Out of touch, out of tune and out of town

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The Independent Online
YES, OF COURSE there are still dinosaurs alive today. They are called West End musicals, and the reasons for their death or survival are debated as hotly as the reasons for the extinction of dinosaurs - a lot more hotly if you have money invested in them. I myself have a great deal of money invested in a new musical that is not only designed to captivate the all-important coach trade, but also is the first musical in history to use that coach trade as a subject. Perhaps this will give you an idea . . .

Act One is set inside a large motorway coach going down the M4 to London for a night out at a musical. To begin with the stage is empty except for the flashing of headlights going the other way. Then, gradually, pieces of machinery come in from all sides of the stage and magically form a giant motorway coach, giving the illusion that the audience is inside it, along with the cast. There is a standing ovation from the audience for the machinery, and I should think so, too - not only did it cost half a million to make, it also broke down three times during the dress rehearsal, and everyone backstage is on tenterhooks.

Gradually the coach fills with passengers. Typical of them are Mr and Mrs Fingle, a retired bank manager and his wife from Chipping Norbury.

Mrs Fingle: Ooh, this is exciting, Ted. Fancy going all the way to London to see a show] What's it called?

Mr Fingle: What is what called, dear?

Mrs Fingle: The show.

Mr Fingle: I don't know. They haven't told us yet.

Mrs Fingle: Look on the tickets] The name'll be there.

Mr Fingle: Good idea. (Looks.) It's called This Portion To Be

Retained.

Mrs Fingle: Is it by Lloyd Webber?

Mr Fingle: It's bound to be, dear. Frankly, as long as it's got lots of singing and dancing . . .

All the passengers take this as a cue for a song.

We're going down the motorway

In two hours we'll be there

We don't know what the show's called

And frankly we don't care

As long as it's got dancing

And the music's very loud

We don't care who is in it

Because we're the theatre crowd]

We'll buy a shiny programme

And have a cup of tea

And one will cost us five pounds

And the other two or three

But as long as it's got music

And the lyrics are in rhyme

We'll come back down the

motorway

And say we had a good time]

The passengers now do a spectacular dance up and down the aisle of the coach. As they subside into their seats, the party courier switches on his mike.

Courier: Hello, everyone] Now, just two points to make before tonight's show. One is that when we are in the West End, nobody ever refers to a musical by the full title, OK? You always say Les Mis, or Phantom, or Aspects, or Sunset, right? In fact, nowadays most musicals have titles that are already shortened versions, like Cats or Chess, right? And the other thing is that parking is very restricted near the theatre, so just to be on the safe side we're going to stop in the next mile or two, and get the Tube.

Chorus: When you all go

together

Down the motorway of life

You with your husband

Me with my wife

It doesn't much matter

Which way we wend

As long as we all

Arrive in the end . . .

Mr Fingle: I thought we dropped that song about two weeks back, when we were trying out on the provincial tour.

Mrs Fingle: You're right] That song isn't meant to be in the show]

Mr Fingle: There's something very wrong here. I'll tell you another thing. The coach is slowing down already, and there aren't any houses round here at all. It's all . . . deep forest. I don't like this, dear.

At this point the driver of the coach, whom until now we have only seen from behind, turns round and reveals that he is Death at the wheel. The courier switches on his mike again.

Courier: Sorry about this, ladies and gents, but we seem to have lost our way temporarily. Luckily there's a house at the end of the drive. We'll ask for directions . . .

There is a flash of lightning, which reveals a ghastly Gothic mansion ahead, with bats flying round the roof, and one window lit by a flickering candle. Little do they know it, but our brave coach party are in for the most terrifying two or three hours of their lives. Well, it could have been worse. They could have got to see that show in the West End . . . .

(Anybody who wishes to put money into this show is asked to send a blank cheque.)

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