This morning’s class was our second guest speaker, Sam West. He is a well-known actor in the UK and can be found in any number of films and televisions shows that come across to the US. Most recently I saw him in The Darkest Hour. We may be seeing him the next season of The Crown. He talked about auditioning for that show during his talk this morning. He is always a great guest speaker. He is very engaged in current politics particularly as they regard the arts and funding for the arts in Britain.
In the afternoon, I go to see Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theater. I managed to get tickets several months ago while trolling Ticketmaster regularly. It was an amazing production totally living up to the hype as the British reviewers said some months ago when it opened in London. There were a number of standbys in the cast this afternoon including our previous guest speaker Sisfiso who played Burr. It didn’t matter. While I recognized Sifiso the others did not register till I perused the program the next day. I was totally mesmerized by the show, the performances and the design. It was a bit surreal watching this show dealing primarily with the American Revolution in London but, the audience loved every moment of this production. Having seen The King and I just a few days earlier made me appreciate even more how far we have come with the musical theater genre. So grateful I was finally able to see this remarkable show and hope to see it again soon.
After the show, I headed down to the National for another production. One that couldn’t be more different but, nevertheless just as intense. Julie with Vanessa Kirby (from the Crown) is an adaptation of Miss Julie by Strindberg. This production was fearless. It left me a bit uneasy at times but did not fail to deliver on the drama. All the performances are strong. I was particularly impressed with Thalissa Teixeira the young woman that played Kristina. She is the smallest of the three characters but, she gave a stellar performance. The production was also populated with party-goers as Julie is entertaining a group of raucous friends and some non-friends in a drug and alcohol fueled birthday party for herself. They come to symbolize the disease infesting the house.
After an powerful day of theater, it felt good to walk home and enjoy the cool evening of London.
I must confess, I am tired. This trip seems to be getting harder and harder. My age isn’t what it used to be. I am looking forward to the long weekend. Expect I will take it easy so I can make it to the end.
After class this morning, I went with a few students to the Fashion and Textile Museum. It is on Bermondsey Street. We went to Euston Station and thought we were going one way but wound up in another direction. In the end, we got there. It was a really great little area. It seems it is being restored. Just an impression. The museum was a quick walk from the tube station at London Bridge. We had to walk through a tunnel that was quite wonderful, all brick.
The museum itself is small and they have no permanent collection and the exhibition on at present represents the work of designer Orla Kiely. She is Irish and heavily influenced by 1960’s and 70’s design. It shows in her work. Much of her work begins as pattern and she began primarily with textiles and accessories. She eventually expanded into clothing and household goods. Personally, I was not a big fan of the work. Reminded me too much of the avocado and harvest gold kitchens of the 70’s. Her pattern design is very reminiscent of Marimekko, a Finnish based design company. However, their work was more in the pop art style in terms of color.
I browsed through the gift shop, said goodbye to the students and headed back. There was a gallery on the way down I wanted to check out. It had nice pieces included some Chagalls of all things. Quite an number of the pieces were affordable but nothing said, “take me home to Terry”.
Back at the dorm, I decided to lay down for a bit and that helped.
I went early to the National to meet Christine and have some dinner. The play tonight is Exit the King. It is the first time the National is presenting a work by this playwright. The piece is from the absurdist tradition and premiered in 1962. The production was stunning visually and the acting, of course, first rate. I have never seen a production of this play so, I was lucky to have this be the first. This was the second preview. Press night is the 25th.
After the show, we walked across the bridge to Embankment to take the underground back to the dorm. It was a beautiful night and the theatre and the building over the station was light up. Made for a nice end to the day.
There is no play assigned to the class this evening so, I booked a small production directed by my new colleague, Stephen Wrentmore. It could be described as a fringe production and it is bit of a trip, first on the tube and then the train. Earlsfield. More about that later. After class this morning, I was on my own so I decided to head down to the National Gallery. I haven’t been there this year and since it is Tuesday, chances are good it won’t be too busy.
I took the tube down to Charing Cross station and then across the street the museum which fronts onto Trafalgar Square.
It was indeed relatively quiet at 11:30. The first thing I focused on was a painting of a scene from Venice in the 18th century. There were several such work in the first gallery I into which I walked. I was quickly struck by how they record a specific moment in time much like the photographs I take as I walk through the city. So, that became my focus as I perused the museum. I found many works that captured those moments in time through the history of art. It also made me realize, I too often don’t look these days. I take picture and don’t really look at the paintings or works in the museum. Today, this helped me slow down and really look at the painting before snapping the picture. I enjoyed myself much more and it again became like meditation. I lingered in the museum until about 2 pm and decided I need to rest before the evening’s show in Earlsfield.
I returned to the dorm, worked on my blog and laid down for a few.
Three of the students had chosen to go see the play with me so, we met up early about 5 pm to head down with the idea of getting dinner down there. I had already checked on availability of restaurants near the theater and there seemed to be options. I also hoped to see Stephen before the show.
We walked to Warren Street station, took the Victoria Line to Vauxhall and transferred to a Southwest Train. It was a short two stop ride to Earlsfield. Stepping onto the street we found a sweet little area and the theatre was a block or two from the train station. Our tickets were not ready to be picked up and I spied Stephen sitting in the courtyard. I introduced him to the students, we chatted a bit and then we went out to find dinner since the show was still an hour or more away. There was nice little Thai restaurant a couple of doors down so, opted for that.
The production we saw this evening was Dominoes, a one-woman show written and performed by the actress. She talks about the project on this short video.
It was a fascinating play and she was quite engaging as a performer. The basic premise is she is engaged, of mixed race and has the same surname (last name) as her fiancé. In researching her family, she discovers her ancestors were owned by the ancestors of her fiancé. I enjoyed her performance and felt the writing was strong. She interacts with her grandfather, her fiancé and her best friend. The results of those conversations provide the conflict for the piece. I did feel the conversation with the fiancé was the weakest. Her performance as the grandfather and her friend seemed the most secure. As she spoke with her fiancé, I kept feeling I should see this person on stage. I’m not certain if it was writing or her performance but, it seemed the performance. The other two characters seemed very different than her but, the fiancé didn’t have quite the distinctiveness of the grandfather.
This morning after class, Christina and I had to some errands. First we popped over to St. Pancras Hotel to arrange the tea for our last day. I got to inside that amazing building for the first time. They were very nice of course and we made the arrangements. Then it was off to the London Palladium to pick up tickets for the evening’s production of The King and I.
We decided to walk back from Oxford Circus. Christina went her way and I headed to the British Museum. My walk made me realize just how close this museum is to where I am staying. I crossed Tottenham Court Road and came down Store Street. There was nice block of cafes and shops. I stopped to explore the bookshop I found there and then moved onto the museum. I entered from the side which fronts onto Malet Street where I am staying in the College Dorm. The line was not super long and I was in in about 10 minutes.
This side entrance takes you into a gallery which deals with death and dying. I remember this gallery from last trip but did not spend much time here. I lingered long enough to observe that is was considering dying from the perspective of many cultures. I moved onto The King’s Library which is a rather extraordinary room. It is enormous (what gallery in this museum is not) but, this one seems larger than most. The room was created to house the library of George III. You can read more about the room here
The space today is known as the Enlightenment Gallery. It is designed to help people of today understand how people of the 18th century (The Age of Enlightenment) understood their world and how they studied the world. It uses many thousands of objects from the museums collection. It is virtually impossible to take in this gallery in one visit. I dare say you couldn’t do it in a weeklong visit. This is, for me, one of the problems with this museum. There is an unbelievable amount of information housed in this building.
Moving on, I went through a number of galleries. Most of the collection of the museum involves ancient cultures and civilizations: Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, early Britain and the list goes on and on. Most of what is in the museum is the results of Great Britain’s early control of the world. This has created some controversy regarding some of the objects in this museum. Beyond that, it is the shear number and amount. For instance, I love Greek pottery and as I viewed any number of these pieces and attempted to photograph ones that I wanted to remember for whatever reason I recognized there was too much. Beyond the difficulty of photographing through the glass, I realized there was too much. I decided beyond what was in the rooms devoted to these pieces, they are probably huge numbers that are not on display and around the world huge quantities of these artifacts. Suddenly they didn’t seem so rare.
Anyway, I stayed for about 2 hours and decided it was time to go. The museum was filling with people and I was brain dead. You can enjoy the pictures below.
After a break at the dorm, I went down to the National Theater via Waterloo station in time for the tour of the theater. We always take the students on this tour. Today will be tight. The tour is at 4:30 and we have a 7 pm show this evening. I literally grabbed a sandwich on the way. The tour was, as always interesting and informative. This time we found, late we could take photos. I never ceased to be amazed by the inner workings of this theater. It has renewed my interest in seeing our first show there on Wednesday.
Leaving the National as a group we headed up to the London Palladium to see The King and I. The production is essentially the same one I saw in Cincinnati two months ago. It was a bit lusher and I realized some things may have been cut from the tour I saw. This production reunites the stars of the Broadway production, Kellie O’Hara (Tony winner for this role) and Ken Watanabe. They were superb. It was a great privilege to hear Kelli O’Hara. The production overall was exceptional and beautiful. The musical still remains controversial for its depiction of the Siamese people and the relationship to the woman brought to teach the children and wives of the Siamese court. The theater itself was stunning. This is the first time I have been in this theater.
This morning I met Christina and her family for breakfast and we went to the Bloomsbury Coffee House up the street from the dorm. It is a very nice little place underneath a hotel. It is a narrow stairwell in front that goes down to a charming space with a couple of small tables outside and two small rooms inside. The offering is a typical array of items including an assortment of pastries, coffees, fresh fruit and avocados and eggs.
Since this is the day off, I plan to catch up on my blog which I did but, not enough and then venture out to SOHO to wander and find dinner on my own. I also planned to check some bookstores up above where I am staying in hopes of finding at least one of the plays on Rhoda’s list. I worked in my room until early afternoon and then headed up the five blocks to the first of the bookstores.
The first store was Judd’s Books. It did have a nice collection of books on fashion and some theater books and plays and a book on Thomas Rowlandson that was of interest but, nothing that made me want to add weight to my luggage. Also, nothing on Rhoda’s list. Heading down the street to Shoob Books, I wasn’t optimistic because this store advertised as used academic books. However, it turned out to be a treasure trove of books on theater and a hefty collection of plays. It took some time to browse the shelves and determine there was nothing there. I headed back the way I cam to check out one last store, GAY’S the Word, a small gay bookstore in a seemingly unlikely location. I guess I might have expected this to be in SOHO. It proved to be a small and very friendly place with a few locals. I browsed the shelves for 30-45 minutes and found and interesting title, House of Nutter: The Rebel Tailor of Savile Row. I couldn’t resist. It details the life of gay brothers Tommy and David Nutter. Tommy was a designer that dressed a number of celebrities in the 1970’s and 80’s including the Beatles and Elton John.
I returned to the dorm and changed out my pockets and made my way to SOHO. Coming out of the tube on Oxford Circus, I was immediately drawn to music on this Sunday afternoon, pop sixties. On Regent Street the city is having a Summer Shades Festival. The street is closed off and a stage set up with a music group. I stood and watched for a bit and then headed off to look for Carnaby Street. I, of course, went the wrong way and had to find my way back across Regent Street. The crowds were thick. It is a very touristy area of London. Eventually I found my way to Carnaby Street inadvertently crossing Savile Row.
It was a little disappointing. It is a very commercial street with nothing of its sartorial history. Most of the shops are contemporary chains. Moving on I went in search some place to have a drink and found gay London, seemingly tucked in behind the theatres in and around Picadilly Circus. I wandered and soaked up the atmosphere before settling on a bar called Rupert Street Bar on Rupert Street appropriately. It had big open windows, just the right location to watch people walking by. My view faced onto the stage door of the Gielgud Theatre.
I headed back up to the dorm looking for dinner. It was a relaxing and quiet day which I appreciated before we begin the second week of our stay in London.