This post is for Thursday, 28 July and Friday, 29 July
It’s the last day in London and there is still much to do. First up, this morning we have our last class and today’s final speaker is Marion Nancarrow. She is a director of radio plays for the BBC having directed over 200 productions and conducts workshops all over the world. Ms. Nancarrow comes to speak as a result of director a production originally produced by Christina’s theatre company. Christina went over last winter and played in the drama called North. Her talk was well received by the students and she was quite inspirational and passionate about her work.
I left to meet Kerri. She wanted to do some errands and see a couple of things in the morning. Our afternoon plans were to do some shopping. We met outside and headed to Waterloo station to take the tube to Picadilly Circus. Alighting onto Regent Street we headed up the several blocks to Liberty of London. On the way up Regent Street we passed Carnaby street and the section known as Carnaby in Soho. This is one of those iconic areas that gained notoriety during the sixties. Carnaby Street was the cool destination in swinging London of the time. Many designer boutiques sprung up including Mary Quant. It is one of those places I keep meaning to get to but, both times have failed. I’ll hope for 2018 when we return. Today it is a high end shopping area. In the 70’s it was turned into a pedestrian mall.
Liberty was just around the corner and we went on to the task at hand. Liberty is a department store since 1875 and is known for luxury goods and Kerri was looking for a piece of fabric for quilt she and her colleague are making. Once in the store we browsed for time and a located the fabric and Kerri found the piece she wanted. We looked a bit more and I tried to find something but, I guess by this time I was shopped out as well as museumed out.
I had one desire this afternoon and that was a walk down Savile Row. That’s really all you can do. Savile Row is the mecca for men’s tailoring in London. The street has a long and varied history but, tailors first began setting up shop in this area in the late 18th century landing on the street itself in the very early 19th century. Walking down the street, you can look in the basement windows to view something of the workshop of each shop. On the main floor you can find models of suits and someone to take your order for a bespoke garment.
After this small adventure, we headed back to the dorm. This afternoon, the last official meeting of the class is tea. We are meeting up the class at the Orangery near Kensington Palace. Christina wanted to walk Kerri and I through a section of Kensington. She walked this when she attended LAMDA. It was indeed beautiful. Below are a couple of buildings that caught my interest – two of many.
We arrived at Kensington Palace. Remember, the Orangery is next door. We passed by the back of the palace and was able to see the statue of Queen Victoria.
Arriving a little early (our reservation was for 3 pm). We found a few students already there waiting and the rest soon joined up.
We had a great time. The tea was perfect and the students enjoyed themselves very much. We had two tables and it made for a wonderful time to debrief and talk about what we had experienced and just relax before we begin the journey back.
After tea, I had one more event. I spent the better part of the last two days packing so, I might join Vikki and her partner , Adam for dinner down at Picadilly Circus. They had made reservations for a 9 pm dinner at a french restaurant called Brassiere Zedel on Sherwood Street. I met them a little early for cocktails and then we enjoyed a delicious meal and a bottle of wine. It made the perfect ending to a perfect journey.
Friday, 29 July
Flying home is never easy. The trip is long and arduous. This time was no exception. Delayed flights made for quick layovers and unfortunately, too short goodbyes – Kerri. Also, lost luggage which eventually showed up but, nevertheless creating unnecessary stress. Thanks for coming along on this journey. I apologize for not keeping up as I went along but, I am certainly grateful I have been able to finish documenting my travel. Once home, it was good to sleep in my own bed and see my kittens who, by now are starting to get along. Suri, however has become a little terror and Sheba and I are having to train her. I think Sheba is better at that than I.
This post is for Wednesday, 27 July.
WOW. We are coming to the end quickly but, we still have a few things left to do. I must confess, I am getting tired and am beginning to look forward to my own bed and seeing my kittens again. But, first we have class today which includes another guest speaker, Matt Wolf. Mr. Wolf is an American living in London. He is also a theatre critic and a very knowledgeable part of the London theatre community. He came to London 20 years ago to do an internship and has been there ever since. Just goes to show, those internships can pay off. Today he spoke very generally about the theatre scene in London but, he did talk about the longevity of the critic and how he has had the opportunity to observe the careers of actors who come onto the scene. Sometimes those who show great promise fizzle out and disappear and sometimes there are those who no one notices and suddenly they are everywhere and last. He spoke specifically of watching actor Ralph Fiennes who is currently appearing as Richard III at the Almeida Theatre. Mr. Fiennes came onto the scene when Mr. Wolf first began his life in London. We are fortunate to have speakers like Matt Wolf talk with out students. For me, it is an education as well.
After class, we each had things to do. I wanted to go back to the British Museum and Kerri had to go to a show. I decided to run back to the dorm and grab some lunch since I was meeting Christina at the museum at 2 pm. I finished quickly and decided to walk to the museum early and look for some items in the gift shop. I arrived a little before 1 and the crowds were very large. Once inside, I realized this may not be the best plan. It is afternoon and it seems the entire of London has decided to explore the museum today. I managed to find my way to the gift shop and make my purchases. It was still early so, I went to the Assyrian galleries. I don’t know why but, since grad school when I first saw the sculptures and bas reliefs from this ancient culture, I find myself attracted to them. They are magnificent in their power and majesty. The exotic quality is also very apparent.
After exploring some of the items from Assyria, I wandered into the Egyptian sculpture room. By this time, my feet and ankles were already beginning to ache. The crowds in the museum seemed to have swelled even larger if that was possible. I wandered down the long gallery and about halfway down, I suddenly came to the realization that I was no longer looking at the sculptures. Well, I was looking but, I wasn’t taking in anything. I noticed the people walking around and coming toward me. Many of them, probably more than half had glazed expressions on their faces. There were a number of them that seemed to be here for no other reason than they were required to be there and not the least bit interested. Then there were a number probably like me that were suffering from museum fatigue and nothing was penetrating their brains any longer. The people were more interesting than the exhibit. The enormous crowds were, for the most part, not participating in the museum experience, they were, like me, wandering. by now it was almost two and time to meet Christina. I made my way to the atrium and eventually found her among the hordes. As soon as we saw each other, it almost come out at the same time. “It was time to leave.” We were both exhausted and couldn’t handle the large crowds and for my part, I wasn’t seeing anything anyway. There is a reason, she always brings us to this museum in the morning. With that, we escaped and headed back to the dorm to rest because we were seeing a show that evening.
This was our last production, not a part of the class. Sunset at the Villa Thalia is a new play being performed in the Dorfman Theatre at the National. This is my first time in this theatre. It is an intimate thrust theatre primarily for newer, perhaps more experimental works. The cast includes Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abby. The play takes place on an island off the coast of Greece. Act I in 1967 and Act II in 1976. The playwright has problems decided what story he’s telling. Is it about the politics of Greece and other countries (USA) involving themselves in local politics or is it about the relationship of these two couples? The first act was very engaging and Act II went nowhere. It seemed the portrayal of a CIA operative (for lack of a better word because, we never really know his function within the CIA) is somewhat naive. I don’t believe for instance his wife would know he works for the CIA let alone know what he is doing for them which she talks about incessantly. Relationships are muddled and I quickly lost interest in these people during Act II. The performance and the design were again first rate. McGovern shed Cora’s image in this role which I am certain is what she wanted to do except for one moment when she looked at her husband and it was Cora looking at Robert incredulously. Well, I guess you can’t expect her to completely change everything.
This post is for Tuesday, July 26
One of my favorite places to go is Hampton Court. I don’t know why. It is so tied up in the history of the Tudors I guess. I was always fascinated with this time in British history. Henry, his wives, Elizabeth I. Initially, it was the clothes I think. It isn’t particularly attractive but, I loved them all the same. Once I understood that, then maybe it was the intrigue at court and the drama that played out during this time.
Last time I visited, just walking the paths and the rooms, you can feel the history. I think it is, for me, like walking the beaches of Galveston, TX. The history is right there and I connect with it more than most other places. We took an early train. Hampton Court is about a 40 minute trip by train even though it is only 11 miles or so from London. In Henry’s day they rode the river down. We walked across the river and through the palace gates. There are essentially two sides to this palace. The guide book states, ” . . .where you get two palaces for the price of one. The rose red brick Tudor palace is indelibly associated with Henry VIII. The baroque palace, first occupied in 1700, has some of the world’s greatest gardens around it.”
The palace was a gift to Henry VIII from Cardinal Wolsey in 1525. It was the mainstay palace of English kings and queens until Queen Caroline’s death in 1737. After that, George II made only rare appearances and began the tradition of letting out unused apartments to “genteel older ladies deserving of royal grace and favour.”
Before leaving Hampton Court, we had lunch in the Queen’s (Elizabeth) Privy Kitchen, visited the Tennis Courts and the kitchen’s of Henry VIII. The train ride back to London gave us a moment to decompress and relax. In the evening, Kerri was off to see a show and Christina suggested we head over to Royal Albert Hall to see a PROMS concert.
The BBC PROMS are held almost nightly during an 8 week period in the summer. You can buy gallery tickets for 6 pds and stand in the gallery. We bought our tickets and went in to a magnificent space. We stayed for only part of the concert because we were both tired by the time we got in but, I am grateful for the chance to see the inside of that beautiful space and the concert was glorious. Next visit we committed to getting a seat so we could enjoy the whole concert. Ironically, the piece we heard was based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest by Tchaikovsky.
This post is for Monday, 25 July.
Today, Kerri and I are going to Buckingham Palace to see the palace but, more importantly an exhibit of Queen Elizabeth’s fashions over 90 years in celebrations of her 90th birthday. The exhibition opening only two day before our visit. We are lucky to be in London during the short time it is on at the palace. We booked our tickets last night for 1:30 expecting the crowds to be large.
Of course, as we found our way to the entrance we discovered we were correct. It was packed. I feared we might never get in even with tickets purchased in advance. However, I underestimated the organizational skills and calm of the British. It was amazing. Everyone on the staff that we came into contact with was so helpful and polite and simply made the visit incredibly easy despite the huge numbers of people. I was impressed with how well the crowds were treated and moved about with ease. We began the process of going in at the appointed time. We had to go through intense security and we not allowed to photograph in the palace of course. Everywhere we turned, we were greeted warmly and kindly and with respect. Exactly what you might expect being a guest in the home of the queen.
The walk through included all the rooms of state in the palace and the exhibition which was set up in three very large rooms – the Ball Supper Room, the Ball Room and the State Dining Room I believe. We saw the Grand Entrance and Grand Hall, Grand Staircase, Guard Chamber, Green Drawing Room, the Throne Room, the Picture Gallery, the Blue Drawing Room, the Music Room, the White Drawing Room, the Minister’s Staircase, Marble Hall and finally the Bow Room. I list them all so if you want to google them you can see what they look like.
I did find some image online and from the guide book I purchased so I include them here to prime the pump so to speak.
The exhibition of the queen’s clothing was extensive and the crowds were enormous. The audio guides slowed down the movement of the crowds. I didn’t take one so I was able to move a little more quickly but sometimes it difficult to get very close to see what was what. The first section was early and included the christening gown (now a reproduction for the modern royals), the gowns Elizabeth and Margaret wore to their father’s coronation in 1937.
The rest of the exhibition included a group of dresses worn to various weddings, dresses worn for state visits to other countries, dresses worn for state occasions in England, a look at her millinery and the milliners she has used over the years and some of the various designers that have dressed the queen during her life. I found the following images on line to give you an idea of the scope and scale.
After leaving the exhibition which was in the central part of the tour of room, we went into the Picture Gallery for one and I discovered one of my favorite paintings. Franz Xaver Winterhalter is one of my favorite portrait painters (along with John Singer Sargent and Thomas Gainsborough). Her painting of Queen Victoria and her young family was hanging in this gallery. So excited to see this in person. The detail of his work comes through even when reproduced in books.
Exhausted we left the palace for walk out the back which included a gift shop. The most unexpected part was the beautiful and tranquil setting in the back of the palace.
Once we exited the palace grounds, we found the nearest tube stop and headed back to the dorm to rest and get ready for the evening’s performance. Tonight we saw The Seagull by Anton Chekhov. This is the second of the Young Chekhov series showing at the National. The production was first rate. They used the base set from the previous production we saw with some hefty additions. They retained the water element creating a strong symbolism when Nina (the seagull) walks through the water to the house. The actors which included Anna Chancellor as Arkadina (I saw her play Amanda in Private Lives broadcast to the cinema a couple of years ago) was superb and the play while not as funny as Platanov was incredibly entertaining until the suicide of Konstanin which was a little disconcerting but appropriate. My only issue with this production was the time setting. For some reason, beyond understanding, they chose to set it in what appeared to be the 1930’s. For me, this makes absolutely no sense. I don’t see how these people could have existed after the revolution. Chekhov’s plays proceed and tosome extent foreshadow the revolution. I found myself trying to make sense of this choice to the point that I was taken out of the story and the events taking place on the stage.
This is for Sunday, 24 July.
On this day Kerri and I visited Bath. Bath is one of my favorite places. It has an internationally known Fashion Museum as well as being the home of the Royal Crescent. The town itself is an amazing collection of Georgian architecture.
The day began early taking the tube to Paddington Station where we caught our train for the 1 hours, 40 minute trip out to the western part of the country. Bath is located in Somerset County. The station is very busy on a Sunday morning because a lot of people are traveling outside London on the weekend. Travel is easy and relatively inexpensive so day trips seem common. Arriving at the station we must wait until they reveal from which platform the train will depart. The monitors you see in the photo are constantly changing and it’s funny to see lines of people standing and staring at the screens waiting for their cue to head to the platform. Once the platform appears, dozens of people take off to board the train.
Arriving in Bath, we made our way immediately to the Fashion Museum. Looked like rain was coming and this was first on our list of places to see. We bought tickets to this, #1 in the Royal Crescent and the Architecture Museum. The exhibit in the Fashion Museum had been completely changed since my visit two years ago and it was great to see completely different items in the collection (which is extensive). It is much smaller than you might expect. I remember thinking two years ago that it was much smaller than I expected. Some of the pieces I saw included
After touring the museum in the basement we went upstairs to walk through the Assembly Rooms. Below is one of them, the Ball Room. This could be considered a community center in the day for the wealthy.
Leaving the museum, we walked around to the Royal Crescent which is a semi-circular structure that sets near the top of the town. It is a collection of very large town homes in the Georgian style . It was built between 1767 and 1774 and contains about 30 town homes. You can tour #1 which we did.
As we headed back down we walked through the Circus (see note above). Between 1758 and 1774 #17 was the home of Thomas Gainsborough, the painter as his portrait studio.
We walked down to the Architecture Museum which was small and by then we were beginning to tire. Along the way I saw this church.
We made our way back into the main part of town starving by this time. We found a restaurant that looked possible and collapsed. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, at little late. It was leisurely because the service was slow but, that was okay, we were tired. That coupled with the rain that began to fall as we went in. It continued to rain for most of the time we sat waiting and eating. So, again no complaints. Finishing lunch we felt it was time to head home so we quickly headed to the train in order to catch the next one which was fairly quick. On the ride back to London we both napped a bit.