Friday, September 17, 2010

Gigi Benson: Diary of a brief London visit

Gigi Benson, Michael Landes, Karen Phillipps, and Luce Churchill at dinner at 101 Plimico Road for roasted Cod and animated conversation about where we each had spent the summer.
London September 2010. Like April in Paris, September in London is a great time to be there. Children in their uniforms scurry to start the new school term, and the sun is shinning (at least for part of each day).

Harry and I flew to London to see the World Premiere of David Mamet's new play "House of Games" at the Almeida Theatre (0207 359 4404). Starring our son-in-law Michael Landes alongside Nancy Carroll, the psychological thriller is being directed by Laurence Olivier Award-winning director Lindsay Posner. It opened yesterday -- September 16th -- and runs through November 6th.

We saw the first and second preview performance and absolutely loved it. Don't take my word for it, the cast received a standing ovation from the audience and loads of curtain calls. Mamet is one of my favorite playwrights and "House of Games" is right on target. It was first a film with Lindsay Crouse and Joe Mantegna before being adapted for the stage by Richard Bean.
Michael in front the poster for "House of Games" at the Almeida Theatre.
Performed without an interval, the play ends at 9:00 PM which is great for having dinner afterward. Michael, his wife/our daughter, Wendy, Harry and I taxied to the Century on Shaftsbury Avenue which Harry and I had never been to before. The club caters to young theatre actors. We climbed 4 flights of stairs to get to the roof garden as the elevator was out of commission. Just as well, as I am not keen on elevators anyway.

The fish and chips were tasty, and the bar was crowded with young Londoners. Sophie Fumey, who is the director of the club, was delightful and gave us a tour of the other floors after I mentioned we used to go to the Colony Room which was always known as Muriel's, a private drinking bar upstairs at 14 Deane Street off Shaftsbury Avenue. Francis Bacon was a founding member, and Muriel was the subject of his 1966 triptych "Three Studies for a Portrait of Muriel Belcher." Muriel had her favorites and held court each night much as Elaine Kaufman does at the fabled Elaine's in New York. Fond memories all around.
Michael and Wendy in Taxi.
The next day Harry traveled to Edinburgh to deliver his new photographs of Queen Elizabeth II and of the Presiding Officer of Parliament, Alex Fergusson. The photographs had been commissioned by the Scottish Parliament. I stayed in London to be with Wendy and the children as Michael was in rehearsals twelve hours a day.

Wendy took me to one of her favorite places: Reflexions at 250 Kings Road, and for 68 pounds each, and in serene silence, we had fantastic foot massages for 30 minutes. Afterward we were told what was causing our 'stress'. Wow. And I thought it was jet lag. Who knew.

Next we stopped at 'The Grocer on Kings,' 184 Kings Road (0207 351 5544) for really fabulous Gazpacho and chocolate mousse, and we took French Bread and pasta home for our grandchildren.

Tea time at Brown's Hotel.
Walking along we stopped at Boots the Chemist and then onto the 'Blue Velvet' shoe store near the top of the King's Road. They had some pretty good copies of the latest Louboutin peep toes and pumps. Who will know the difference? Only you.

Michael met us at The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly (0207 499 6996) for afternoon tea. It is always crowded so book ahead. Their scones are the best, but the tops for tea sandwiches is Brown's Hotel down the street from the Marlborough Gallery on nearly Albemarle Street. A stroll throw the serenely beautiful Green Park afterward was a perfect way to avoid shopping.

It was time for hair: our own, not the musical. Clive at Michael John, 25 Albemarle Street (0207 629 6969) in Mayfair has been doing Twiggy's hair since the 60s and is terrific as is Christiano at Richard Ward, 82 Duke of York Square in the King's Road (0207 730 1222). Christiano does all the young New Yorkers in London who keep telling their friends ...

Harry returned from Edinburgh, and we saw a revival of Noel Coward's "Design for Living" at the Old Vic whose Artistic Director is none other than Kevin Spacey.
Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic, photographed by Harry Benson.
The play which involves a complicated three person relationship was written in 1932 and was banned in London until 1939. The film version starring Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Miriam Hopkins was so watered down that Noel Coward commented that only one line of original dialogue remained, which was "Pass the salt." Coward was so amusing, he is one of my favorites and I wish I had known him.

We saw a first-rate revival of Ira Levin's "DeathTrap" at the Noel Coward theatre in St. Martin's Lane starring Simon Russell Beale and Jonathan Groff. Perhaps you saw it the first time around in 1978 at New York's Music Box Theatre with Victor Garber, John Wood, and Marion Seldes, or perhaps you remember the film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. If you haven't seen either, as most of the audience that night had not, there is a shocker at the end of the first act that caused everyone in the audience to scream in unison right before the curtain fell.

After the play we walked around the corner to J. Sheekey Fish Restaurant, 32-34 St. Martin's Court (0207 240 2565). It's always busy so call to book ahead. David Schwimmer of "Friends" was at the bar. Dining solo at the table next to ours was Rolling Stone Ron Wood, who remembered Harry taking his photograph for Life Magazine at Graceland in front of Elvis's pink Cadillac.
Ron Wood at Graceland in front of Elvis's pink Cadillac, photographed by Harry Benson for Life Magazine.
If you happen to bring the children or grandchildren to London, and they are starving before you leave them with the sitter, take them to a very kid-friendly restaurant called 'Made in Italy' at 257 Kings Road (0207 352 1880). Go up to the top floor and sit outside on the terrace. The pasta and pizzas are very good indeed, and there are no worries that someone will be shushing the kids or giving disapproving looks from the next table.

Luce Churchill and her friend Karen Phillipps joined Harry and me for our last night in London and the second performance of '"House of Games." Afterwards, Michael joined us for dinner at 101 Plimico Road for delicious roasted Cod and animated conversation about where we each had spent the summer.

Harry and I left very early the next morning for New York and were happily greeted with familiar barks and yelps by Oskar and Daisy upon our return home.

— Gigi Benson

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