After a particularly depressing week, my sister took me to see Guys and Dolls the musical.
Why has it been horrible? I was sacked from my regular monthly column at the Hampstead and Highgate Express. This is/was one of the most prestigious and historic regional/local papers in the UK. It has an educated and prosperous readership. It’s even been mentioned in movies such as ‘Hampstead’ with Diane Keaton.
I’ve been working there for seven years. It paid very badly, £130 for 750 words, at least two recipes and photos and I’ve never had a raise, despite asking. I always went above and beyond, spending hours testing recipes, taking professional food photos or travelling, researching new ingredients and food stories. I often spent more on ingredients and travel than I earnt. Furthermore they syndicated it to several other outlets and papers without paying me extra. In all that time I never once met with my direct editor Bridget, despite having requested it several times. Being freelance is very lonely, but I rarely got any feedback from her. She hasn’t been in touch either regarding being let go.
A year ago the Ham and High, owned by Archant, was taken over by Newsquest media. I didn’t even know that there was a new editor, for as freelancers, we are lower than a snake’s belly and so we were never informed.
But on Thursday I found out they did in fact have an editor. He emailed me to say a simultaneous hello and goodbye by sacking me. He’s a young man, not from London, and he ‘edits’ something like 23 papers. Which in my opinion is not really possible. The paper is now full of clickbait, written by very young digital reporters with great headlines and little of substance in the article. The travel and restaurant reviews are now obviously perks reserved for staff, and they read as such.
I’m from North London. I went to school here. I’ve been involved in community projects for decades. I brought my daughter up here. I started a whole food movement, supper clubs, from my Kilburn living room. For the Ham and High, I’ve written about the refugee kitchen at Calais, the cost of living crisis budget recipes, truffles in Italy, sun dried tomato paste in Sicily, supper clubs in Bombay, a Jewish bakery in East Finchley, new delivery food businesses during the pandemic, my voluntary food parcels for the NHS and the government food boxes during the same period, seaweed foraging in the Outer Hebrides. I not only wrote recipes, I reported on food movements, especially around this locality. Many cookbook authors hail from North London. I interviewed them, Felicity Cloake, Niki Segnit, amongst many others, on their doorstep.
I’m also digital first. I started as a blogger and have always been uber present on social media. For the first five years, much to my frustration, my column was rarely posted online. I’ve been trying to get them to be more digital, as it was obviously the future. Newsquest has possibly done that. But it’s the lowest common denominator kind of digital. And my reward is that they’ve decided to get rid of me. They say for budgetary reasons. I find it hard to believe that my paltry £130 wasn’t a total bargain.
It’s hurtful, upsetting, and I feel I’ve been treated very shabbily- like a non-person. I feel devastated. It’s just so hard to make a living. I’ve been writing, photographing and cooking for decades and yet I never seem to get any further. Of course it makes me feel like I’m just crap at what I do.
Two weeks ago I had major surgery, a matter that for the moment I haven’t had the courage to write about. Maybe I will in the future. So this came when I was at a particularly low ebb. So I’ve had several duvet days, crying and basically feeling like I don’t have a friend in the world or a future.
My sister took me to see the musical Guys and Dolls. I recommend it highly. It’s what theatre is supposed to do – to entertain, to take you out of yourself. Director Nicholas Hytner has merged traditional musical theatre with the more current trend of immersive theatre. You can get a promenading ticket, which means you stand next to the stage at the bottom and sometimes interact with the musical. (My sister and I spent the first half seated then went down to the box office and changed for a promenade ticket for the second half, a good compromise).
Inspired by Damon Runyan, whose complete works I have read, the script is witty and of course, entirely in the present tense, which lends a particular cadence to the dialogue.
Sis and I dressed up 1940s/50s style. The set, designed by Bunny Christie, is bright and colourful with neon signs, representing a steamy Broadway in New York. Parts of the stage rise up and down, with the interactive audience moved around by ushers dressed as cops. Actors suck on vapes with smoke, a lovely realistic touch from the post-war era when smoking cigarettes was still new and cool.
The dancing and singing is spectacular and joyful. The men in spats, hats, braces and pin-striped trousers, displayed the kind of macho balletic physicality one saw in West Side Story. The girl dancers, a little reminiscent of the Kit Kat club dancers in Cabaret, with Bob Fosse influenced choreography devised by Arlene Phillips, were not, thank god, all skinny dancer waifs, but diverse, sexy and skilful.
The songs are great- you probably know them from the movie version with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. If not, check it out, I’m certainly going to rewatch it.
On stage you get to hear classics such as Luck be a Lady, Sue me, Adelaide’s Lament (‘a person can develop a cold’) sung live. Everybody was good; Sky Masterson, Harry the Horse, Nathan Detroit (played by an unusually cast Daniel Mays), Miss Adelaide (particularly touching), Miss Sarah Brown. The musical highlight comes when Voice semi-finalist Cedric Neal playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson (when greeted and asked how he’s doing he always replies ‘nicely, nicely’) gives a virtuoso rousing performance of ‘Sit down you’re rocking the boat’ inspiring several encores. At the end the cast danced with spectators on the stage which had sunk down to audience level.
In these dark times, it’s just what we need. Get there early, there are drinks and snacks, maybe order a dulce de leche cocktail, but don’t take nuts. One of the cast is allergic so they search bags and incredibly, there were confiscated jars of peanut butter at security, I mean, who takes peanut butter to the theatre?
It’s on till January 2024. Guys and Dolls, Bridge Theatre (near Tower Bridge). Tickets here.