The annual O’Connell/Rivett family attendance at the Godalming Operatic Society’s Leatherhead Theatre production of a work by Gilbert & Sullivan directed by Pat O’Connell follows a carefully choreographed process. Taking advantage of the close proximity of each point in the proceedings, arriving in very good time to dine before the performance, we all stay at the Travel Lodge hotel in the town, walk around the corner to dine at an Italian restaurant, and across the road to the theatre. Afterwards we enjoy a drink in the company of the cast, spend the night at the staging post, and breakfast at Annie’s cafe before making our ways home.
The outing was yesterday. The operetta Princess Ida.
All part of the process is that Helen and Bill will have parked in the more expensive car park a bit further away. Ron will then offer to go and collect their car and move it to the one that is free after 6 p.m. and over the weekend, about 100 yards away. He will do this just in time for us to take possession of our seats before the prompt start of the overture.
There is one popular restaurant near enough and willing to feed the entire cast and guests in good time to facilitate the promptness. This year, having changed ownership, it was undergoing refurbishment. It was not yet officially open, but the new proprietor offered to provide a restricted menu for us all, provided we placed our orders in advance. We did so. The orders were placed in a relay of mobile phones. This meant that there was some confusion about my pizza, but this was rectified with good humour. I am not sure what the original name of this establishment was. It is now Rialto, and is to be recommended. There were no complaints about the previous one, but all were agreed that this reincarnation is a general improvement. If they live up to their first night, they should do well.
There was, however, one part of the process that was maintained by the new staff. Traditionally, one of our group goes without something until the waiting staff are eventually alerted to its absence. It may be an entire meal, a drink, or simply a glass with which to imbibe a share of a bottle of wine. Until now, Shelly has been the victim of all these omissions. Perhaps it served me right for speculating about what she would miss out on last night, for it was I who went without my pizza. Drinking my share of the house red wine, I watched the others enjoying their various dishes accompanied by red or white wine. Eventually I got my own back, and they all watched me consume mine, which was excellent.
The Leatherhead Theatre is an excellent venue. This morning, during a wander around the town, I noticed it was occupied by a group engaged in a religious service of some denomination, so it is perhaps as versatile as the Regent Centre at Christchurch. I also noticed a plaque on the wall, part of the information provided by Leatherhead Heritage Trail, giving a history of the building:
The theatre was very full, as warranted by the usual accomplished performance. Familiar faces included Simon Cakebread, bravely surmounting a chest infection, as King Gama; Richard Arthur as King Hildebrand; and Richard Hales as Hilarion. The Society is fortunate in having a leading lady lady, Jen Sanders, who, being tall and elegant, has a beautiful and powerful voice belied by the slenderness of her frame. Many of the actors and singers have most expressive faces, bodies, and hands, none more so than the entertaining Nora Price who, this time, played Lady Blanche. I found myself transfixed by her hands in particular.
The costumes were splendid and the choreography faultless. Pat explained to us later that one joke that brought the house down had been created at the last minute by members of the orchestra. When Ida claimed to be able to play a number of instruments at once, these players rose from the pit and offered her their various pieces.
Early this morning I finished reading The Folio Society’s edition of ‘Good Behaviour’ by Molly Keane. This is a clever. well-written novel, surprisingly first published in 1981. My surprise is that it skilfully describes a past privileged age, depicting mostly unlikeable characters. On the other hand we do like our period television dramas such as ‘Downton Abbey’. Jane Gardam, in her introduction, tells us that the books was originally turned down by two publishers as being ‘too dark’.
I can see those publishers’ point of view, although the darkness that strikes me is perhaps a different one than theirs. I find the heartrending despair of the naive yet nevertheless spirited narrator Aroon rather less than amusing. Debra McFarlane’s exquisite illustrations, one of which decorates the boards of the cover, perfectly depict the young lady. The family culture of denial is stifling. However, I have to admit that the writing sparkles with wit and the characters are only too credible.
After this, still too early to meet the others for breakfast, I walked around the small Surrey town, spotting another Heritage plaque, this time giving us the tale of a former post office the demise of which must have been repeated throughout the land: A possibly less imaginative title is borne by The Old Post Office public house in Newark.
Breakfast at Annie’s continued two parts of the process. The first was the encounter with Michael, a regular customer there. This is a very homely little place with just a few small tables. It offers wholesome food, and every Sabbath some of the residents of an establishment for people who are at least partially sighted attend for their Sunday roast dinner. One of these is the septuagenarian Michael. He is so politely gregarious and able to communicate with the use of his other senses, that the first time we met him we had not realised he was unable to see us. Today, Jackie and I arrived before our companions, so we had Michael to ourselves. We come but once a year, yet he does seem to remember us.
The next part was not usually attached to Annie’s. Perhaps it was because there were eight of us, two more than usual, that two of us went short of a meal for a while. Shelly distracted herself with the ‘i’ crossword, and I entertained myself by watching the others scoffing. I won the race to be served by a short head.
Back home in Hampshire Helen and Bill will collect us this evening for a visit to Totton’s Fuchi restaurant, to complete a pleasant weekend. I will report on that tomorrow.