Well, that wasn’t a very good start to the New Year.
“How was it for you?” people ask politely.
“Lovely, thanks, and for you?” I’m supposed to reply.
But that would be a lie. So far it’s been a miserable 2013.
It started on the train back from London on New Year’s Eve. We’d had a jolly seasonal family outing to Shrek The Musical. Don’t laugh: I actually enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be awful, so we had a boozy family lunch beforehand – 16 of us, from Granny to Izzy - and I thought: after three glasses of Chianti, what could Shrek do to me other than send me to sleep?
In the theatre I gave everyone instructions to wake me if I snored or dribbled and waited to nod off.
I normally hate musical theatre: the posturing and the stagey singing, the chorus smiling maniacally, just as they were taught in stage school. But Shrek was so – how can I describe it? It certainly wasn’t moving, or imaginative, or dramatic or inspiring; the cast wasn’t particularly talented, the narrative was predictable (Izzy has made me see the movie at least fifty times), neither the tunes nor the performances were show-stopping.
So why didn’t I hate it?
It was the sheer professionalism of the thing: it was like the best pantomime you’ve ever seen, but without the terrible jokes. It was a thoroughly well made piece of theatre, and it had a fantastic dragon that needed five grownups to operate, and which flew down from the ceiling and made us all jump. And a big, live band that made us tap our feet and clap along. Izzy sat through the entire two hours and loved every second, particularly when Princess Fiona went green. It was funny, and the Chianti lasted right through to the end. It was, as a critic might say, Shrektacular.
The day before, we had sat down with a video of the new Les Miserables film, which opens in cinemas later this week. Now that was another musical experience I was dreading. The stage show of Les Mis is everything that Shrek isn’t: it has great tunes, a well-constructed story, social relevance: it’s probably the most over-the-top, melodramatic piece of nonsense in the past 25 years. Oh, the tears I have shed for Fantine and Jean Valjean. I couldn’t imagine how a feature film could do anything but ruin it.
But, I kid you not, it’s wonderful. If you only see one film in 2013, make it Les Miserables. Sure, it’s weird when the actors say hello to each other in song – that takes a bit of getting used to. And I don’t think Russell Crowe will have it in the list of his top five performances: he kind of shouts his way through the lyrics.
The director, Tom Hooper, made everyone use radio mics and captured every note, giving the singing an operatic intensity and rawness that adds to the drama and will undoubtedly give Anne Hathaway an Oscar. Oh my God, I knew she was going to die, but what a way to go: I blubbed like a baby. It took a large brandy to calm me down, and it was only the first act.
All of which should have got the new year off to a fine, if rather damp and emotionally drained, start. But then the train journey put paid to our mood. All Jo did was lift Izzy up for a split second, when she felt the pop. It was her back: a full-blown-out slipped disc on a train. And we’d barely reached Peterborough.
The poor girl had to be virtually carried onto the platform at Newcastle.
And so, with wife now laid up in more agony than Fantine on her deathbed, swathed in Valium and unable to move a limb, while downstairs, Boots the new puppy runs round in circles destroying the furniture and tormenting the spaniels; with my football team in complete disarray, and my new year’s strict detox regime adding to my state of general grumpiness, it’s not been the best start to 2013.
How was it for you?