London: Eurostar, Brexit and Theatre

Since March 4, the French Border Control have been “on strike” to protest the upcoming Brexit. Work was not stopped 100% but slowed down 90%. They feared much more work if Brexit actually happened saying they would have to treat UK citizens as any non-EU country therefore requiring more work, extended hours, etc. “The customs agents are demanding an increase in overnight pay, a danger allowance, and more staff and resources to help with greater controls that will be put in place once Britain breaks away from the European Union, currently scheduled in just over two weeks.” The Local/France. People traveling to London on the Eurostar were queued up four to six hours for the trains. By last week, when I was due to go to London, Eurostar had managed to organise the lines somewhat but also had to cancel three or four trains a day. So last Friday, I arrived at Gare du Nord, lengthy book in hand, ready to sit on the floor and wait whatever time it took to get through all the security, passport checking, etc. This process usually takes about 50-60 minutes in Paris and 30 minutes in London.

Passengers wait in front a British flag depiction near the entrance of the Eurostar terminal at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris on March 15, 2019 a day after British MPs voted massively in favour of asking the EU to delay Brexit. – The British Parliament on March 14, 2019 voted by 412 in favour and 202 against on the government’s proposal — a rare respite for British Prime Minister following a chaotic week. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

I arrived at Gare du Nord at 10am on Friday and…..voila, no queue at all. I had arrived 130 minutes early and it still took 90 minutes to get through all the hoops but so much better than 5 hours. People were calm, no big upsets, very accepting. Eurostar even held the train back 30 minutes to make sure that everyone ticketed for the train actually was on the train. Then everything ran smoothly as it usually does with Eurostar. I’ve heard interviews from tourists saying they will never take Eurostar again as if this was Eurostar’s fault. So sad. Eurostar did an amazing job of trying to manage an extremely difficult situation. Brexit has been extended three weeks so for a short time, things are back to normal.

Queue on the left wrapping around Gare du Nord before going up escalator to Eurostar

Saturday morning, I took the Northern line to Bond St. A huge protest against Brexit had been planned. Over a million people coming from all over the UK, met at Hyde Park, marched through Picadilly Circus and other tourists highlights and ended at Parliament. It was called “Put it to the People” march as these protestors and many more people vehemently want a second referendum. According to Reuters, it was the second largest protest since a march against the Iraq war in 2003.

Protesters taking a break.

Everywhere I went, I saw protesters. Little kids carried wonderful placards begging “No Exit”. I saw no violence, people seemed happy to live in a place that allowed freedom of speech–more and more a threat these days. The crowds were massive and one had to plan extra time to get anywhere. I didn’t mind, I’m a supporter of these people. Brexit, to my mind, is not only a stupid plan, but a dangerous one for a wonderful people. I love living so close to London. I love having the Eurostar available and to be able to jump over here for a long weekend of theatre and seeing friends. What will happen is as much a mystery to me as all the shenanigins going on in the US.

Jonty Graham with daughter PoppyAnna Stewart, CNNAnna Stewart, CNN

I’m in London to celebrate my friend, Barbara’s, birthday! For the first time in three years, I found tickets to HAMILTON and grabbed them immediately. We will see it tonight. We made a long weekend of it and Saturday night went to see a musical I had never heard of (I think I’m one of the few people in the world who hadn’t) called COME FROM AWAY. A lovely, uplifting, brilliant story of the friendships that grew out of the forced landings of thirty four planes in Gander, Newfoundland on Sept 11, 2001.

From humble beginnings at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2015, COME FROM AWAY has taken theatre goers in the US by storm, won a couple of awards along the way and arrived at the Phoenix Theatre in London in February after spending Christmas in Dublin. The writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein, a Canadian couple, decided to spend a month in Gander on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A large percentage of the original people were celebrating in Gander the amazing kindness, friendship and love that were extended both ways during that week in September 2011. The writers experienced the same kindness, generosity and love that the 7000 people stranded in September 2001 experienced.

The characters in Come From Away are based on real people – including Beverley Bass, American Airlines’ first female captain (Credit: West End Production Photography)

Though it has been dubbed the 9/11 musical, Sankoff and Hein prefer to call it the 9/12 musical. Most of the passengers on the diverted planes were not allowed to leave the planes for 12-24 hours. Can you imagine being held on a plane not knowing what was going on, why you were in God knows Where and hearing all sorts of rumours. It’s about time these people were celebrated.

The people of Gander offered comfort, hospitality and friendship in a time of crisis (Credit: West End Production Photography)

At the end of the show, something happened that I have never before witnessed. The entire audience jumped to their feet, en masse, as if it had been pre-planned. They cheered and yelled for five minutes while all the musicians came on stage and played until finally everyone left the theatre.

If you live anywhere near a production of COME FROM AWAY: https://comefromaway.com I urge you to go see it. As a reviewer wisely said it is an uplifting story of art for our times. A celebration of the best of humankind. – Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast.

A bientôt,

Sara