My current black dog depression was fired by a concert I went to in London the other night that was guaranteed, according to the poster, to transport me from the fairytale snow-covered Russian steppes to the glow of a gypsy campfire, from opera house to Parisian cafe, an evening of magic and passion. And so it did, just as long as I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the performers and ignored the surroundings, which had about as much magic and passion as a school assembly hall or a local am- dram society venue.
I know what I am talking about. I used to be second-string theatre critic for the Lancashire Evening Telegraph in Blackburn. I believe my review of the Oswaldtwistle Players' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (I said it broke more moulds than Peter Brook's version for the Royal Shakespeare Company) is still pinned on the wall behind the bar of The Bull in Church Street. Peggy the barmaid played Titania.
The artistes I went to see at the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, behind Holborn, were a Russian tenor called Igor Outkine and his English wife Sarah who plays the violin. They were fantastic. They played Neapolitan love songs and Russian tangos which made you either want to weep or else leap up from your hard metal stacking chair, fling your sensible winter coat to the wind and dance.
They deserve better than the Conway Hall, for heaven's sake. They deserve the sort of venue that the original owners of those vintage 1920s and 30s cocktail dresses in my second-hand shop would have taken for granted. The Cafe Royal, maybe, or Hatchetts or the Waldorf Astoria, where Igor and Sarah would have strolled among the tables and been feted by a fashionable multilingual international clientele.
I am making all this up, of course. I have no idea what the Cafe Royal was like in its heyday when Noel Coward and Aubrey Beardsley propped up the bar and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor dropped in after the theatre for a quick turn round the dance floor. I have seen pictures of it in the 30s. It looks a bit like Rick's Bar in Casablanca, the musicians wearing white dinner jackets, the diners in evening dress, impossibly beautiful bejewelled women with cigarette holders as long as curtain rods, and champagne bottles lined up on every table. Igor and Sarah would have slotted in there perfectly.
Alas there is nowhere in London or, indeed, in Britain any more where, unless it's a special function or some dreary corporate do, you can have dinner and dance. If you are lucky, you'll find a restaurant where a pianist is offering selections from South Pacific. But as for the Holly Golightly look-alike with cigarette holders, forget it unless you fancy smoking on the fire escape.
The one and only time I went to the Cafe Royal, maybe 15 years ago, we were the only diners. To give the staff who were looking bored and fed up something to do, we ordered steak diane which arrives on a trolley and has to be flamed at your table. Four waiters pushed the trolley, another four passed relevant utensils to the head waiter to do the flaming. Too many cooks, I am afraid; in his excitement, the head waiter set fire to the tablecloth as well as to the steaks, and we had to be evacuated.
I cannot remember the last time I danced anywhere that wasn't a private party. Awards ceremonies at big London hotels don't count. I mean proper dancing with a partner and a band, not elbowing your way on to an itsy bitsy patch of floor more jam-packed than a rush-hour commuter train, with a DJ who looks as if he has just got out of bed playing this year's Brit Awards nominations.
No one dresses glamorously any more, and that, I am afraid, includes me and Mrs Parker Bowles. That ghastly red dress certainly didn't come from my vintage emporium; more's the pity. At the Conway Hall, Sarah, the violinist, looked dazzling in a long white slinky evening gown and a red rose in her dark hair. Bring back glamour someone, quick.Reuse content