Saturday, 23 July
I am quickly running out of time. Today is my last day in London and I am only up through Saturday. I may have to take desperate measures to finish this.
Today, we got up and fairly quickly got on the road. We had breakfast down the street and returned to the inn, checked out went down to wait for the bus that would take us to Blenheim and onto Oxford to catch the train to London. Christina wanted to visit Bleinheim Palace. I didn’t know what that was but, was anxious to discover something new. My poor little brain was not prepared for the exploration on tap for today. Last time, she took me to the Royal Pavillion to blow my mind. This time it is Bleinheim.
I can’t begin to describe this place so I will try to let the photograph do the job. We spent most of the morning and early afternoon touring the gardens, the palace and stopped for lunch.
This was a magnificent place to visit. It is always incredible to me the work and craftsmanship that goes into this type of building especially when you consider this was done in the early 18th century. It is easily understandable why these types of institutions have not survived except as essentially skeletal structures. I am glad to be able to walk the halls and enjoy the history.
After lunch, we walked out the way we came approaching the palace from the side. We crossed the road and caught the bus for Oxford. It was a quick 30 minute ride and we had originally planned to spend some time walking around Oxford soaking up the richness of that history. However, we were all just worn and still another day to travel so, we opted to catch the train back to London and get a little rest before we begin the last week. I am thrilled to be able to catch trains and buses and underground conveyances to get around. I enjoy not having to deal with the car and be able to get everywhere I need to go. That is a wonderful “get me out of my comfort zone” experience.
Friday, 22 July
Sorry about some the formatting but, at this point I am just trying to get posts up and am unable to spend a good deal of time cleaning up the posts and get text next to the correct picture.
It is the Friday of our long weekend and I have a lot of traveling in store in three days. First up, Christina and I caught an early train (Kerri made an appointment to look at old dresses at the London Museum and will catch up with us on the road) to Stratford-0n Avon. This is, of course the birthplace of William Shakespeare and it seemed appropriate on the 400th anniversary of his death to go there. It is also the town of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). How to give some idea of the storied history of this theatre? Well, it not possible. Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn have been artistic directors at different times. Early on, it vied to be the national theatre losing out to the National Theatre founded by Laurence Olivier. There have been a who’s who of performers at this theatre including Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Edith Evans, Vanessa Redgrave, Paul Scolfield, Judi Dench, Ian McKellan and the list goes on and on.
We spent some time just wandering and sitting on the quiet banks of the river. Coming into town we wandered through the market. We went looking for the church where Shakespeare is buried and eventually found it.
The church is smaller than you might think. Most of the churches are but when you go inside, they seem much larger especially in the photographs. We were asked to donate a small amount to enter and that was no problem. Of course, there were quite a number of people and a number of things to see in the church besides the grave. A number of his family are also buried there as well.
The interior of the church looks like it should called a cathedral but, it is small by comparison. Nonetheless, beautiful. The stonework, the floors and every element of course is old and has a patina not to be believed.
We lingered at the church inside and out. The gravestones are so worn and weathered. Many of the names and dates have worn away with time. They are covered in moss and sit reminding us of the many generations that have lived in this town. We sate outside on the river bank and watched the river gently flow by. The swans anxiously wait for food from the tourists.
We headed down to find Shakespeare’s birthplace – the house. It sits on a busy pedestrian walkway that no longer resembles anything of the origin. The tourist trade controls all but this one house still standing from the 16th century. We opted not to go in since the crowds were thick.
We moved onto the RSC and along the way, there were, of course a number of Tudor style structures remaining from the 16th century. I was suddenly reminded of Bath (where I am headed before the weekend is out) that so very 18th century. We just don’t have towns like these in the US. We aren’t this old. The one above struck me humorously since you can see the undulating lines of the structure make it seem about to collapse.
It was really a worth while trip to see this theatre. Something of the same thing I felt upon seeing the Old Vic for the first. The history, some of which I detailed above is storied and it gives me pause to just be in it. Perhaps next time I come, I can arrange to attend a performance but, not this time. Too little time. We did have a great lunch and take our time over dessert. On the sixth floor, we had a great view of the river and the town.
We decided it was time to move on and catch the train to our next destination, Chipping Norton where Christina arranged a room at a pub for the three of us. Kerri is meeting us there and we will go one in the morning to our next stop.
We caught the bus in Stratford for a quick (30 minute) ride to Chipping Norton. It turned out to be a small town and the room over the pub was spacious and clean and QUIET and across the street from the bus stop.
Kerri arrived soon after and we strolled through the town exploring and looking for the church. We found it and were able to go in much to my consternation. No one was there but a welcome sign and feel free to look and take pictures. I signed the guest book which was left out for visitor.
All in all it has been a great adventure today. We retired to The Fox pub and had dinner and I enjoyed a beer and a glass of wine. Sleep was good and quiet and tomorrow promises to be more of the same.
Thursday, 21 July
Today, we returned to the Globe Theatre for the performance of The Taming of The Shrew. I am glad to see this production because I have never had the opportunity to see it performed on the stage. The matinee is at two and we have class before. I am meeting with class in front of the Tate Modern. Though a series of mix-ups class was delayed but finally came off by noon.
Kerri and I then went to the Tate Modern to spend some time in this museum of modern art. I enjoyed wandering the expansive galleries of this incredible museum and this has been the first real opportunity. The first thing that strikes me is (see the photo below for one example) the age of some of the “modern” art. The Picasso dates from 1914. That makes it over 100 years old. At what point is it not modern. I certainly understand it is a term to describe a period in art history but, it is ironic that many of the iconic works of the modern art movement are so dated.
I was also struck by a more contemporary piece titled Babel 2001 by Cildo Meireles. There were a number rather large installation pieces and this was one. I walked into the room and was taken aback by the size but also the aural effect. The tower of radios and other devices tuned to many different stations did not overwhelmed as you might expect. Of course, at first I didn’t know what I was hearing but, the sound was soothing which seemed at odds with what I learned to be true. The artist statement is included. The tower was fascinating and I just wanted to stand and let it relax. Given the statement about information overload and incomprehension I would have expected to be turned off but, instead I was transfixed. The work was very powerful and I am sorry I couldn’t provide more visually or aurally to communicate the fascination with this somewhat futurist and unworldly work of art.
We returned to the Globe to queue up for the show. Standing again and the weather seemed to be perfect for today’s performance. The Taming of the Shrew is probably one of the most difficult for modern audiences given its treatment of women, particularly Kate (the shrew in the title). Many contemporary productions have tried to soften or in some cases change the play to make it more palatable. Katherine (Kate) is a headstrong young woman. She knows her mind and she is not interested in marriage but, her father decrees she must marry before her younger sister – presumably to get his problem child out of his household.
This production was set in Ireland during the Easter uprising of 1916. The first act was a comic romp and the second act became the tragedy of Kate. The setting was not change in the dialogue so, that was confusing. The names of the character didn’t really help (Bianca, Petruchio, Baptista etc). However, the production did work overall. I felt the director changed the tone after Katherine’s marriage to Petruchio to suggest the tragic circumstance of the character. It became not at all funny and her delivery of her final monologue seemed to move the male characters (particularly her father and husband) to understand what they had done to her. I am very glad I got to see this production because it is not easier to understand the difficulties of the play.
After the show Christina, Kerri and I journeyed up to Hampstead for dinner at the Holly Bush Pub and quietly decompressed from the intense show.
Wednesday, 20 July
CORRECTION: Please note the correction I’ve made on the Churchill War Rooms post. I unintentionally referred to the clock tower as Big Ben. Big Ben refers to the bell or chimes from the clock tower. While our culture has extended that term to mean the clock tower, it is actually as of 2012 now known at the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. I’ve also added an additional image.
After class this morning, we went to visit the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the National Gallery (NG). Lunch was at the Portrait Gallery and I love these two museums. The National Portrait Gallery is just that. Portraits of historical figures, scientists, artists and anyone of importance in British history from all walks of life are displayed in this museum. Those images displayed are based on the sitter not necessarily the creator. Portraits include primarily paintings but, also sculptures and photographs. We spent about an hour and a half in the Gallery before moving on the National Gallery. The problem is time. There isn’t enough time to see even a fraction of the collections contained in these museums. The NPG has changed what’s out considerably since I was last here but, most of it remains the same. It was interesting to note that the famous portrait of Shakespeare by Chandos was out on loan to a museum in Russia since it is the 400 year anniversary of his death. The controversial portrait of Catherine I saw the last time was not out but, the really lovely portrait of William and Harry that I love was on display. Last time, I saw a reproduction in the gift shop. This time it was nice to actually see it. There was also a beautiful portrait of Ian McKellan as well as the usual king and queens.
Moving on to the National Gallery, we only had about an hour and a half. Where do you begin? We basically went in three different directions. One painting I saw that I don’t remember being in the museum last time was The Ambassadors by Han Holbein the younger. I love this painting for the detail of the figures and the clothing. Seeing it in life and up close I could see the painting techniques that are lost in a photograph. I had an interesting encounter with a young man that wanted someone to talk to about the painting and he was very knowledgeable but, he didn’t know about the distorted skull at the bottom center of the painting. If you look the image from the far right, it becomes a skull. I’ve included the title block from the museum with the picture of the painting.
The other mannerist painting I enjoyed seeing is Brozino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid. This is a great example of mannerism. The distortion of the figures and the layers of images make it a fascinating painting. I love Bronzino’s work because of the sharp, clear detail, particularly in his portraits. I’ve always been drawn to this non-portrait paining because of the sharp, crisp quality of the figures and it’s whimsical nature.
That evening we attended Unreachable at the Royal Court Theatre. This is my first time at the Royal Court. This theatre has a reputation for new and cutting edge theatre. The piece we saw this evening was created essentially, it seems, in rehearsal. The cast included Matt Smith, who currently plays Dr. Who – for which I have no connection. However, I did see him in a film called, Christopher and his Kind about Christopher Isherwood. I enjoyed him in that immensely. The play concerned a director (Smith) of a film trying to find the perfect light for one moment in the he is shooting. I knew nothing about this play since it is new but, felt rom the title it would be a drama. I was wrong. It was very funny evoking Chekhov although no mention of that was made in the talk back following the performance. We were on the front row and again it made the experience of the play much more visceral. I felt at time assailed by the performances. The ending (when the light is revealed) was something of a deus ex machina. moment. The spare set was transformed into what appeared to be a cherry orchard with scrims, light, fog and a live fox. Brilliant. It was, for me at odds with the post-apocalyptic film that was being made but it made for great theatre.
Tuesday, 19 July
Today’s class is another guest speaker, Samuel West. Mr. West is a noted English actor. He comes from an acting dynasty – 4th generation. Equally at home on stage and in film he originated the role of Valentine in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia at the National Theatre and played the title role in Hamlet for a year at the Royal Shakespeare Company. His film roles have included Howard’s End and Hyde Park on the Hudson as well as numerous television roles. He is currently touring the country in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. He is politically active particularly regarding the arts and funding for the arts. There was one thing he said that particularly resonated and this isn’t exact but, it is close enough, “Art is to understand what it is like to be someone else.”
In the afternoon, I planned a trip to the British Public Library for a number of reasons. London has turned very hot. I wanted someplace where could enjoy a little cool air. The internet at the dorm is spotty at best – especially in the evening. I assume that is because everyone is on at the same time. I was hoping to catch up on my blog since as you can see, I am behind. There is also an exhibit called Shakespeare in Ten Acts. Since I’m here on a theatre study tour, that seemed appropriate and, Vivian Leigh in featured on all the PR materials so, I was more intrigued.
It was miserable hot walking over. The library isn’t too far from the dorm but, it is off a major street. The heat of the city was bad and the traffic was making it worse. Reaching the library was a welcome relief. The plaza outside was a large expanse and I was immediately drawn to the sculpture the size of which was in keeping with the scale of the plaza. Once inside we scoped out areas to work on computers and there were many – all full. Kerri found a spot and I was off to the exhibit. It turned out to be much more extensive than I imagined. After the introduction to Shakespeare which include a first folio the exhibit was 10 sections (acts). I was so grateful to see the folio. It made it a real thing.
Those ten sections are 10 of his plays and landmark moments of production. These included Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 12th Night, Othello and Macbeth plus five others. The highlights for me were Vivien Leigh’s costume (Act II) for a 1955 production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford and Peter Brook’s landmark production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the 1960’s. I spent over and hour and could not begin to absorb everything so, I had to retreat.
Trying to work on my blog proved far less satisfying. I secured space at table and worked for about an 40 minutes before I realized I had been kicked off line at some point and to make a long story short, lost everything I had done. I decided to it was time to go home. I let everyone know I was leaving and headed out off of Euston Street – still too hot. I meandered through the back way and it proved to be cooler I was able to let it go. Back at the dorm I put my feet up before going to the theatre.
This evening, I had tickets to see Funny Girl. This is a show that has not really been revived since Streisand starred in the original Broadway and West End productions as well as the film. I’ve always wanted to see a stage production and this one at the Savoy has gotten great reviews. We had gotten the tickets several nights earlier and I was able to get us 75 pd tickets for 25 pds. I think the boy at the ticket window was flirting but, I was too dense to notice until I walked away. That’s why I got the good tickets so cheap. Oh well, I was grateful whatever the reason. The show was fantastic. Sheridan Smith really made the role her own (I thought of Melissa McCarthy). It worked. The production was original and fresh. Harvey Fierstein was brought in to try and fix the problems with Act II and Nick’s story line. I think he helped but, it is still weak. He had a song and sang “Who Are You Now?” as duet with Fanny. The design was well done. I was disappointed with the “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat” number. I felt they forgot this was the Ziegfeld Follies and it looked cheap and not well thought out. They put Sheridan in a fat suit and she seemed not at all comfortable.
I found some image on line from the exhibit so, I felt I could share them.