It is Saturday so there is no class this morning. We did meet up with some students and headed to King’s Cross/St. Pancras to renew tube passes for the final two weeks. Hard to believe we have been here for a week. A number of the students attended the midnight show of A Winter’s Tale at the Globe Theater the previous evening so, they slipped their passes under my door for us to renew.
Since tomorrow is our first day off, I’m learning of their plans and many of them are leaving the city: some to Bath and some to Stonehenge. This group has been very adventurous. We have seen a sharp rise in the number of extra productions they are seeing and they are taking full advantage of everything this city has to offer theatrically as well as culturally.
Above King’s Cross station is a very ornate Victorian hotel the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel (originally the Midland Grand Hotel). We are hoping to book our class tea there on the final day. Below is one of the major rail and underground stations in London. We went here to renew the tube passes which takes a bit. Fortunately, Christina and I enjoyed the conversation with the agent that helped us. He was quite entertaining.
After, we came back for breakfast at the Bloomsbury Coffee House (up the street from the dorm) and did some planning for the next week. I went back to the dorm for a little work and then we headed to Islington for the afternoon show. With Marlena (Christina’s daughter) in tow we enjoyed the area around the Almeida Theater where the matinee of Machinal was being presented. We went to the park to allow Marlena some play time. I enjoyed watching the Saturday morning families in London. It seemed an inordinate number of dads were out with their kids. It was heartwarming.
Leaving the park we headed toward the theater and stopped for some lunch. The theater was around the corner and we needed to pick up the tickets. After picking up the tickets I joined my new colleagues Yoon and Stephen in the bar. They got tickets to the production since they had not seen it yet. We visited for a bit and then Stephen and I walked around Islington until time to meet our students.
The production was Machinal. This is a play I have wanted to see for many years. It is by Sophie Treadwell and premiered in NYC in 1928. The play is the story of a young woman that is oppressed by the society and it’s expectation she should marry, have children and give up her life. Treadwell based it on a notorious murder committed by a woman about the same time. The style of the piece is expressionistic and some have compared it to Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine. This production was powerful. The acting was superb and the production design was excellent. Expressionism as a style in theater frequently manifests itself as seeing the play through the eyes of one of the characters, usually the protagonist. Machinal is the idea of the machine and the play begins with the sounds of the subway and the various pieces of office equipment which I thought seem to emanate from the head of the young woman. The noise in her head is, in my mind what gives this play its expressionistic style but that soon was left off and it just played. I was disappointed in this and found it deviated from the playwright’s intent. However, the production worked very well despite that so, perhaps it is not necessary.
After the production, Yoon, Stephen and I went to Spitafield’s Market. We wandered through the various vendors and Yoon showed me around. It is not unlike Covent Garden, just a little more high-end product. We stopped at a bar and had a drink and then dinner. After dinner, we took a lengthy walk down to the South Bank via St. Paul’s Cathedral. They took me to a very nice bar near the National Theater where we could sit and look out over the Thames River. We enjoyed a lovely evening overall and I caught the Northern Line from Waterloo Station and returned home.
I’m behind and the days are not as full so, I am combining a couple of days in this post.
Victoria and Albert Museum
This morning we took the class to the Victoria and Albert Museum for class. This tends to be trek especially when you have the entire class in tow but, it’s certainly worth the trip. We picked up some snacks and coffee in the museum and set up in the courtyard. It was a beautiful morning and we had a great discussion.
After, everyone was dismissed to explore the museum. I went up to the theater exhibition but, didn’t remain long. I’ve seen this in the last two trips so, I visited a couple of galleries before getting lunch in the museum café.
I had intended to see the exhibition on Frieda Kahlo but it was sold out. Will have to try and return another day. I explored a number of other galleries trying to find things I had not seen before or new pieces. Of course, I went the fashion timeline. It hasn’t changed radically since my last visit.
We did not have show this evening so, I headed back to the dorm in late afternoon for tea at the Waterstone’s book store on the corner and spent the evening catching up this.
Sifiso Matzubuko and Pity
In this morning’s class we had our first guest speaker, Sifiso Matzubuko. Sifiso is from South Africa. He attended Ohio State. We meet with the group from that university and share some of the guest speakers. Two years ago, he spoke to the groups and at that time he was appearing as Marvin Gaye in Motown, the Musical. At present he is the stand-by for the roles of Hamilton, Burr and Jefferson/Lafayette in Hamilton. We had a lively conversation with him and our students presented him with some excellent questions.
After class, the leaders of the OSU group and Christina and I went for lunch with Sifiso at The Green Room restaurant behind the National Theater. It was leisurely so, we didn’t finish until almost 2 pm.
I had work to do so, I returned to the dorm and spent most of the afternoon getting caught up. After tea at Waterstone’s again, we headed down to the Royal Court for our next production. Pity is a new play by Rory Mullarkey. We did not have any information going into this production, since it is a new play. We saw the second preview performance. Press night is 18 July. The production was fascinating. It obviously needs some work and I think it might be interesting to see it after press night. Sure they will continue to tinker with it during these previews. I, personally liked the production. It is a little hard to take at times. The playwright is obviously making a statement about the current world conditions regarding politics, violence and where he sees things going. Must say, it’s pretty bleak picture. The absurdist style helps to convey much of his thinking and while it begins humorously it becomes very dark and the ending leaves you with a little hope. Unfortunately, for me, not enough. The transitional period in the play when it became more serious goes on too long I think but, I’m not clear as to how much you would cut. This part of the production is very tricky: cut too much and it wouldn’t have the time to transition to the seriousness of the situation. Overall, I appreciated the importance of the subject and the deftness the director and playwright uses with the protagonist and his dilemma. I felt great empathy for the character (should say characters because his wife in all this goes through it as well but, she is a secondary element) and the situation in which he finds himself. Through it all he perseveres and I empathized with him throughout the journey.
There were some elements that seemed obvious but, not certain that was a problem in this absurd style. I will be curious to read reviews when they are published.
The Tate Britain
An Ideal Husband by Noel Coward
Today’s class met at the dormitory. After that I struck out on my own for the Tate Britain. It is part of the Tate system of Museums. You can read more about it at their website
The Tate Britain is one of four museums with the Tate name. I frequently reference the Tate Modern as is located next to the Globe Theater on the South Bank of the Thames. The Tate Britain houses work primarily British artists 1500 through the present day. It has an extensive collection of works by JMW Turner (world’s largest collection) and Henry Moore, on e the greatest sculptors from Britain.
My trip down to Millbank on the north side of the Thames starts at the Warren Street station and the Victoria Line to Pimlico. It was a walk around the corner to the museum which sits facing the Thames River. I spent a wonderful afternoon and found many surprises in the collection. It was not very busy compared to the National Gallery or the British Museum. I was able to take my time and just enjoy everything the museum had to offer. In the early afternoon I stopped to enjoy lunch in the restaurant (Rex Whistler Restaurant). The food was superb and the atmosphere provided a great opportunity for reflection and meditation. I spent the rest of the afternoon quietly walking the galleries and enjoying all this great museum had to offer. Vivienne Westwood did a small promotional video for the museum and I think it really sums up a lot about the importance of museums in general.
I returned to the dormitory and rested for a bit, changed and then met Christina to head down to the theatre for this evening’s production: Oscar Wilde’s, An Ideal Husband. It was quick walk (c. 15 min) down to the theatre district. The production was ok. It felt like a production from another time. The actor’s seemed to be doing two different plays. One group was playing a comedy of manners and the other (mostly younger actors) were performing a melodrama or farce. There was some strange casting choices. For instance, Mrs. Cheveley was way too old and she played the role as though she was the villain of a melodrama. Lord Goring looked way too young and then next to her he seemed even younger since they were supposedly engaged at some point in the past. Most of this problem seemed to stem from the directing. The design was fine but I felt the execution of the costumes were in many cases a bit shabby for a West End production. The theater was charming and the audience seemed to enjoy the production. While I wasn’t a big fan of this production, it did hold my interest. The one thing I did enjoy was watching Edward Fox (played the Earl of Caversham). I believe the first time I ever saw him was in a TV mini-series Edward and Mrs. Simpson. He played Edward. Since then, he would pop up on occasion: Ghandi, The Dresser. It was fun watching him. Can’t say the same for his son that played Lord Goring.
As You Like It at The Globe Theater
I am beginning to realize, these are becoming repetitive. Since the class doesn’t change radically, we continually retrace our steps. The trip down to the Globe Theater was via St. Paul’s and across the bridge over the Thames. We met class in the coffee shop and wandered over to the Tate Modern for a brief look-see. I found an item of interest in the gift shop and we headed over to queue for the 2 pm show of As You Like It. As in previous trips we try to get there early to get a good spot in the yard. Many of the students go to the front and I head to the back.
This year I found myself sitting next to a gentleman who struck up a conversation and we talked almost non-stop until the production and he decided to hang with me in the yard. He is an American that moved to London 30 years ago for a job and never left. He is now retired from the tech industry and enjoys a variety of activities including the theater. He has three children, on of whom is a theater director.
The production of As You Like It was quite extraordinary. As usual, it is performed with no cuts. This production went beyond color-blind casting. One could say it was blind cast without regard to color, gender or anything else. The new artistic director of the theater played a number of small roles throughout. The role of Rosalind was played quite deftly and beautifully by a man. The character, if you don’t know the play is a woman who disguises herself as a man when she is banished from the court to the Forest of Arden with her cousin Celia. Taking with them the court clown Touchstone, they venture into the unknown forest. To make a long story short, there is confusion and love and dalliances. In the end all is resolved and the various lovers are united in marriage by Hymen.
The production was delightful. We were standing in the yard of course and we saw the whole play uncut. Seeing the whole play, you realize it is a play about the messiness of love. Orlando and Rosalind’s initial infatuation becomes passionate and unyielding. While they met as man and woman, they are now man and man (provided you accept the actress playing Orlando as a man) and Rosalind (as Ganymede) is trying to show Orlando how to court his love: Rosalind. It’s just a little confusing (but not really). Beyond that example, you have Celia and Orsino (Orlando’s brother) and they “fall in love” mere moments before the end of the play. The shepardess, Phoebe loves Ganymede (Rosalind) and she is loved by Silvius. Oh, and I forgot to mention Touchstone the clown who falls in love with Audrey, the other shepardess. She’s obviously a man in drag. Messy. It all becomes so, well in this production, hysterical, and yet Shakespeare manages to unite all in the closing moments. Messy, now not messy. This production is the ultimate test of “willing suspension of disbelief”. For me, that is not a problem. I have always had the good fortune of believing whatever you put in front of me. This is one reason, I could never be a critic.
Getting used to London time. Slept well and woke up at the right time today. I was able to work out and get down to breakfast by the time the cafeteria opened and it was busy. The line was to the door so, I thought I would give it some time see if, perchance my suitcase had arrived. It hadn’t. So, I went back down at 8:20 and the line was down the hall so, I figured I better stay. I did eventually get a breakfast and it was very good.
I went up to meet Christina and bring her down for class. We met in a large room lounge in the basement. First class was simple. Christina talked about the overall landscape of the London theater scene and we talked a bit. Today also included taking everyone down to the Museum of London.
We walked to the Eustin Square Station and caught the Hammersmith and City line to the Barbican and then it was a short walk down to the museum. The Museum is a great place to learn about the city of London’s history. It begins at the beginning with Roman occupation and runs up to the modern day. It is a lot of information to try and synthesize. I stayed for about an hour or so mostly looking for clothing and accessory elements. They are a number of the them in the museum but, I also enjoy the history. It’s just too much to absorb in one visit or even 10 visits.
We went back toward the dorm. I’m still wanting my suitcase. I actually did speak with a live person who told me it would be delivered today. We stopped for lunch at Franco Manco on Tottenheim Court Rd. It is light pizza and it hit the spot. Christina and I said goodbye to her family and went to get her London phone energized. Once that was down I tempted to go to the dorm and check but, I needed a shirt for the theater this evening so, I headed to the Warren Street tube stop and went down to Oxford Circus to store I thought would have some things: John Lewis. They did so, I picked a few more things to tide me over till hopefully my luggage comes and headed back to the dorm. I’m also meeting some new colleagues for dinner. The Department of Theatre and Dance successfully hired a new scenic designer and director for our upcoming year and they live in London currently, moving to Lexington in August. I arranged to join them for dinner.
Anyway, back to the dorm, no suitcase. I went up to my room and decided I had time to lay down for a few minutes which I did. Getting up an hour later I got ready for the evening and prepared to head toward the theater. I was meeting Yoon and Stephen just across the street for dinner. I headed down and out and the gentleman at the desk caught me to say my suitcase was there. Hurray. I quickly ran it up to my room and headed out again.
It was a relatively quick two stop trip from the Goodge Street station to Leicester Square and I found Yoon and Stephen already at the restaurant. We enjoyed a great dinner and delightful conversation. They gave some great advice for my time in the city. I look forward to seeing them again this weekend.
Across the street, everyone was there and Christina and I headed up for the performance. The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a black comedy by Martin McDonagh. It originally premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2001. The story is strangely absurd, terribly violent and extremely funny. It stars Aidan Turner (all you Poldark fans on Masterpiece) and he is quite good as is the entire ensemble. The carnage at the end made me glad I was in the upper most balcony. The design is wonderful except for one element I questioned and did quite understand but, that’s a minor point. Tomorrow’s a long day. Our first performance at the Globe.