I had always intended to go to the theatre that evening but the question was which one? There were interesting sounding shows in other theaters that were ending their runs that week but I chose to go and see The Spitfire Grill at the Union Theatre instead, a decision based mostly on my previous experience at the Union and also its convenient location.
That location would have been more convenient had I managed to work in London that day as planned but a looming important deadline took me to Reading instead.
I managed to leave there promptly to catch a train to Paddington and then a couple of tubes to Southwark, arriving there at a very hospitable 6:45pm. That was plenty of time for a Chinese curry in Culture Grub, which was just as well as the pub opposite was not doing food that evening for some reason. I got back to the theatre just in time to get a latte before the doors opened.
The seats were oddly arranged in a "U" shape with the bulk of the stage above the U. The front-row seats at the base of the "U" were taken by the only people to get into the theatre before me (I had ticket No. 3) which happened to be a group of six and the first one in claimed seats for the rest of them. There were no props on stage to suggest how the space would be used and I settled for a front-row seat at the top of the "U" on the left side as that looked as though it would be the closest to the action. It was. And only £18 too.
All I knew about The Spitfire Grill was that it was a musical set in America so I settled down for an evening of surprises.
The story started with a young woman, Percy (!), contemplating her imminent release from prison after serving five years. A pretty picture of autumnal leaves in a magazine had given her the destination of Gilead, a small town in Wisconsin. There she was met by the local policeman who arranged for her to live at The Spitfire Grill in return for working there. The grill was run by a cantankerous oldish woman, Hannah, on her own.
We quickly learned some disturbing things about the small town and the people in it. The town was suffering from the closure of the local quarry and this had a particular impact on one of the men who felt lessened without real work to do. Hannah's husband had died soon after hearing of the death of their only son, Eli.
Once the scene was set things developed quickly both in the story and the characters. To make the two points with one example, when Hannah needed more help in the Grill following an accident she called on the help of the wife of the frustrated husband mentioned earlier and the wife grew new strength as a result and was able to stand up to the husband who had been used to telling her (and his gang in the quarry) what to do. He did not take that well.
The main story concerned a plan to raffle off the Spitfire Grill in a competition and other stories flowed around this. There was a love interest for Percy, more details of Percy's past emerged (in particular, the reasons why she had been in prison and then the reasons behind her committing that crime) and the husband and wife moved apart aggressively.
At the Beck's break it was hard to tell which way the stories would go.
There were more shocks in the second half and as this was a happy musical all of the plot lines nudged towards satisfactory endings but it was the mood of the piece that mattered more than individual events. Percy in looking at the town of Gilead through new eyes could only see its beauty and she helped others to see it too. There were lots of pretty songs about forests. All of the many conflicts were resolved (to some extent) through forgiveness, such as the town's people forgiving Percy for her terrible crime. There were lots of pretty songs about emotions.
Percy was at the heart of the musical but did not dominate it. Hannah was as prominent and as powerful, while the husband, wife and policeman also had major roles. They all acted and sung well. The songs were evocative and emotional with just the right level of repetition to give them the catchiness musicals need.
The Spitfire Grill was a beautiful musical with good characters and engaging stories. It was most definitely the right thing for me to go and see on that Friday night.