Miss Saigon, 28 Jun 14

Miss SaigonIt’s a surprise to find that it’s four years since we last went to a musical in the West End. That was the Jersey Boys. Click here for that story. That was my birthday treat. This time it was Juni’s.

It’s an interesting experience going to the matinee to see a musical. I guess the clientel does change a little but in general it seems to be at least 75% female and I imagine most have come on bus trips from places like Luton and Bedford: a little shopping in the morning, a glass of wine with lunch, the show and then home in time for a Saturday night in front of the TV. We were not that much different although we took the train and arrived early because we had to collect our tickets from the box office. After an obligatory wander round we had lunch, at Taro (‘sushi noodle bar’ www.tarorestaurants.co.uk), and a bottle of beer before the show and, despite a big crush to get out and slow progress through Leicester Square tube station, we were home by 1930.

It’s not a great show despite what the critics, or the aficionados of Luton and Bedford, would have you believe. There’s only one song that sticks with you (the American Dream) and the soloists in the production are not uniformly excellent. However the dance routines are brilliant and the walk into the sunset at the end of Act 1 is epic. Plus of course there’s a full set of special effects, including a helicopter, that work.

Forgive me but I suspect that most of the audience took Miss Saigon at face value: nice sets, decent music and a sad story. And that’s OK but it did a lot more for me. I felt two strong emotional connections with it.

Connection number 1 is that I was in Asia during the time covered by musical viz 1975-78. Firstly I was in Jakarta until 1976 when we read Time and Newsweek and read about the falls of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and the domino theory which was supposed to follow these by similar falls in Thailand and Malaysia. That never happened of course but nonetheless the heavy US military presence and its demands for R&R was ever-present. My job took me from Indonesia northward via Hong Kong and flights were increasingly delayed as they had to be diverted away from Vietnamese airspace. Juni worked for Cathay Pacific at the time and tells me that she was on the last flight out.

It’s history of course but with hindsight was it necessary? Is it ever a good idea to interfere militarily in someone else’s business? Did we all learn from Vietnam and if so how did that inform our decisions relating to today’s conflicts in the Middle East?

After 1976 I was in Hong Kong and witnessed the refugees, the boat people, setting out from Vietnam and ending up in the camps that the government had been obliged to set up. It was the same story then as the story today of people from Africa and the Middle East risking everything for a better life somewhere else. We often call them ‘economic migrants’ and use it as a critical term. It seems hardly just or fair.

Connection number 2 is that I was of course one of those westerners who was in Asia but did not fully understand Asian mores. You did your best of course, I think I did, but fact is that you were there on financially favorable expat terms, you were away from home and free from its controls and the local economy was distorted ‘in your favour’, witness the behaviour of the Engineer in Miss Saigon. Even if I would claim innocence I witnessed many who were not. Just because you were talking English with someone didn’t mean you were being understood. And that of course applied within business as much as it did outside it.

I suspect that nowadays expat life is less distorting and that those who do enjoy it are better equipped and educated to take responsible advantage of it.

So I did get a lot out of the afternoon and did enjoy the show although I was emotionally quite drained at the end. It was good but not great and hardly deserved the standing ovation accorded to it by the ladies of Luton and Bedford.

 

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