Welcome to the third post in my wrap up of my (not so) recent trip to London – you can check out what I got up to in day two here or take a look a day one here. What has inspired me to finally write up this, you may ask? Well, it just so happens that this very day I (yes I, not someone else) managed to bag some tickets to see Hamilton in the West End again in October! So it seemed about time to talk about the first time I was lucky enough to see the musical during my trip to London back in December 2017. Let’s see how Day Three of my London trip went, shall we? Let’s indulge nostalgia…
Day Three dawned bright and not so early and (not ashamed) we ended up eating leftover Dominos pizza as breakfast. We’re adults, we can make those kind of decisions, ok? We lazed about a bit, not going to lie, but knew we had to make it across to the first destination of the day by 11am – the Houses of Parliament tour – so we finally got up and got dressed and got ready to leave.
As soon as we stepped outside the hotel, I realise one very key thing – it was a shit weather day, there’s no two ways about it. I came very close to a hissy fit on the morning before we’d even got to Westminster because it was very cold and the weather had decided to do what I would call “horizontal rain”. Lovely. So instead of walking along Embankment, we plumped for hopping on the Tube at Tottenham Court Road (via Pret, naturally) and hopped off at Westminster. When you get closer to the River Thames, the wind gets stronger and that makes for a very miserable and very squidgy walk over to the Palace of Westminster.
We arrived at Westminster in plenty of time so we decided to take refuge in Westminster Abbey’s gift shop for a little while, and Liz managed to buy her Gran a nice postcard whilst we were in there. Then, scarves and hats donned, we headed back out into the driving rain for the mercifully short walk over to the Palace. As we approached the security gates at the visitor entrance I quickly realised that I’d been pissy about the rain but at least I didn’t have to stand out in it all day like the security guard did. We’d barely even said hi and started to make chit chat with him when he said “ah, it’s fucking freezing, I hate it” in an extremely broad Scottish accent. Nothing like a bit of weather-based banter to bring together nations, eh?
Once we were past the understandably grumpy, soggy security guard, we quickly passed through a bag check and then hustled into the Palace itself, through the Westminster Hall entrance. We checked in at the Welcome desk and were told to wait until we heard our tour party called. Westminster Hall is very, very large and sparsely furnished therefore it is (excuse my French) fucking freezing, especially when the last person to walk in doesn’t shut the door behind them. Whilst we waited, Liz sweet-talked the Welcome desk into letting her borrow their pen (as long as she promised not to abscond with it!) so she could write out the postcard to her Gran. Then we heard our tour called and headed off with the lovely tour guide.
If you get the chance, I would thoroughly recommend booking a tour of Parliament. Not only is it educational, it’s also just really cool to get to nosy around bits of Westminster you wouldn’t otherwise see. Our tour guide was lovely and interactive and made sure to answer any stupid (or not so stupid) questions we might have had. Heads-up: if you’re a UK citizen, you can contact your MP’s office to arrange a tour completely free-of-charge!
One of the reasons I was most looking forward to the tour was because I just love the ridiculous pomp and circumstances of our bicameral parliamentary democracy and the State Opening of Parliament pretty much encapsulates that. For those unfamiliar with the many quirks of the UK Parliamentary system, the State Opening of Parliament is the day in which the monarch officially opens Parliament for the session by giving a speech about her government’s legislative agenda for the upcoming year. It doesn’t hold back in terms of ridiculousness. Parliament is made up of the lower house (House of Commons, elected) and the upper house (House of Lords, appointed) and the State Opening takes place in the upper house so, in a feat of extreme pomp, an individual called “Black Rod” approaches the doors of the House of Commons’ chamber to summon the MPs to the Lords and the doors are ceremonially slammed in his/her face. Black Rod then knock on the doors three times with their staff and he/she is allowed into the Commons to summon the MPs into the House of Lords. It’s very important symbolically in order to show the Commons aren’t at the mercy of the monarch and the Lords but also it’s a ridiculous ritual and I love every damn second of it. During the tour, I was quite nerdily delighted to see the marks on the door where Black Rod knocks – they don’t repair them!
Because we had quite a late tour slot, we only just got through the two Houses before they were closed to get them ready for an important first day back at Parliament because PM Theresa May was giving a speech following Brexit negotiation talks in Brussels. So it was safe to say, it was an important one. We did manage to see the two Houses though, and I enjoyed the fact we weren’t allowed to sit down on the seats of either of them (it’s forbidden, unless you happen to be a Lord!) – another tradition we persist in for no real reason but that’s half of the fun. Likewise, I like the fact that, even in this digital age, we make our MPs physically walk either into an ‘aye’ or a ‘nay’ lobby in order to cast their vote on proposed legislation. It means you have to show up to vote, and I like that what applies to the commoners on election day also applies to our chosen representatives.
After the tour was finished we headed back out into the driving rain, said a cursory hi to Big Ben (which is being repaired so was mostly covered in scaffolding), and then we hopped on the Tube to Knightsbridge to go to Harrods, via Pret because… apparently I have a problem. I’d never been to Harrods before… I’m not entirely sure I ever will again. It’s not that I don’t like Harrods, I’m just not sure I get the fuss. Maybe that’s because I’m not rich, therefore the only things I could really buy without feeling like I was indulging myself waaaay too irresponsibly would be, like, pastries or bread. I just don’t get it. But I’m glad I did go and see it for myself because the Food Hall in particular is pretty damn impressive and I can now firmly say I have been in Harrods and, yes, the stories are true – people lose all sense of politeness or just decency within its hallowed halls and they just barge past you if you happen to be even slightly in their way. So, yes, it’s not exactly my cup of tea but it has to be seen to be believed so I did indeed make the effort to see it.
We ducked out of Harrods and decided to head over to Oxford Street, partly to see the pretty Christmas lights but mostly so I could buy a woolly hat of some sort and perhaps a more substantial umbrella. I found both at H&M and M&S respectively and I am still very, very pleased with both these impulse purchases because they are (touch wood) still going strong to this day. Can you guess what happened? As soon as I bought a more substantial umbrella, the rain stopped, almost immediately afterwards… and no, I’m not joking. Still, I’m glad we made the detour because I was a lot less pissy once my head wasn’t quite so frozen and I had the option of an umbrella. We returned to the Travelodge in Covent Garden to get ready for the main event – Hamilton!!
Once we were all dressed up (I even wore tights and heeled boots, a sure sign of me making an effort) we bundled up into big coats and walked through Covent Garden and Seven Dials which is stunning with all the wintry decorations and lights. After snapping a quick photo or two for Instagram (because, duh) we headed for Chipotle for food because Liz has started an obsession and it’s unfair because they’re US-based and I have dire need for reasonably priced, fresh burrito bowls (they’re surprisingly hard to come by in England). So obviously it would be downright rude if we didn’t frequent Chipotle when we could in London, since they have one (or two) there! I felt waaaay too overdressed for Chipotle as I sat down with my somewhat sloppy burrito bowl and bottle of beer whilst wearing a fancy dress, for once. Wouldn’t have had it any other way though and it was the perfect fuel for the night ahead. We left Chipotle and jumped on the Tube nearby to get to Victoria and the Victoria Palace Theatre for… you guessed it… Hamilton!! (I think Hamilton!! will probably be referred to with two exclamation marks throughout this post.)
As far as experiences go, Liz and I were pretty paranoid about checking we had everything because the show is running a paperless ticketing system in a bid to stop ticket touting. This means that your details (and ID) are checked at the door and a ticket is printed out then and there – no one is allowed anywhere near the foyer without having a ticket like this. I didn’t check but I’d imagine if you then wanted to leave the theatre, you wouldn’t be allowed to go back in?? I don’t know. Anyway, the queue itself was orderly and the bag check and ticket check were handled reasonably speedily which was a good thing because we had already been forewarned via Twitter about the size of the queues for the merchandise once we were inside. You could tell that the show was still in preview stage, and that the building work was ongoing, at this point of the night only. The merchandise kiosk was in a corner of a room near the Dress Circle, a couple of rooms off the bar, so it was a bit of an awkward place to try to get a queue system going – especially considering the size of the queue! The staff were lovely though and handled everything really well, it was just a 20-minute or so rather stuffy wait as the queue snaked down an unfinished stairwell. We watched many an excitable merchandise customer’s hearts sinking when they walked past us to join the end of the line! But once we were there the staff were (once again) lovely and chatty and I managed to restrain myself and just buy my requisite programme and a hoodie. Guys, let me tell you about this hoodie because I’m coincidentally wearing it as a I type this – it is my far the softest lined hoodie I have ever owned, its lining feels so nice and soft against the skin and the design is ace. Big thumbs up from me!
Now, finally, to the main event… the show itself. The reason I’ve put off reviewing this show further is because I’m not sure how to. It was… incredible. Like I’ve been in theatres before and felt absolutely electrifying performances from some of my favourite actors – I saw the very last performance of the Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus which starred one of my favourite actors, Tom Hiddleston, and as he stared into the middle-distance whilst crying in an emotional scene, I locked eyes and felt like weeping myself. This experience was up there with that, I can say that with complete certainty. I’ve never been in an audience that was so engaged and enthusiastic – people were whooping (yes, whooping) mid-song, especially during the Cabinet Battles, and barely managed to sit still until the end of the song before enthusiastically clapping the performers. Every single person in the house was on their feet during the curtain call. No one even thought about remaining seated, you could tell. It was an incredible response and I’ve never been in an audience quite like it, and, in all likelihood, I never will be again.
The show itself was wonderful. Jamael Westman is the perfect Hamilton (is Jam!Ham a thing? I feel like it definitely should be a thing!) and it seems a case of the whole ‘life imitates art’ with this role because he’s a relative newcomer professionally, only a few years out of drama school (at RADA admittedly), and he looks young enough that you can really believe him when he sings “I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy, and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot”. One of my other favourite characters is Lafayette/Jefferson and Jason Pennycooke did an amazing job in the dual role. There were several moments from Pennycooke which felt improvised gestures and additions which was wonderful because he’s putting his own spin on the role and I honestly never once thought ‘oh, Daveed Diggs did that differently’ or anything, I only thought of him as Lafayette and Jefferson. I wasn’t surprised that Rachelle Ann Go was an incredible Eliza – given her theatre pedigree, I knew she wouldn’t disappoint vocally or in her performance – but Rachel John’s Angelica really did steal the show with her belting lines. The Schuyler sisters bounced perfectly off each other and have been excellently cast.
From the soundtrack recording, I hadn’t realised that Michael Gibson’s King George III would end up sitting and “observing” some of the songs, I suppose symbolically showing that Britain was still keeping an eye on goings on in its colony across the sea. He also came down onto the stage proper to gleefully throw papers in the air around Hamilton along with Madison and Jefferson during the “never gon’ be president now, that’s one less thing to worry about” of The Reynolds Pamphlet. It was hilarious! Pleasingly, the fact the show is in the UK affects this role not one little bit – Gibson still hammed it up to a tee, as we all expected, and we all loved it.
Of all the characters, Washington and Burr were the ones I was most concerned about when the show transferred from the Original Broadway cast to the West End cast. For me, Washington has to have this innate gravity, in both his performance and his vocals, something which Christopher Jackson definitely has, and I was worried about whether his London counterpart would live up to him. I needn’t have worried – Obioma Ugoala was incredible and I’m so glad to be able to say I saw his Washington! Likewise from the Broadway cast, Leslie Odom Jr.’s Burr almost has a velvety, soul-like quality to his vocals, especially in Room Where It Happens. Meanwhile in London, Giles Terrera’s Burr isn’t quite the same – he has more of a catch and edge to his voice that isn’t so smooth, his vocals seemed spikier somehow but, in a weird way, I kind of liked it for what it was. They’ve really done well to emphasise the storyteller role of Burr (and Washington, to a lesser extent) which is there in the soundtrack but was highlighted and framed perfectly in the actual production.
Mention must also be made to the incredible ensemble of singers, dancers, everything. Their movement was incredible, they’re all so talented, and really are triple threats. There wasn’t a single weak link in the chain and, considering this was still in previews at this stage, I was mightily impressed by the calibre already. Without a doubt, none of them were holding back, they give it their absolute all and you could see that in their energy levels, and the fact that they were managing the difficulty of having a double-circle rotating stage setup. The staging obviously reminded me of the rotating circle stage of Les Misérables and I felt that Hamilton likewise utilised it to its full extent – Satisfied in particular is staged amazingly well with this rotating disc, and was exactly like I pictured it in my head when I was listening to the soundtrack, with the actors kind of ‘rewinding’ and repeating the actions they’d just performed a song before, but this time as memories of what happened as Angelica remembers that ball. Incredible, easily one of my favourite numbers!
As we stepped out of the theatre hours later we were buzzing with energy and could not stop talking about the show. As we got onto the Tube at Victoria and headed back into the Leicester Square/Covent Garden area we could see so many of our fellow theatregoers also making that journey and buzzing with the same sort of adrenaline after seeing such an amazing show. I think I’ve ran out of the superlatives with which to describe Hamilton!! now so I’ll just leave it at that. Suffice it to say when tickets for the next booking period went online yesterday, I jumped at the chance to see it again so, if that doesn’t sum it up adequately, I don’t know what would.
With our heads full of Hamilton!! Liz and I crashed back into our beds at the Travelodge, hoping for a good night of sleep before the next (and final) day of our trip…