elder son took one bite and said to nobody in particular, "This is delectable!"

He's 11.

Partner and I looked at each other and his face had that "Don't say a word, don't laugh out loud" look that I know too well. Good thing I didn't choke on my Super Supreme.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Me and My...Life Philosophy

Going through old diaries can be in turns a blast and a cringeworthy experience. All that chest-beating angst! The flowery prose! Sometimes you'd think I was Cathy in Wuthering Heights standing atop a (Heath)cliff with the Yorkshire winds blowing up my petticoats while I toss my wild ringlets in a state of bother. Ahem.

The chronicles of my life were first composed when I was 20 and the last entry was made just after I met Partner.

Amongst the few things that I didn't have to read from behind my fingers (due to undue wince-inducing writing), was this entry on 30 June 1994. I was serving my National Service at the time and had been posted to an administrative department. One of my superiors there said something that has stuck with me through all these years. She told me there were 3 principles she lived her life by:

  • In life, there is always a choice; even in an imposed environment. We just have to find the avenues.
  • Never give yourself a chance to regret. Seize each and every opportunity.
  • Always ask if the price is worth paying; get out when it's too high.
Subconsciously I've taken on board this life philosophy and while it sounds quite dour and grandiose, I think it's stood me in good stead. With recent forays into the Law of Attraction, I will add:

  • Accept personal responsibility. It's not the government, economy, parents, ex boyfriend, class bully or rude canteen woman. We cannot always control the situation but we can always control our reactions.
  • Where we are is where we need to be - when we've learnt what we need to, we move on. When we know better, we do better.
Along with treating your neighbour as you would yourself, eating your greens, and unplugging the iron after you've finished, I think that's a pretty good set of instructions to live by :-)

Friday, 21 August 2009

Me and my...Body

I was an obese child, oh yes, I was. Memories of my childhood include:

  • Having moobs (or should it be bboobs, because moobs = man boobs and I had boy boobs?)
  • My inner thighs rubbing against each other when I walked, resulting in my polyester school shorts making a "shrsh shrsh" sound as said rubbing caused friction and not an insignificant amount of static.
  • Being singled out as one of two children in the entire primary school during our annual health check to go to the Ministry of Health for dietary advice.
  • Doing star jumps at said Ministry of Health as some nurse demonstrated the technique.
  • Being forced to join The Fat Club (yes, that was the official name) at secondary school (aged 13) and do a weigh-in-cum-skipping session after school every Wednesday.
  • Buying diet pills from ads in the National Enquirer.
  • Buying every sort of diet pill in the health shop (this was pre-internet).
  • Buying and wearing a corset that promised to hold everything in and "sweat out the fat".
I was a skinny child till I turned 5 or 6. whereupon my serious asthma problems abated. And the appetite that was suppressed due to illness returned with a vengeance. I remember having breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, pre-dinner (where I would sneak out and get a bowl of noodles) and then dinner at home. Sometimes even supper if one of my relatives dropped in. No meal ever went away unloved.

I think mother was terrfied with the Ministry of Health business; and even more so when her friend said I could die of a heart attack in adulthood. Overnight, the entire family's diet changed. Out went fried anything, and instead it was this soup and steamed that. My mindset changed as well - being a teenager (and a gay one at that!) with all its attendant insecurities and vanities made me determined to do something.

It was as if a switch had been flipped and finding the motivation from god-knows-where, I started running every evening and swimming 2 or 3 times a week. And without even realising it, the weight gradually dropped off. I recall the day my friend said to me how I looked kind of weird because my waist was so small and my thighs so chunky (from the running). I looked, really looked, into the mirror and oh, my giddy aunt, I realised he was right.

However the battle is constant and my natural tendency is to put on weight. I am forever vigilant and whilst I am not obssessive about calories (and thankfully, I don't have a sweet tooth), I keep a close eye on food intake.

Now in my adulthood, I know I can scrub up well to impress. However sometimes there is a jarring discord between the image in my mind's eye and reality. Logically I know I look ok, but on a fat day, I see a really fat kid with squishy thighs.

About 3 years ago, I joined a gym for the first time and with all guns blazing, I worked out 5 times a week - an hour of weights followed by 30 minutes of cardio. And for the first time in my life, I had a six pack. I didn't even realise this till I saw them in a photo. I would also get comments on how big my arms were but all I could see in the mirror were twigs. Maybe it's a mild form of body dysmorphia.

After about a year of working out, I opened my eyes on a Wednesday morning and thought, "I can't do this anymore." I didn't work out for about a year after that. Crashed and burnt.

The lessons I learnt during that period was that whilst diet was important, for me, exercise was the key to attaining and maintaining optimum condition. I didn't have to worry too much about what I ate because it got burnt up; I looked bettter, I felt better. But more importantly, I realised that exercise in moderation was the only way to bring balance. Burning out and losing motivation really lay me low for some considerable time.

Now, I cycle to work every day. This is my cardio workout and there is no excuse not to do it (having said that I've yet to see how I cope in the Winter!). My mantra when going up the one punishing hill on the way home is, "INCINERATE THAT FAT!" as I pedal furiously.

I also have 2 Bowflex dumbbells. These are brilliant and whilst at almost £300, it's not the cheapest equipment, I no longer shell out £40ish a month on gym membership. So I consider them a great investment. With a click you can adjust the weight from 2kg to 21 kg. No fuss, no muss.

I got mine from Amazon: Bowflex SelectTech Dumbbells

Now, I think I'm achieving that balance between a healthy body and the urge to eat an entire bucket of KFC (whoever proposed "bucket" as an acceptable name for a food receptacle is bordering on the threshold of insanity and genius). I'm easier on myself and kinder to that fat boy that lurks inside.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Kids - How To Raise Them?

This will probably be a recurring topic! When I first met Partner some 9 years ago, the 2 boys were 2 and 3 years old. Partner had driven them from home to meet me in London and when I got in the car, feeling a wee bit nervous at the prospect of meeting 2 Caucasian kids, I turned round and saw the 2 cutest little boys both in shorts, both on booster seats. Younger Son handed me his toy dinosaur. And that was the start of our unconventional family.

The first years were spent dancing around each other, fathoming out our respective roles. I've been the evil step mother, shouting "NOOOOOOO" at various decible levels and I've been the proud guardian at Christmas plays.

Partner recently asked the boys how they saw me in their lives. Their answer was that I was like an uncle to them. Isn't that sweet! Younger son asked if we got married I would be their step father. I said no, I'd be their step mother. Cue bulging eyes.

My background is complicated, coloured in murky swashes. And Partner was in the Metropolitan Police when I met him. So literally two worlds collided and we had much to learn from each other. Apart from the occasional cousin, I had no real life experience with children so to be a part of 2 little boys' lives was a task that was daunting and totally unfamiliar.

Yet over the years, through tumultous beginnings, Partner's (amicable) divorce with the boys' mother, the boys' moving to Holland and back, Nana's death, Christmases and Pride marches, we've settled into an arrangement which may puzzle and bemuse many, but which seems totally natural to us. It's a rhythm that works.

They visit us every other weekend and we have them on alternate Christmases. Their mum is a friend, and so is her new partner. The boys have no shortage of love and there is no question they cannot ask.

Our circle of friends comprises the usual suspects from the "respectable" professions all the way through to drag queens and club bunnies. Everyone has met the boys and it seems perfectly natural for the boys to socialise with such a disparate bunch of people. We are hopeful that they will grow up to be independent, to form their own opinions based on knowledge and experience. We hope they are on their journey to being prejudice-free adults. My personal opinion is that when they are in college or working, they will realise that amongst their peers, they have the coolest Dad and that their childhood experiences were fantastical.

Which is why I loved this article by Lonnae O'Neal Parker from the Washington Post. It encapsulates everything we want for the boys - to lend their lives some (as one of the comments cited) texture and colour:

Queen for a Day

It was time to add some new characters to my daughter's sheltered life

Lonnae O'Neal Parker (pictured here with her daughter, Sydney) writes about school reform for The Washington Post.
Lonnae O'Neal Parker (pictured here with her daughter, Sydney) writes about school reform for The Washington Post. (David S. Holloway/Reportage/Getty Images)

By the time we reach the top of the stairs, the sequins are in full effect.

The money-taker waves me through with my 15-year-old daughter, Sydney -- but not before pointing out that my dress needs a few little baubles to pretty-up my decolletage. Too bad, I think. I had dressed so carefully for the afternoon. Then again, there's never enough sparkle for a room full of drag queens.

The local drag organization the Academy of Washington Inc. has invited me to its annual awards ceremony in recognition of an article I wrote about it last year. Inside, I spot Ella Fitzgerald in a glittery red gown and give her a big hug. I wave and smile as we pass the statuesque Ofelia Bottoms and the lovely young Destiny B. Childs. A nervous Sydney stays close on my heels. Despite 100 channels of cable, her life seems dramatically free from characters, so I've brought her along to introduce her to some American originals.

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago with black people who hailed from a blues tradition. I spent summers in southern Illinois, where my granddaddy owned a tavern, and characters from both places informed my life. They kept their heads down during the week, so their Friday night exhale was hyperbolic. By the time I was Sydney's age, I knew men who played the numbers and women who could smoke a Newport dangling from their lips without ever using their hands. My best friend and I once rode our bikes three towns away just to find a boy I'd fallen for after his picture ran in the paper. But Sydney's world is different. Nestled in deep suburbia, she can't walk to school, to a park or even to the store to buy a soda. She's limited to streets that end in cul-de-sacs, and even in our safe, suburban neighborhood of white-collar professionals, she calls to tell me when she goes from one friend's house to another's.

I once dropped Sydney across the street from her dance class in Washington. She looked skeptically at the three lanes of traffic, looked at me and shook her head. "I have to cross that busy street?" she asked, disbelieving.

"I'm not comfortable with that at all," chimed in her little sister.

As a mother, I understand that primal desire to shield our kids from harm, but sometimes, in our zeal to protect, it feels as though we've stripped too much texture -- too much Friday night -- from their lives. I worry that my family's somewhat sheltered environment is hampering Syd's ability to develop powers of discernment, to understand the difference between unusual and unsafe -- and, maybe, even to cross the friggin' street. I've always told my kids it takes all kinds of people to make a world. But our own world is out of balance, and one type is overrepresented. There can be warmth and community in people who color outside the lines, I tell Sydney, and I'm ready for her to meet some of them. To allow their humanity to help inform her own.

Inside the club, we arrive at our table. "Syd, go get me some water," I say, as I begin talking to Lady Charlotte.

"Mommy, no, please, I don't want to get up," Syd begs. She has the usual teen self-consciousness about being dressed formally, she's nervous about being in a room full of strangers and there are a couple of six-foot-tall men in ball gowns, sporting cleavage and rhinestone-studded tiaras, standing between her and the bar. I knew where she was coming from. But I also knew she'd be just fine.

"Girl, these folks aren't thinking about you," I say firmly. She heads toward the bar warily. Minutes later, she returns with my water and I smile and give her a big hug.

The show begins, and the queens cheer their favorites. A pale, cherubic nominee for male entertainer of the show comes out in a body stocking covered with balloons. He bursts all but the one pinned between his legs, which he twirls as the crowd roars its approval. Syd covers her mouth.

"That's so inappropriate," she says, before collapsing into my lap in a fit of giggles.

Next comes a parade of stars. "Mommy, is that a woman?" Syd asks, as a figure in a gold gown and dark curly hair walks onstage.

"No, that's a man," I tell her.

"Mommy, is that a woman?" Syd asks, as a somebody in a white spaghetti-strap gown and teased blond hair walks onstage.

"No, that's a man," I say.

Someone in a sequined purple gown with hair pulled back into a neat, classic bun walks out, and Syd looks at me, alarmed.

"Mommy!?" Syd demands.

"Okay, yeah, that's a woman," I assure her.

Later, while presenting me with an award, Mame Dennis, the group's president, introduces Sydney. By now she's all smiles. She stands and twirls around the room, giving her Miss America wave as the queens cheer her loudly. Afterward, we take pictures with Destiny B. Childs, who coos over Syd and calls her precious.

On the drive home, Sydney can't stop talking. "It's like a whole different world, literally," she says. "I don't know why I was scared."

"Because it was all new to you, baby," I explain as we head back to the 'burbs. "But you know, it takes all kinds."

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

2009 Phantom Press Kit Video!

How excited was I to stumble across the electronic press kit with the cast that we saw on my birthday! It is absolutely beautifully lit and shot.

Monday, 17 August 2009

A Wedding for the Cynics

I have a confession. I really really didn't want to go; and when we set off, my expectations of having a good time were next to nothing. I'm glad the universe responded by slapping me round the head. I had a hoot of a time.

Partner's eldest brother (J) was getting married in York. His third marriage, her second. Partner's parents (when his mum was still with us) had always been accepting of our relationship. However in the 9 odd years we've been together, drifting through various birthdays, funerals and other family events, I had never felt entirely comfortable. Partly because his family is so extended - with ex wives, children and assorted cousins from different marriages - it gets confusing, even for his own family members; partly because I was originally introduced as the "flatmate" and the relationship was never declared official - even though after the third year I'm sure everyone was aware of what was going on in our rather unconvincing production!

Partner's elder brother (D) and his wife (S) have always been champions, and we've gone on outings, even once dragging Partner's dear ole dad to a gay bar (though he seemed oblivious to it all, bless him!). J seemed uncomfortable in the beginning but he's fine now and his new wife is A GOOD WOMAN.

I think throughout the various barbeques and get togethers, the other clan members didn't know quite how to approach me and I, whilst not dramatically branding myself as an outsider, tended to stay with Partner or the boys so as not to (in my mind) upset anyone by foisting our relationship on anyone lest they feel uncomfortable. You can go down the "I'm queer, accept it *diva finger clicking*" route or you can, as I chose to, travel the road less obvious. Rightly or wrongly, I wanted it to happen organically and naturally. It cannot be easy for a niece to accept her uncle is *eeks*, a homosexual. It cannot be easy for a newphew to strike a conversation with his now-gay ("but he has children!") uncle's non-football-comprehending partner.

The reception was short and sweet. The groom came over emotional and it's always an awwww moment when a man cries, especially when saying his vows :-) . The bride was the epitome of elegance, taking everything in her stride, including small grandchild continuously chanting "nana, nana" throughout the ceremony.

For most of the day I was either with Partner or the boys; had the occasional word with S's sister (B) whom I met at the last function and found out we had a common interest - wine. Specifically, drinking alot of it. Back at the house, Partner and I were at the same table with his dad and the groom's second wife (did I mention it was a complicated family?). B kept shouting over from the end of the garden to "leave the old farts" and join the (to me) rather large and intimidating group that had gathered around the garden bench attached to a table laden with champagne bottles.

I resisted for awhile and then, to be polite, went over. Despite our past of polite silent nods during our various skirmishes, something happened that early Summer's evening. They opened up, I opened up. Sometimes a moment gets captured so vividly it crystallises straight away in the memory. For me, this will be the day that D's son-in-law and I spoke more than 2 words to each other. The day when D's daughter and I cackled about farting under the duvet. The day when B and I confessed relationship secrets in each other's ear. The day S broke the bench she was sitting on and kept sliding down the broken bit and which seemed so utterly screamingly hilarious to the rest of us.

Never underestimate the amazing qualities of unlimited champagne...

a blurred photo of one of the champagne bottles...

As the night progressed, and as the adults jumped on the bouncy castle and ended up splattered face down, as we got more tanked up on champagne, as the laughter got louder and the jokes got lewder, as S loudly declared she hated Lady Gaga and put on Take That - and danced with D in co-ordinated high kicks and jazz hands in Cabaret-meets-Al Jolson stylee in a fashion too bizarre to describe...As all these events unfolded, it felt utterly natural and unforced; from a farewell hug from someone I had never spoken to before, to an invitation to the next girls' night out, suddenly I was part of the family. Maybe I always was, but this time, all of us acknowledged that.

And that was a good feeling.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Naked Boys F***ing on Dreamboats

Is it a good idea to cram 3 shows into a day? Probably not, when the first show starts at 4pm and the first drink starts 15 minutes before that...and continues in that vein till midnight! My head throbs at the memory...

However! Being all heroic and brave, we embarked on this task with vigour and enthusiasm. Let it be known we never shirk our duties.

Our first show of the day was the matinee of Dreamboats and Petticoats, a jukebox musical with the barest glimmer of a plot. But you know what? Sometimes you think, Mama Mia! The sun's shining, you've had a drink and all you want is a show that Will Rock You, strong characterisation and dramatic tension be damned. This is a feelgood show and what I liked about it was it didn't have any pretensions to be anything other than that. It truly does what it says on the tin.

A jukebox musical packed with 60s choons, it's colourful, loud and the young cast has enough energy to light up Blackpool. it features Scott Bruton ('im off the telly from X Factor) and apparently 2 actors from Hollyoaks and Emmerdale, both of which I'm clueless about. The star though, was Daisy Wood Davis, making her West End debut as the meek geek Lucy. What a voice! Especially on mawkish ballads like Who's Sorry Now, imbuing them with a resonance that belied the subject matter.

The plot, which involves a youth club, a song writing competition and teenage angst and horniness, serves as a series of song cues and for me, the most fun was had watching the reactions of the *ahem* mature audience. Next to me were 4 nurses who relieved their childhoods through every sha-la-la-la and woh-oh-oh-oh. Sample:

Story: Character introduced as Bobby
Nurse 1: "Oooh, they're going to do Bobby's Girl!"
Story: Character introduced as Sue
Nurse 2: "Eeks! I love Runaway Sue!"
Story: Character shows a Dansette record player to granddaughter
Nurse 1: "I had one in school!"
Story: Character introduced as Laura
Nurses 1 to 4: "Tell Laura I Love Her..."
And so on.

It really was the show that kept on giving - entertainment from the front, the side, behind...the slow songs produced waving hands and the uptempo numbers made everyone sing along. I'm thankful my best friend works in the theatre, so I often get to see the productions here ex gratis. I don't think I would've been very happy if I had paid full price and had to listen to multiple warblings in surround sound. But hey, it was their party and they can sing if they want to.

PS. I tried to palm off some of my wine to Best Friend who was selling the ice creams. He was too professional to drink any, of course. We've agreed next time I'll hide the wine in a Mc D's cup complete with straw.

So, drink 1, show 1 over, we set off to a bar on Old Compton Street where another friend works . Drink 2 was duly despatched and we were off to...

Whilst I was intrigued by the 3rd production of the night (below), I didn't have any strong feelings about this one. Partly because it's a play and partly I wasn't sure I wanted to listen to gay "issues" on stage. But the offer of £5.00 for a double bill was an offer too good to resist (as Oscar Wilde once said, "I can resist everything but temptation.").

Whilst not having the slightest inkling of what the plot was about, I certainly wasn't expecting what the play turned out to be: insightful, poignant, funny, moving. Revolving around 10 gay men in New York, writer Joe DiPietro dissects the modern gay man's experience and reveals the emotional (and sometimes monetary) negotiations and trade offs we regularly undertake and make in our various encounters.

There is the soldier in denial who bashes the escort who trades near the barracks, the porn tart with a heart, the married Hollywood A-lister in the closet, the obnoxious student who sexually blackmails his tutor...each trying to find that connection, however fleeting, in a world that can seem devoid of intimacy and kindness. It's something we can all identify with, and this piece certainly makes us acknowledge that.

When we finally arrive back to where we started from, the escort's confession of why he's staying with the soldier brought this round of couplings to a sweet, sad and satisfying conclusion. Kudos to the actors and recommended for all adults, gay or straight.

So, loud applause and an interval before the next show:

Before that, another drink! Can I say to the Arts Theatre, that young bartender in the downstairs bar (named the London Cocktail Club) is a credit to you...he is friendly, he takes 3 orders at a time, and drinks are despatched promptly and politely. By far the best bartender in any theatre (or indeed, West End) bar. Shame about the toilets.

Anyhoo, if F***ing Men was a steak with potatoes, then Naked Boys Singing was a fluffy, insubstantial souffle. It's A Chorus Line with penises - our group of intrepid actors auditioning for a nude revue. Cue songs on the male physique, and soaring arias like "I Beat My Meat". I'm kidding, it wasn't an aria.

Surprisingly, the nudity only occurs about 2/3s into the show and by the time they whip their towels off, you kind of giggle once and it becomes incidental - such is the energy and talent of this cast. All the more remarkable when you see some of the actors were from the previous play. I was actually more fascinated at how their muscles moved as dancers.

It's fun, it's energetic and whilst I can't remember a single tune, I know that I enjoyed it trememdously in these increasingly humourless credit-crunched times.

And guess what? We retired to our regular bar (called the Mothership because we always end up back there) where Best Friend had finished at Dreamboats and polished off more "grape juice". That's what I call a good ending.

A Load of Hong Kong Phooey

This wasn't going to be a theatrical blog but I've seen a few(!) shows lately so I thought I might as well share my thoughts.

We got eye-wateringly cheap tickets for Chun Yi and thought it would be a great show for Partner's boys (aged 10 and 11). They had been to Wicked and Blood Brothers, enjoying both immensely, to our great surprise.

I think if you're Asian and grew up on a televisual diet of hackneyed kung fu movies replete with honourable monks, wise mentors, willing disciples, and more hai-yaking than you can shake a nanchuck at, the plot of this production is going to make Hairspray an exercise in intellectual dexterity.

Having said that, the plot was never going to be the point and the boys, along with the audience ,seemed to love every high kick and air punch of this strange show. Part ballet, part Cirque du Soleil, part opera, part Karate Kid, part Kung Fu the TV Series and a sprinkling of fortune cookie exhortations, there is something for everyone.

The show revolves around a young boy's apprenticeship at a temple and the spiritual journey he goes through under the tutelage of a wise abbot. There's stuff about enlightenment and resisting temptation.

But action is what we expected and some action is what we got. And when we got it, it was very good indeed. The performers worked hard and their feats of sword bashing, brick smashing, acrobatic flying and soft landings all elicited the right responses.

In the end what is billed as "The Legend of Kung Fu" was nothing as such. It's great for kids, martial arts enthusiasts and maybe people who don't like theatre, but want to "do theatre". I thought it was a competent production which hardworking performers were let down by a laborious plot and uneven pacing. And no amount of dry ice, bubbles(!) and strobe lighting can remedy that.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Birthday Bliss

Last week I celebrated my birthday, something that I never do. Stranger than that, I was the one that surprised my friends. Maybe it was just the familiar theatre bug biting, coupled with a better than expected financial situation in July. But I wanted to celebrate the occasion, if not in style, then in a most memorable way.

I decided to spring for tickets for Phantom of the Opera for my partner, my best friend, and my "theatre disciple" (more on that at a later date methinks). My partner, M, knew of my nefarious plans but the other 2 were completely clueless, which added to my delight when I saw their reactions later.

Kicking off the night at Jom Makan, a Malaysian restaurant in Trafalgar Square, just by the National Gallery, I chose the place solely based on its proximity to the theatre. Having heard mixed reviews, I was ambivalent. But egged on by the rest of us, M went in and spoke to the manager who "guaranteed" the food would be spot on.

It's a curious place. Nothing Malaysian about it at all, apart from some carving on the wall. Modern lampshades, modern furniture, modern open kitchen, no asian waiting staff. So far, so wagamama.

But the food didn't disappoint. Beautiful roti canai and authentic satay (grilled to perfection with that "BBQ charred" taste" as starters; and I had their spicy nasi goreng (fried rice). We expected mediocre, we received pretty damn good. Score!

If you want to try it out, they offer £5 for main courses between 2-7pm on weekdays and children eat free on weekends. Their website:

After dinner we walked down Haymarket. For those who have never been, Her Majesty's hosts Phantom on one side and across the road, the Royal Theatre Haymarket is currently home to Waiting for Godot. No disrespect to theatre doyens Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, but all our plebian tastes lie more with the musical than the straight play. So when I said proudly to my friends, standing in front of the Godot marquee that this was something I've waited for a long time to see, it was funny to see their eyes glaze over (Best Friend admitted later that if I had chosen Godot, he would have cried. Overly dramatic?!).

And when I turned them round to face the other theatre, the way their faces lit up was precious. Best Friend had never seen the show, although we have both caterwauled and massacred Think of Me countless times whilst inebriated. Theatre Disciple had only seen either the fluffier or smaller scale variety of musical (Sister Act, La Cage respectively) and was postively ecstatic.

Phantom is of course an old warhorse that keeps going and going...a permanent fixture in the West End. But for sheer scale, overblown melodrama, soaring aria-lites, volume of fabric, and a funkylicious dum-dum-dum-dum 80s drum-synth ala Sylvester Cat chasing Tweety Bird, you cannot beat Phantom.

But this was extra special. Only good things have been said about Ramin Karimloo, the current resident of the Opera House. And you can see why. Said to only be on stage for less than 30 minutes, the Phantom's presence needs to be all meanacing and all pervading. The show stands or falls with the man. And WOW, he was absolutely blooming phantastic (*groan*). Best Friend was sobbing throughout Music of the Night. And when he (Phantom, not Best Friend) made that last plaintive cry of "Chriiiiistiiine...", I think it's safe to say there was no bump ungoosed.

It's really no wonder that Mr Karimloo is going to be the Phantom in next year's sequel.

I have seen this production probably in the double digits in the last 20 years but this was the best cast. Gina Beck made a beguiling Christine, all girlish innocence in the beginning, which melts into horrific realisation in the end. Without exception, the acting was superb across the board - even Raoul, one of the drippiest hero parts in musical history was made believable by the rather wonderful Simon Bailey, whose Final Lair scene was truly memorable (complete with unexpected spitting).

Of course sitting in the middle of Row D in the stalls helped; as did the chandelier falling right above our heads; as did the overpriced wine before the show; as did being able to see their faces IN CLOSE UP. But the abiding memory of this show will be the final scene - 3 protagonists, a fury of emotions, and an ending to make the hardest heart yield just a little.

As the Phantom kinda said, I truly made my friends' night and I had a blast. Drinks later at a bar where Best Friend plastered wet napkins on one side of his face in respectful tribute and an impromptu Happy Birthday singalong by the patrons just to embarrass me.