London is getting more like New York every day.
It's certainly getting noisier. First-time visitors to New York used to feel assailed by street noise and yearn, at least until their ears adjusted, for the relative quiet of home. Now the clamoring, clanking, subway, building, banging, mobile phone, and simple shouting that characterise New York streets are easily being challenged by London—even in theatreland.
The latest hilarious incident concerned the far-from-regal but very down-to-earth Helen Mirren. As a theatrical dame, she is beyond any kind of criticism, but, as if her terrestrial status as a great actor and as a Dame of the British Empire weren't enough, she's currently performing as Queen Elizabeth the Second in a play called The Audience, so she's royal, as well as divine. The other evening her sold-out, but very quiet, performance was effectively drowned out by the din of a band of drummers in the street outside the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, a famous road lined with playhouses at the very heart of theatreland.
Being Helen Mirren, and not one just to send a theatre usher out to shush the disturbance, she battled through until intermission and then, in full Queen of England regalia, shot out of the stage door and accosted the London Samba Band, who were literally trying to drum up business for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender music festival "As One In The Park." Using some distinctly un-regal language, Mirren flew at them, yelling at them to “Shut the f*** up!!!”
For a moment, the drummers must have thought they were being sworn at by the Queen herself. They immediately stopped playing, apologised profusely, and headed off to safer streets than the centre of the theatre world, but not before explaining to Dame Helen who they were and what they were doing there. I couldn't help speculating that, if such a melée were to happen on Broadway, the fracas would be engulfed in gun-waving police officers and would escalate to a full-scale incident. As it was, the local bobby stood there, grinning, Dame Helen returned for the second half of The Audience, and the drummers retreated into the noisy night. The following day, she was photographed, beaming, in a new white t-shirt which advertised the LGBT Festival on the front. On the back, under a charming picture of a drum, was hand-lettered, “Yes, please, just not outside a theatre.”
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