Fifteen years ago my family bought tickets to go and see Miss Saigon at the Edinburgh Playhouse. I was studying Acting and Performance at college at the time and annoyingly I had a show on the same night as Miss Saigon. Now, I know what you’re thinking, my college performance would steal audience goers from Miss Saigon. The Playhouse would be empty on that night, of course. But what I was more concerned about, was the fact that I’d miss Miss Saigon.
Fast forward to Bristol 2018 and the show (Miss Saigon, not my college performance) comes to Bristol. My friend Laurie and I excitedly booked tickets at the start of May for the evening performance on Saturday 23 June. After 15 years, I was going to see Miss Saigon at the Bristol Hippodrome.
I did my hair, put on more make up than I would for an average day and for the first time in a long time wore high heels. The evening started with an early dinner at Aqua on Welshback before making our way over to the Hippodrome to collect our tickets, grab a drink and pre-order our interval drinks. Our seats were in the stalls, three seats back from the stage. Right in the middle of the action.
The story is based on Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, but if you’re not an opera fan I’ll explain. In the first scene we meet Kim, a 17 year old peasant girl working in a brothel. Her family has died in the Vietnam war, and as it’s set in April 1975, a war that is days away from ending. It’s her first night at ‘Dreamland’ and is bought (for the night) for a young American GI, Chris. Only their night turns into two as the pair fall very quickly and deeply in love.
I don’t like musicals really. You won’t catch me queuing up for tickets to see Mamma Mia! or Hairspray but that’s mainly because I don’t like cheese. Miss Saigon is different in that it is a very intense, emotional and a dramatic love story. By the time we got to the interval I remarked to my friend that I was already emotionally invested in the story and the characters and having been told that I’d need to bring my tissues cause it’s a ‘right tear jerker’ (thanks to the waitress at Aqua for that one), I was worried about what would happen next. When I first saw the actress who plays Kim, I thought that she was a bit stiff and monotonous in her acting, but actually, she turned out to be excellent. There was a stark contrast between her arrival at Dreamland and her heart-wrenching songs where she would spit lines and almost snarl with anger and frustration and sadness. I felt every emotion she portrayed. Not even the smallest crumb of cheddar to be found.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, the Engineer provides a light-hearted counterbalance to the horror that is the Vietnam War and Kim’s story. He is Dreamland’s very own pimp and although, probably not a nice person, you do feel for him because you can see how desperate he is to get out and travel to America. Where he’ll be safe. Where he’ll continue to run brothels because men are the same anywhere… One of my favourite songs of the whole show was The American Dream, a huge production of a number with can-can dancers wearing American stars and stripes and a Cadillac driven onto the stage.
Speaking of the stage production, I haven’t often been as impressed with a theatre production as I was with Miss Saigon. It’s no spoiler to say at one point there is a helicopter and I knew this prior to seeing the show. At first I thought it was just a hologram, but no. There was an actual helicopter. This was also one of my favourite scenes and it was used when portraying the two sides of the fence; those safe inside the base and those stuck on the outside. Everyone desperate to be taken to America. Those on the outside clambering and clawing to get over the fence and yelling ‘at least take my kids’. The scene really drove home the message that these poor people were desperate. If they couldn’t be taken to safety, then they’d be willing to give away their children for the hope of a better life for them.
Was it the tearjerker I was promised? Yes. Not knowing the story beforehand there were certainly a few shocks, but the final twist at the end? Yeah, I saw that coming. Not that it wasn’t sad, but I held it together and managed to not cry. Miss Saigon did not disappoint and I won’t lie, while writing this I am listening to the soundtrack on Spotify; ‘the movie in my mind…’ If you know, you know.
So, 15 years waiting. Was it worth it? 100%. Probably the best show I have ever had the pleasure to see. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend.