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SPRAY IT AGAIN

01-11-2007

What's this? The Stirrer's resident grumpy old man Laurence Inman actually getting enthusiastic about something. You bet. Only snag is, it's in London.

When I see the words 'music' and 'theatre' in the same sentence I usually think of something like Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, or anything by Wagner, or the bits of Mahler's symphonies where a choir suddenly bursts into life.

You get the picture. Teutonic, grave, sombre.

I was once dragged off to see Les Miserables. I can honestly say it was the most gruelling eight hours of my life. I quite enjoyed The Producers at the Hippodrome last summer, until Joe Pasquale set up a very obvious and contrived (and lengthy) corpse involving the lead, Cory English (who was brilliant.) That sort of thing gets right up my nose.

So it was something of a surprise, not least to me, when last Friday night I found that I was standing up and clapping and cheering wildly like Princess Di at a Wham concert. It was like being in somebody else's body. Or better, somebody else's mind.

The production which brought about this miracle was Hairspray at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London.

Go and see it. Be born again. Go into the theatre a grey, cynical, moaning old git and come out feeling like you did when you were ten. When laughter couldn't be controlled or stopped. When the mere fact of existence was still something new, to be savoured.

Don't bother about the story; it's so light as to be invisible. This show is about singing, dancing and youth. It's set in 1962 (possibly the last year of the Fifties) and the songs are spot-on, without being in any way pastiches.

The main reason I went was to see a friend, Dermot Canavan, who has quite a lot to do in it. He was great. There's also Michael Ball and Mel Smith as the big-name draws, but the rest are young, not all that experienced or well-known, and totally captivating.

Energy and talent shone out of them.

Someone should grab those witless, snivelling cretins on The X Factor, the ones who weep on cue at the slightest criticism, and tell them that success, in this or any business, comes only through dedication, hard work, discipline, patience and perseverance and never by entering a crap talent show because your mates said you should after a bit of drunken bawling on the karaoke machine down the pub.

Anyway, back to the show.

But isn't it expensive, I hear you cry, going down to London and seeing a show in the West End, taking taxis everywhere, stuffing your face before - and after-hand, shopping for expensive cosmetics in Covent Garden and then leaving them in the restaurant afterwards, as my daughter did?

Of course, that's expensive. It will leave you not much out of a monkey.

But here's the sensible way.

You get a funfare on National Express (12 return) the only drawback being that you have to stand in Digbeth Coach Station for a bit.

You arrive at Victoria, or you can get off in Park Lane if you get the half-past-the-hour coach. Either way, there's a pleasant stroll to Leicester Square, in the environs of which you can usually find a ticket-agency who can fix you up with a seat. Or, you could try at the theatre itself, a short stroll up Shaftsbury Avenue. Or you could use the internet.

After the show, stroll back to Victoria. The last coach leaves at one in the morning. You may not want to eat or drink, but it is worth knowing that within a few hundred yards of the theatre are some of the best and (relatively) cheapest places in the capital.

Once back in Brum, at about four, you may find it best to walk home. This is what I always do after getting back from a gig. But with my wife and daughter in tow, and stuffed with three courses at a Soho curry house, this wasn't possible, so we hailed yet another taxi.

As my last tenner disappeared into the driver's pocket, I thought wistfully of the last time Dermot and I had worked together, and how everything, food, accommodation, transport and general disporting, was paid for. It's surprising how quickly and completely you can get used to that.

But it was all worth it (going back to last Friday.) I might even go again.

And the only people I've ever gone to see again before are Bob Dylan and Brahms.

Who are the artists and what are the shows you've been to see more than once? Leave a comment on the TV, Music, Entertainment section of our Message Board.

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