I am speaking to you from the stage of the Duchess Theatre in the heart of London's theatre land. Up the road they are presenting “My Fair Lady.” Down the street it's “The Lion King.”
Here, on this stage, it's both of those shows - and 98 more - because on Tuesday night I open in “Zipp!,” a musical revue that celebrates a century of musical theatre and guarantees the audience 100 musicals in ninety minutes or their money back.
This is my first West End show and we're opening just as it seems that we in Britain - and you in the States - are about to go to war. Opinion here is divided on the effect that any attack on Iraq will have on shows in London's West End and Manhattan's Broadway. Some say a war - particularly a war at a time when the economy looks vulnerable - keeps people at home, anxiously watching the TV to follow the latest developments from the front. Others say that a war is exactly the time when folk want to forget their troubles and get out to see a comedy or a musical - and, happily, “Zipp!” is both.
Last week, I happened to meet up with our Prime Minister, Tony Blair. He is determined that the UK will prove to be the US's staunchest ally. He told me he didn't believe that we in Britain should simply be fair-weather friends. However doubtful some of his members of parliament may be, Mr Blair is determined to back America all the way.
I have to report that the prime minister looked weary, but he is clearly on top of his brief. He reckons that - on both sides of the Atlantic - this is going to be one of the most challenging years in a long while. I invited him to Zipp! I don't think he's going to make it until the war is through, but he wished us well. And his deputy has even given me a costume to wear in the show. It's a kaftan that HE was given in Africa. I shall wear it during our sequence from “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I'm happy to say - despite the threat of war, despite the fear of terrorism, despite the plight of the stock market - we've been previewing to full houses.
It seems that London audiences agree with your distinguished drama critic Eric Bentley who once said: "When we get up tomorrow morning, we may well be able to do without our tragic awareness for an hour or two, but we will desperately need your sense of the comic."
By Gyles Brandreth