Today is my last day. Tomorrow morning it is back the way I came. This has been an unbelievably enriching experience. Enriching in ways I didn’t expect.
Today, I went to the Museum of London. I took some pictures but they are on my other camera so sorry, no pictures save one.
This afternoon, the class met for the last time and had tea at a beautiful restaurant. This evening, I am attending my last theatre performance, Matilda which is a musical based on the Roald Dahl children’s novel.
I have to be up early to catch the train to Heathrow. Thanks for reading and following along. Thanks for the wonderfully positive comments on this effort. I feel very blessed and am grateful.
Yesterday we went by train to see Hampton Court Palace. For me, this was another trip to Mecca. The Tudor period is one of my favorite, although not one of the easiest times, especially if you had displeased the king. I took a lot of pictures since we could photograph within most of the palace. Rather than talking, I will just let you look.
We returned to the city, took a brief rest and headed out for the evening production at The National Theatre, A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn. One the way, we had to stop by the backstage of The Book of Mormon to see Gavin Creel. Christina, being an old friend, needed an autograph for someone. He was gracious enough to oblige and I snapped a quick photo for her.
The play was a farce. I have heard Ayckbourn referred to as the British Neil Simon. He certainly is an institution like Simon. The production was very good but, I must confess, I had difficulty watching. Perhaps a combination of tired and the realism of the play. This is the first uber realistic production we have seen. It took me awhile to adjust. The set was incredible – six rooms on one set, two floors with working bathroom and kitchen. If nothing else, it was worth seeing for that.
After my day of recovering, I was up and at it again. It was yet another exhausting day. However, I feel I have gotten my final wind for the last two days.
Yesterday, it was back to the Globe Theatre for another grueling stand with the groundlings performance, this time Julius Caesar.
We headed out a little early in order to go by Waterloo station and re-purchase train tickets to Hampton Court. (As I write this, we have just returned from there but, that is tomorrow’s entry.). After securing the tickets we walked up to the theatre. On the way, we came down this beautiful little street. Roupell Street. It was the row houses I have come to recognize but these had a simplicity that was charming. The doors were the only thing that set the apart individually. My favorite was a red, then orange, then purple and on. Christina loved the pale blue so that was the one I photographed.
Once we got to the river, we went into the Tate Modern Art Museum to look at some of the galleries before class met. We decided to meet on the lawn in front of the museum. I got through a couple of galleries and include a couple of my favorite paintings. The museum is another good example of how the British re purpose buildings. The building was the old oil fired power station for the city. The museum spaces are quite wonderful. Large and spacious. You never feel crowded no matter how many people are in the galleries.
After class we moved up to the Globe Theatre in order to get in line early to secure good spots in the courtyard. I, of course was not interested in being too close again. Once the line queued into the courtyard it was a short wait but, while we waited a couple of the actors came out and we were treated to a puppet show (comic-they were quite brilliant) about Caesar.
The doors opened and I secured a good spot at the back. Everyone else went to the front this time. I soon realized this might not be a good thing. I was standing in the sun and judging from its position it seemed unlikely to be obscured during the performance. I was joined by two charming ladies and we struck up a conversation. They wanted to know where I was from and how long I had been in London etc. They were friends who liked coming to theatre and they were so excited to be at the performance.
The performance, again, was excellent but, not as strong as Titus. The act break for this performance came after Caesar’s funeral and Act II becomes basically battle after battle as they try to round up the conspirators. There were some strong performances but, they were much more uneven. Mark Antony and Casca were particular standouts. The design was standard practice which means they employ Renaissance costumes (with Roman suggestion) and staging. This allowed the audience to see what it might have looked like in Shakespeare’s time. It allowed you to see the weakness in the play. He wrote this for the opening of the original Globe Theatre and the commentary in the program explains he wrote to ensure success. As a result he took no risks concentrating on long speeches with no humor to offset the tragedy.
At intermission, I was feeling the heat and my two new friends sought cooler area with no sun wjile I stuck it out. For my trouble, I got a little too much sun but, I survived until the end.
Vikki had invited us up to Walthamstow to have dinner. This was a long ride on the tube. We had just enough time to stop for frozen yogurt and change (I needed to after standing in the heat for 3 hours). We needed to by an extension for our tube passes since we would be going into zone 3. The ride up was packed tight – rush hour.
I managed to get us lost or not lost but a great deal of confusion and we arrived 20 min late. Vikki and Adam were the most gracious hosts and we enjoyed dinner very much. After some excellent wine and good conversation we made out way home in order to get ready for the next day (which is currently almost over but, you will have to wait for that til tomorrow.
Well, I guess it was bound to happen. I succumbed to fatigue and today became a day to rest.
This morning, we were supposed to journey out to Hampton Court. We had our train tickets and went down to Waterloo Station. We arrived a bit early and while waiting for our train it was announced that several trains were being delayed due to an accident at the Wimbledon station. We subsequently learned someone had been struck by a train. Eventually our train was canceled since it goes through that station. This morning when I woke I was not feeling well but, I couldn’t say what was wrong. Very tired and not able to concentrate. In fact coming down from breakfast, Christina said, ” Are you okay?”
Since we couldn’t make it to Hampton Court Christina decided we could flip today and Wednesday. So, after getting a refund on the tickets, we headed off to have class at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The class discussed the last play we saw and then we took them on a tour of the theatre exhibition and the historic fashion exhibitions. I got a few more pictures. See below.
After that, I wanted to return briefly to Harrod’s to pick up a gift and the we returned to our rooms by 1 pm. I have spent the rest of the day in bed and feel better so, hopefully, I will be able to stand for almost three hours tomorrow to watch Julius Caesar at the Globe Theatre.
This morning we got an early start so we could make the 9 am train to Brighton which is a seaside resort almost due south of London. The train delivered us in just over an hour. We wanted to make an early start in order to get a jump on the tourist.
Christina wanted to show me the Royal Pavilion. I hadn’t a clue what that was but assumed it was some temporary structure created for a significant event in the history of the town or country much like the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The pavilion it turned out was a royal palace built by George IV during the very early years of the 19th century while he was Prince of Wales, then Regent and finally King. The palace was his main residence and eventually went to his brother William IV and finally to Queen Victoria who felt it was not suitable for her growing family. She sold the property to the city of Brighton and removed all the furnishings to other estates. The city has over time restored it and made it available for tours.
The palace is somewhat hard to describe and I can only say it is magnificent in its gaudiness and gaudy is putting it mildly. The architecture is Indian in nature and the interior is some kind of distorted Asian/Chinese aesthetic that is luxurious but a bit unsettling at times.
I couldn’t photograph the interior but took a number of pictures of the building. Judge for yourself but trust me no photograph will ever capture the splendor of this palace. Inside, for example the grand dining room which is grand (to be expected) has a shallow central dome with a 30 foot chandelier (weighing in at a ton). The center of the chandelier is fairly traditional cut glass but there are six dragon heads coming out of the glass exhaling giant lotus lamps. The chandelier is suspended from a silver winged dragon with a 12 foot tongue. The rest of the room is just as extravagant. The music room has many serpents coiling down painted columns and sculpted ones coiling down actual columns. I did take a few photos of interior items from the guide book to give you an idea.
After our visit, we headed down to the beach, toured the pier and enjoyed an hour laying on the beach. We went up to restaurant with the “best fish and chips” in the city for lunch. I got in the obligatory fish and chips meal. Done and done.
The trip back was uneventful and I have managed to relax a little this evening. Still trying to get some laundry done. Now that the facility is fixed, the lines are long. Tomorrow we go to Hampton Court.
I am submitting another post today since in the morning we must get an early start to catch the train for Brighton (on the coast). Somehow, I thought I was going to take it easy but, I was wrong. I did get a good sleep last evening – at least 8 hours. My plan was rise, have breakfast and do some much needed laundry. However, the laundry facilities were down. Since I was out of underwear and t shirts, I had to make up trip up to Oxford Street and buy fresh. I found a department store and and bought the necessary items.
Feeling better about my clothing situation Christina suggested we leave early – today is the day we have tickets for The Crucible at the Old Vic Theatre. Basically, for me, this is unquestionably going to be one of the high points of this trip – seeing a play at one of the most storied theatres in theatre history. But, I digress.
Christina thought we could go down (by tube) to Victoria Station, buy the tickets for Brighton and the walk down to the Old Vic by way of Westminster. Accepting that it was Saturday and likely to be jammed with tourists, we figured it would be easy enough to walk by (not go in) and take a few pictures. The best laid plans……..
We came out of Victoria Station and headed up Victoria Street. This street is very modern and really felt more like, NYC. Lots of building going on and not much old or attractive. We did pass one interesting church which I, think was the Westminster Roman Catholic Cathedral.
We got to Westminster Abbey and the crowds began to swell. By the time we fought (and I do mean fought) our way across the street to Westminster Hall (Parliament) the crowds were surging and movement became almost impossible with people blocking the sidewalk taking pictures (I had given up at this point). We literally fought our way to Bridge Street. The sidewalks were thick with people and across the street (on the side we needed to be on) there was a protest. I don’t mean a few people with signs, there were a lot of them. We had no choice so, into the swarm we went and it was the Palestinians protesting so it wasn’t real comfortable. We made it down to the bridge to cross the Thames and the tensions quickly eased.
Once we got across we moved onto the Old Vic. We were early so, we went to the bar for a sandwich and a glass of wine. We were both looking forward to seeing this production. The reviews have been excellent and we have avoided reading them. However, we do know the production runs 3 1/2 hours with one interval. We had great seats in the upper balcony and the theatre was almost full. The theatre for this season has been reconfigured into arena seating (in the round). It is interesting to note that an American (Kevin Spacey) has been the artistic director for the last ten years.
This production was beautiful, terrifying and totally mesmerizing. From the opening moments the director establishes the tone with a death march-like ritual of establishing the setting. The tensions build through out the evening until the devastating conclusion. You are drawn into the conflict and, for me, anger and tears for those wronged by the hunt. Miller wrote the play in the fifties as a reaction to the witch hunt going on in Washington with House UnAmerican Activities Committee. This production, while somewhat (can’t really be helped, it is written that way) melodramatic captures the tensions, the emotions and most importantly the fear of the community. The acting of the ensemble (24 actors) was brilliant and the design of the production was just fabulous. The spare set was created for each scene by the actors and the ritualistic nature contributed to the dark mood of the play. I could go on and on.
We left the theatre exhausted because it was emotionally draining and headed up to Hampstead. Christina wanted to take me to this crepe stand that we couldn’t go to the first time because it was closed. It was worth the wait. The line was longish but the show with the two french guys running it was worth the wait. They were charming and good-looking even though Christina said they could be a little curt with customers. Their running dialogue in French as they worked together was fun and the food was very good. We found a bench on the street, enjoyed dinner which Christina pointed out was probably not very good for us. Rich with a lot of butter and cheese. After eating we went back the the Holly Bush Pub. I enjoyed a gin and tonic and relaxed in this most British of institutions.
It has been an excellent day with many surprises and it won’t be long til I’m home. This time next week I’ll be back in my own bed.
The trip to Bath yesterday was like walking through another museum. The village/town is a walk into history. Quite frankly, I find it almost impossible to describe in words the experience. Looking back over my journal of the last two weeks, I use superlative after superlative to describe this experience. I have to ask myself at what point does that become redundant?
Bath is essentially a city of the Georgian period and you will see from the architecture that is obvious. However the ancient Romans in the 1st century CE discovered the mineral rich water warmed naturally was a source of healing which the Georgians continued in “taking the waters”. They still exist but are no longer used. The Royal Crescent was designed by John Wood and built in the second half of the 18th century. There are 30 individual houses within the structure with No. 1 a restored museum (sorry, no pictures) of a Georgian town home. It was a delightful tour. Bath Abbey was built during Saxon times around 1499. It is in the lower section of town. The main reason for my trip was to visit the Fashion Museum of Bath. The museum is an internationally recognized destination for the research and exhibition of fashion dating from the 17th century thru the present day. We also passed through The Circus on our way to the Royal Crescent which is a roundabout with Georgian town homes in a smaller version of the Crescent.
We enjoyed lunch at an excellent Italian restaurant – Carluccios.
Yesterday, I was able to return to the Victoria & Albert Museum. This post may need to be short as I have to catch the train for Bath in about 45 minutes.
Christina accompanied me to the museum for part of the day and we had lunch at the museum.
The food at the museum is excellent. I ate a lot on this day. I spent the afternoon touring and taking in as much of the museum as I could. Items I was most interested in were the clothes.
I was pleased to find one of the dresses Janet Arnold documented in one of her books.
I worked my way through several more galleries and by 4, I was exhausted. It is just so much stuff. It is impossible to take in any small amount of items. But, at least I can say I tried.
I left around 4 and went back to my room to lay down for an hour before we went up to Islington to see Mr. Burns at the Almeida Theatre. This is a difficult play. It has been polarizing since since it’s premier in New York and was apparently more so in London. The play is very complex and brings a lot to the table. I enjoyed it immensely but, am still trying to process what I witnessed. I’ll leave it at that for now. I have to catch the train.
Yesterday, was a relatively quiet day since I blew my mind on the National and was feeling a strong case of museum fatigue. Christina and I had a nnumber of errands that required going from one end of the city to the other. It seemed a good day to take care of those.
In the morning the class heard from Samuel West, an old friend of Christina’s from her days as a student at LAMBDA. She had also appeared in a producion of Arcadia with him at the time. Mr. West is from an acting dynasty and today regularly appears in theatres around London as well as film and TV. He most recently played Bertie in Hyde Park on the Hudson and, I believe, regularly appears on the BBC/PBS series Mr. Selfridge. He is also very involved in politics and arts funding in the UK. His talk was very interesting to me particularly his discussion on the later topic.
We got on the road quickly after that and headed first to the Wallace Collection to have lunch and reserve space on the last day in London for tea. The walk over brought out a number of lovely surprises including Nelson House and Wimpole Street.
We also passed by this small church/cathedral.
The Wallace Collection proved to be a lovely structure housing a small collection of 18th century art. I resisted the temptation. After a very good lunch in the covered courtyard, we headed for Paddington Station via the tube to get tickets for ojr trip to Bath on Friday. The line at the train station wasn’t long but we had to wait forever.
Leaving Paddington journeyed south to Waterloo station to buy tickets for the class trip to Hampton Court on Monday. Acquiring those tickets we were now free to do a little sightseeing. We went up to Charing Cross Rd to browse through the used book stores (something I definitely do not need). I am afraid I couldn’t find the book (s) on your list Rhoda. After that we went over to Covent Garden and the Royal Opera thus completing our My Fair Lady tour of the day.
By that time we were ready to call it quits since we return to the National Theatre to see Medea with Helen McCrory. We went back to the hostel and I had a short lay down and we went back to south bank for the show. We took the tube to Charing Cross and walked across the bridge to south bank. On the way I got some better pictures of Westminster and Big Ben.
The production in the Olivier Theatre of the National was stunning. Every element of the production was carefully chosen to create an intensity warranted for the ancient Greek drama. McCrory’s performance began at such a high level. I wondered how she could continue but, she did not disappoint. Her controlled and passionate portrayal was riveting. The design was intelligent with consistent nods to the ancient Greek traditions of performance and production. By the way, it was a contemporary production.
Good morning. After two days of not attending the theatre I am back tonight. Sorry, I did not get the post up last evening but I was really tired.
I returned to the National Portrait Gallery late in the morning in order to more closely observe some of the paintings and snap a few more pictures. On the way I passed by St. Martin-in-the-Fields church.
I got to the gallery and took a moment to acclimate. Couldn’t resist another look at the portrait of Princess Catherine but, was primarily interested in the Tudor/Elizabethan portraits and went as far as the 18th century.
I am fascinated with being able to see painting techniques to achieve certain effects and you simple cannot see that in a photograph of a painting. In the 18th century section I found this guy and include him for my friend Danny.
I finished up at the NPG and did a little run through the gift shop (never can resist that). While I checking out, Christina called. She had completed her errands and she joined me for lunch. We lunched at the National Gallery next door and then went through the museum. Sorry, no photography allowed. It was an intense afternoon of museum browsing. After two full galleries that included the 17th century and the 18th – early 20th century she had had enough but, there was still two more hours and while I was exhausted I still wanted to see the late Medieval Renaissance galleries. That was a mistake probably because I began suffering from severe museum fatigue by the time I left but, I didn’t think I would be able to make it back. Here is an over view of the galleries I went through from the museum guide.
I couldn’t get to the Arnolfini portrait. I did see it but, couldn’t really get close due to the crowd and I was too tired. I didn’t see the Van Gogh paintings. Just missed them.
In the evening we attended a play called Let the Right One In. It is based on a Swedish film from 2008 and novel of the same name. It was hauntingly beautiful, appropriate as it is a vampire story. The setting was stunning and it tells the story in a rather abstract manner befitting the gothic nature of the story. A good deal of stylized movement and a lot blood. The acting was first rate. I was struck by the parallel with the Curious Incident – marginalized teen-age boy. Of course this has been a bloody summer of plays with this, Titus and tonight we are seeing Medea at the National Theatre.
Today I was back at my frantic pace. Class this morning was a guest lecture with Matt Wolf, an America theatre critic living in London. His insights were most enlightening and I enjoyed very much what he had to say.
After that I headed out to the Tower of London. My goal – today – see the Crown Jewels. I found my way down to Tower Hill with just a little difficulty. That tube line is a bit confusing. On the way I passes the University College of London (which seemed redundant).
Outside the tube station and before you cross over to the Tower (which is not really a tower) there was the remnants of an ancient Roman wall.
I crossed over and bought my ticket to enter the impressive fortress known as the Tower of London. I am posting the pictures. They need little description here. I’ve included most of that in the captions.
My main objective was to see the Crown Jewels so, I didn’t go into any of the other buildings. The line to see the exhibit was about an hour long and I had to get back up to central London for my next jaunt. The exhibit though did not disappoint. (Sorry, again no pictures.) Once you enter the Waterloo Barracks, there are several rooms with information and history presented in a number of ways. It builds nicely until you come into the first of several rooms with the artifacts that are or have been used in various ceremonies that most important of which is the coronation of the sovereign. You have to realize that no photograph can do these items justice. Displayed in a relatively low light they are dazzling and breathtakingly beautiful. It is difficult to say what I liked best. One item I did not expect to see was the small crown Victoria had made after Albert died that she wore in most of her official portraits and to official functions. It was tiny and very delicate. One item I found amusing was a solid (I assume) gold punchbowl that is three feet across used in the past for the coronation banquet. The ornamentation was incredibly ostentatious. The ladle was similarly sized.
I left the Tower to head back and meet Christina. She wanted to take me to one of her favorite areas of London – Hampstead. Apparently, Hampstead was at one time a village on the outskirts of London and incorporated into the city. During the early 19th century the romantic poet John Keats lived here during part of his short life. Today the neighborhood is home to the wealthy. It is a picturesque place with beautiful homes and nice shopping judging from the stores I saw. We had dinner in lovely little french restaurant and walked up to Hampstead Heath which is a sizable green space with a terrific view of the city.
I did find the Baptist church an odd thing. It has been a busy day but, it ended lovely with the walk through the heath.
Today (well, yesterday) we had the day off from everything so I took the train out to historic Egham which is near Windsor Castle and Runnymede. I met up with my friends Jane and Margaret who kindly helped arrange the timing of the journey. Jane had some household tasks and Margaret agreed to take me to Windsor .
We lunched at Bar 163 which sits on what I assume if the main street of Egham.
Lunch was relaxed with excellent company and very good food. I had the mushroom and blue cheese soup. Across the street was a small church. The view down the street gives a sense of the size of the town.
After lunch, Jane took us up to Windsor Castle on the way giving a quick driving tour. We passed the monument where the Magna Carta was signed (although apparently it really happened across the road).
Once in the town of Windsor, she dropped us off and we headed for the castle.
I was surprised at how close the village of Windsor runs right up to the walls of the residence. We think the Queen was in residence. Her flag was flying over one of the turrets. I think there is a picture.
After a bit of wandering outside we went through the state apartments which were beautiful. So much like Versailles only British in style and taste. Sorry, no pictures were allowed inside. I did see several portraits that I know well such as Elizabeth I as a teenage girl, Edward IV, and Henry VIII.
We left the castle and made our way into the town and relaxed for bit with a drink. There is a good deal of shopping. I managed to avoid. Jane picked us up about 5 and we headed back to their home. They treated me to a pitcher of Pimm’s. Margaret felt I needed to try this and it was delicious. Pimm’s is a liquor, gin based which is mixed with (Jane said) lemonade but, it is not American lemonade. She added diced strawberries and cucumbers with chopped mint. It made refreshing cool drink. We then had a wonderful dinner before they took me back to the train so I could make it back to London which I did by 10 pm. All in all it made for a relaxing day in the country and I thank my hosts for their generosity.
Today was yet another marathon but, completely worth every moment. The morning began with a trip down to Waterloo station where I was able to quickly (sort of) get my tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Egham where I will meet up with Margaret and Jane for lunch and a tour of Windsor Castle. Looking forward to seeing them. Leaving Waterloo we proceeded to the National Theatre for a tour. On the way we came the closest I’ve been to the London Eye.
It is (as you can see) a gigantic ferris wheel on the Southbank. Each capsule holds about 25 people. I do not plan to ride. We passed on headed to The National Theatre which is a short walk east of the wheel.
We arrived outside the National and the first thing you see is the shed which is a temporary structure housing a temporary black box theatre for experimental works primarily. Next to the shed is a statue of the founding artistic director – Laurence Olivier.
It is very beautiful and quite diminutive. We entered through the main entrance.
Christina tells me the design was quite controversial given the modern style. I thought it was a very imposing and majestic structure appropriate to a country’s national theatre.
We were given an hour tour (no pictures allowed, sorry). This included all three current operating theatres and some of the backstage. We were able to get a preview of the set for Medea that we see next week when it begins the preview performances.
After the tour the group broke up and Christina and I had lunch at cafe in the National. The food was excellent. After lunch we had some time till we were to meet some of the original group for a performance so Christina and I walked down to the Young Vic to pick up tickets for tonight’s performance as well as our tickets for The Crucible.
On the way, I stopped to get my picture in front of Big Ben and Westminster.
Not sure I will make it to those this trip so, I figured I better get a picture while I could.
We also passed the Old Vic.
I can’t really express what it means to finally see this theatre that I have read so much about and enjoys such an incredibly rich history and know I am actually, going to see a performance there. Can’t wait.
After wemg8tmthe tickets at the Young Vic. We headed back to the National. On the way we went up a smallish street called Cornwall Rd. It was a charming little street with a pub and a church.
I just love the little unexpected finds. We got back to the National and picked up members that were going to go see the matinee. We crossed the Thames at Hungerford Bridge.
I lead the way. This was my turn to prove I could get us where we needed to go. We had to pass by the National Gallery and that square was packed. It is Saturday and the summer holiday. I made it through with just a little, help from Christina. We arrived at the Harold Pinter Theatre to see The Importance of Being Earnest. This is an extra show not on the study trip. When I saw this production was here (now in previews – it opens officially next week), I couldn’t resist. To see a production of Earnest in London. It seemed to good to pass up.
The production was great. The actors were simply marvelous in their performances. The cast included Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell and Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis who played the same roles in the 1982 production at the National directed by Peter Hall. Incidentally, this production was directed and designed by the same individuals that did Titus Andronicus at the Globe. The production had a conceit that worked beautifully and every element of the production was carefully chosen. Who could ask for anything more?
We scrambled back to the hostel and I convinced Christina to go for dinner quickly before we had to leave and go see the next production. We went around the corner to this little pub we discovered several nights earlier.
I had a great dinner and Christina had dessert since she had already eaten. We hurried back and picked up the group and headed back down to where we had been earlier to see the next production (this one on our schedule). This play is called The Valley of Astonishments. This play, at the Young Vic, was written and directed by Peter Brook. To tell you about him would take too long. You can read about him on line but, he is 91 years old and one of the per-eminent theatre artists of the 20th century. For me to get to see a play by him was pretty cool and it didn’t hurt that the production was amazing in it’s simplicity. Thinking about the contrast of the two productions I saw today, gives me pause. Wilde uses language in a musical way with wit and charm. Brook used words in a thought provoking manner with ease and simplicity.
That’s it. Got to go to sleep and get up and catch the train.
So, today there were two big events but, the one most important to me is in the title of the post but, I will return to that in a bit. Last night we saw the incredible production of The Book of Mormon . This morning the star of that show Gavin Creel came to speak with our students and I must say he was amazing in the production but, he was just as amazing talking with the students. We met with another group from Ohio State since they are here doing the same thing. Christina is an old high school friend of his so that’s how we got him. He was charming and spoke eloquently to the controversies surrounding the show and addressed the concerns of some students who felt uncomfortable with the content. All in all a very good session.
After class, while Christina took him out for lunch, I grabbed a sandwich, got some laundry done and mapped out my plan for the next two weeks.
When she returned, we didn’t have a lot of time so, I proposed a trip to Savile Row. That is the street where the top tailors in London work, and attract some of the wealthiest and most known clientele. The is essentially Mecca for me. I can’t really go into the shops but just being on the street was really cool. After walking up andmback down, I was content. The suits in the windows were beautiful and I even was able to see I to one of the workshops below street level. (See picture below) We went back up the street and across Regent Street to Liberty Department Store. Vikki tells me it is the oldest department store in London, also expensive. It was and really great. The woodwork alone was amazing with wooden elevators. The first room we entered was essentially scarves and there was a table with plastic bins full of scarves on sale marked – £100 or less. We wandered around and explored. Sorry no pictures – didn’t seem appropriate.
Tonight’s play we attended was outside London proper again at the Tricycle Theatre entitled The Colby Sisters of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was, in a word, overrated. I felt the writing was greatly lacking and while the actors did well, they were encumbered by a script with no plot and the characters weren’t interesting enough for it to be a good character study. They were, for the most part one dimensional. The set worked well in the space but, the costumes missed the mark. In the small intimate theatre you could see how cheap the fabrics were and the designs were not based in any kind of fashion reality.
Today, there aren’t a lot of pictures. I spent the afternoon at the Victoria & Albert Museum with Vikki. Thanks to her I saw two incredible exhibitions for free. Thanks again Vikki.
These special exhibitions took all afternoon since they were clothing and, of course Vikki and I poured over each gown analyzing the cut, the fabric, the seaming, the details – well, you get the idea.
The first, Wedding Dresses 1775 – 2014 was beautiful and had a great many beautiful gowns. Unfortunately, there was no photography allowed so, no pictures. The first dress in the exhibition was a beautifully simple creme silk almost like paper that was the most basic cut. The bodice was devoid of any decoration and the skirt as simple as any 18th century gown I have seen. I love the the elaborate 18th century gowns but the simple ones like this are my favorite. The sleeves were, of course, to the elbow but, shaping by the dressmaker was a work of art. An early 19th century empire gown of muslin and embroidered very handsomely. The cut was exquisite with little to decoration except for the embroidery. It had a fairly long train. I think the element that stuck with me was the banding of the neckline and the high waist. The sleeves were beautifully fitted.
There was one Worth dress from the 1880’s. To be expected (both because it was Worth and late Victorian), it was heavy with detail and exquisitely fitted and shaped to the body. These descriptions don’t do justice so, I will let this go except to say that Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall’s she wore when she appeared in public after her wedding to the Prince of Wales was part of the exhibition and it was so beautiful. The detail you could not see in any publication was this incredibly delicate and light gold embroidery. It was stunning.
The next exhibition was The Glamour of Italian Fashion. This traced the development of Italian fashion design and its many elements since WW II. The beautiful garments told the story and included a look at the prominent designers from the post war to today and even cons7dered the future of the Italian fashion industry.
Tonight’s play was the The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End. It is Trey Parker and Matt Stone irreverent and sometimes dirty look at religion, musical comedy and how we accept each other (or don’t accept each other). The star of this production is Gavin Creel who also starred in the original Broadway production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. I have seen the national tour twice but, this production was even better. The cast was excellent in every respect and delivered the production with clarity.
This has been an extraordinary first week. I’m tired though and need to sleep.
Today’s big ticket item is to attend Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre. As a result, we left early to have class at the Globe. On the way we went by St.Paul’s Cathedral. It was like most cathedrals beautiful. Since we were in a hurry to get to the theatre, we only stopped long enough to see the exterior and take some photos. Before we left I was trying get a selfie of the whole group on the steps and a nice lady came by and offered to take the photo (see below). Leaving the cathedral we crossed the Thames River by way of the Millennium Bridge which is the first pedestrian bridge built in over a century. It spans the river just south of St. Paul’s and connect to the south bank at the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre.
We got to the theatre and got coffee so we could have class at the cafe in the Globe. Christina had purchased groundling tickets for the performance and, I must confess, I wasn’t anxious to stand for over three hours and watch any play let alone Shakespeare’s bloodiest, most violent work. In the spirit of having the experience, I felt I should. She said we would need to get in line early to insure that we got right up against the stage. Well, I was pretty sure I did not want to do that since the press on this production has been about how the graphic violence has numerous people to faint. So, if decided I wanted to be first in line to get stand near the back of the groundling area so I would also be able to lean against the rail. Several students decided to join me. We staked our claim and managed to be first in line. Since there was a large group, we determined we could take turns holding the line while we went exploring the area. I went to the Tate Modern with Christina and another student in the class. It would have to be a quick trip since we only had an hour and a half to curtain. That was enough. The Tate is London’s modern art museum. We saw just one gallery but there were several of Picasso’s painting and that was enough for me. (See below). I will go back. We returned to hold the line and let some of the others have a break. I plugged in my ipod and relaxed to wait for the performance. When they opened the gate and let us proceed to the next point, I managed to be the first in line thus assuring the best spot at the back of the yard. Of course, long before this I was already feeling excited about seeing a production in The Globe and my concerns about standing for three + hours had wained somewhat. I had prepared as best I could with shoes, water etc. When we were allowed in we got the best spot dead center to observe the action. Smoke was pouring from beneath the stage. The stage was swathed in black, mournful music and a irregular cadence of drums played until the performance began. The production did not disappoint and certainly lived up to the hype. It was violent (the body count at the end is the highest of any of Shakespeare’s plays) and bloody. The acting was top notch, the effects were stupendous and the production was a marathon. I was exhausted by the end both from standing and watching. Watching the play like that really does make you engage in a way you might not otherwise. You really do become part of the performance and spectacle. Actors were in the yard with us crossing playing scenes or portions of scenes right in front of us. For those, right up against the stage they came away blood spattered. It was an amazing time. From our vantage point though, we saw a different show. As best we could count at least 10 people did faint or felt faint and the ushers brought in wheelchairs to roll them out.
After the performance, we headed quickly back uptown for a group dinner just off Leicester Square – our first time on the tube at rush hour. Packed. After dinner, I had been invited by Vikki to go with her to see a showcase of work by students graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). There were about six and they were mostly costume. We enjoyed walking through and I enjoyed seeing the caliber of work being done here vs what I see in the states.
Vikki and I the adjourned to a pub and pint.
Sorry, the site was not up last eve. We had a bit of a technical glitch.
Today started early at six a.m. but, I’m still hanging in there. I need to get to bed earlier though. After the class met (which was a lively discussion of the play from yesterday, I headed off to the National Portrait Gallery. Another treat.
We needed food by the time we got there so, we went to The Crypt across from the museum. As we passes the museum on the way, there is a statue of Henry Irving, an actor-manager of the Victorian period. He was the first actor to be knighted by the crown. At The Crypt we had a very nice lunch. This is an 18th century crypt in St. Martin in the Fields.
We headed back across the street to the National Portrait Gallery. This is a small, very manageable museum containing portraits of well-known and famous people of Great Britain from today and back through history. Entering, the first portrait is the recent controversial portrait of Princess Catherine. I believe much of the criticism revolved around how old it made her look. I admit it does but given her maturity and given how well she has handled herself I feel it does her justice. It suggests that maturity. She looks, beautiful. Unfortunately, they won’t let you take a photograph.
We went through the museum fairly quickly today. I expect to go back before I leave. I have included several pictures below. Sorry they haven’t been cropped and cleaned up but, I have no real photo editing capabilities here. I think the most surprising interesting part of this museum is the first part with more recent portraits (see me with Dame Judi Dench).
When we left, we moved quickly down to Trafalgar Square to see Lord Nelson, It was quite packed, of course. Moving on up the mall, I made my first sighting of Big Ben (will get there). We walked up the Mall passing what appearing to be brick castle like structure. Near it was a sign that cracked me up. On a store front – it seemed to be fairly up scale ——- Beretta’s, since 1526. That seemed absurd. I mean what business lasts 488 years and dates from the time of Henry VIII? Anyway, I took a picture (see below). We worked our way down some up scale street to a very good french pastry shop and stopped for a chocolate tart and a coffee. Very relaxing and much needed.
After that, we came back and put our feet up for a bit before going to see Perseverance Drive. Tonight’s play was at The Bush Theatre about a 20-25 minute ride on the underground. This is a small theatre doing primarily new works and this was a world premiere production. The production was, for me incredibly engaging. However, I can’t understand why. The playwright didn’t focus on one thing. It was as if he could not decide what story he was telling. The acting was quite good and the design elements were somewhat hit and miss.
That’s it. I need sleep.
Today seemed to get off to a slow start. I’ve been going pretty intensely I must say. This morning was the first class day so, I didn’t leave until almost noon . We had originally thought we would go the the National Portrait Gallery but, since the Tour de France was coming to London (by Buckingham Palace) we thought it might be a good idea to avoid that area. Instead we went to the British Museum. Of course, that did not disappoint.
The entire group decided to go along so we walked up instead taking the tube. On the way, we passed a beautiful group of Georgian row houses. A number of them had a large blue dot plaque on the front. Christina pointed out those were a sign in London indicating a famous or well known person had lived there and the sign told who. We got to the museum (on the way picking up lunch). Christina and I sat on the steps and had lunch before going in to the museum.
Once inside you enter the breathtaking Great Court. We spent a relatively short time today-about three hours so, I will return before my time is up. Today I finally got to see the Rosetta Stone ( couldn’t really get close enough to get a picture). I was really surprised the thickness of the stone. I should not have been surprised I guess but, I am frequently surprised by the real thing. The pictures rarely give you a real sense of the object. Perhaps when I return.
We moved up to the Greek and Roman section. The Greek statues are perhaps my favorite – well the Greek pottery as well. Unfortunately, it is all behind glass and therefore difficult to photograph (well, not unfortunately I’m sure). The controversial Elgin marbles are of course stunning. The Roman statuary not so much. I mean, I like them but they hardly compare to the Greeks. Not nearly as elegant. Of course, the Roman jewelry is gorgeous.
My next favorite thing is the Assyrian bas reliefs and statutes. I’m not certain why but I have always been attracted to these works. I find a certain beauty in their power. I know, I know they were warriors and tended to run over others but, the stone work is amazing (see below). The Greek everyday life section has a number of wonderful surprises including Terra cotta body parts. I photographed that for Alecia along with other medicine related items. The catheters look very painful.
We wandered around for just a while longer and decided to go to the cafe for dessert. Good choice. I had an orange lemon posset which is a thick custard. Christina had a salted caramel tart. We took our time and enjoyed these with tea and coffee.
We took a quick spin around the medieval section and headed back home. Christina wanted to take me through Covent Garden since I haven’t been through there yet. It was fun. As we were exiting the area she saw shoe store with a brand she likes and asked if I minded stopping. I said, “Of course not, do they have men’s shoes?” Long story short, she didn’t buy, I did. Big surprise. Alecia – you’ll love ’em. The salesgirl was very kind getting several pair for me till we got the right size. When I was checking out she asked where we were from in the US. I told her Kentucky waiting for the punchline about KFC. But, she came back with, “Oh yes, George Clooney.”
After a nice dinner of salmon, rice and endamame we headed down to the West End for the play. Tonight was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This production was, in a word, spectacular. The acting was superb particularly the actor playing Christopher and the actor playing his mother. The entire ensemble was brilliant but those two more so. Given the nature of the book (apparently – I haven’t read it but plan to) the production is abstract. The design boggles the mind. The set alone working closely with the video designer and lighting designer is a tour de force assault on your senses. The direction is top notch with a last minute manipulation that drew audible gasps from the audience. Amazing and then an encore of sorts that was delightful. I believe this production has been filmed to play next fall in the cinema through Fathom Events. If it does, GO SEE IT.
That’s it. Good night.
Another hectic day but it was extraordinary. I had breakfast this morning at the dormitory. It was quite good. Very filling and prepared me for a lot of fast walking. Today I was to meet up with a former student from UK who happens to be from the UK. She currently is working in opera and film. She told me she moved back into the theatre world by working on the film Maleficent . She has most recently been touring Great Britain with an opera company and making costumes for that company as well. Very pleased to see her today.
We met up at the Green Park tube station near St. James Park. While I was waiting in this relatively small enclosure with a fountain a couple of policewomen on horseback brought their mounts into the area to, drink from the fountain. Couldn’t resist that photo op. (See below.) Vikki finally arrived and after a wonderful reunion, we headed off to something I didn’t expect. She was originally taking me to a choral concert but, that fell through so we attended morning service at the Queen’s Chapel at St. James Palace. This was an extraordinary experience. When it concluded she apologized for how long it had been (1 1/2 hrs). To me it seemed very short. It was very beautiful in this intimate chapel designed by Inigo Jones, who in addition to being an architect, was known for his innovations in theatre structure design.
Leaving the service the vicar (I assume) asked me where I was from. I do not think he was prepared for my answer but, he was glad I came. So was I.
With that Vikki was off and me following as best I could. We worked our way around Buckingham Palace and headed for the tube to go to lunch. I sort of gave up trying to take pictures as she was moving like a tornado through the crowds of people. We got on the tube and headed down to Brixton, an old stomping ground of hers for lunch. Somewhere in there she took me through a street where men’s accessories are sold and made, not Saville Row but, its neighbor.
Brixton was an incredible mix of people and cultures. She told me it was coming back and it had been dangerous at some point in the past. The area where we had lunch was in an old structure where the rents had been lowered considerably in order to promote business. What has sprung up is a variety of restaurants, tiny little affairs actually. We stopped for pizza and a pint and she was right it was very inexpensive but very good food.
After eating it was time to head to the theatre. She treated me to the final performance of the English National Opera season – Cosi Fan Tutte. It was a stunning production both visually as well as the performances by the singers. This really reminded me what a journey a great opera production can provide. The theatre was quite wonderful as well. The production ironically was set in America in what seemed to be Coney Island or some similar location. The director peopled the production with a group of side show people (Siamese twins, sword swallower, fire-eater, bearded lady, etc) who acted as something of a Greek chorus to observe but never comment. Tourist types and other carnival people acted as the chorus. Other productions of this opera I seen always seemed a little chaste. This production brought some of the edge and a strong sense of sexuality to the performance which seems appropriate for an 18th century opera by Mozart.
The performance concluded by 6 and we were off and running again through Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Oxford Street (lots of shopping), and Carnaby Street before getting on the tube to head home.
We parted at the first stop and I made my way home. I was hungry so Christina agreed to come out for a break (even she had already had dinner) and I found a great little pub around the corner and had my first visit to a pub. I’m pooped but energized and need to wind down so, I will leave it at that. Good night.
I was up early since I’m still on Kentucky time. Christina took me to a great little breakfast place on a side street (an alley really). Delicious english muffin, sausage, bacon fried egg, spinach with chili jam -like a sandwich and coffee. Leaving there we got our things together and headed out to get tube passes and fix some phone issues.
Getting on the tube we headed down to Picadilly Circus to pick up tickets for Monday’s peformance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. We wandered around the area which is essentially like Times Square in NYC. I realized there were far more shows than we have booked so, I am planning to see a few more starting with tonight since we don’t have anything else planned.
Leaving Picadilly, we made our way to Harrod’s. That was amazing. Alecia – you would be in heaven. Anyway, I managed to get out without buying anything but a snack for later. I expect to go back to do some shopping before I leave. I mean, it’s shopping paradise. Beating a hasty retreat we headed to Hyde Park. More gardens. We took a break to eat the snack from Harrod’s next to the Prince Albert Memorial. A little summer shower and we walked through some of the gardens on our way to Kensington Palace. William and Kate were not in Alecia. At least I don’t think they were. Strange palace. We couldn’t find the front. There was a beautiful garden (of course) and we found our way to a wonderful restaurant called The Orangery adjoining the gardens of the palace. Lunch was excellent and leisurely. Chilled pea soup and a beet salad with strawberries and thick (custard-like) creme for dessert. As we were leaving we had a strange celebrity sighting. I noticed him first when we sitting in the restaurant waiting for our check. He was in the line to be seated. The face was familiar but I couldn’t think of a name. As we left Christina noticed him too and she correctly identified him as Ken Jennings the Jeopardy champion from a few years ago. Bizarre, I know.
We exited onto embassy row. I can’t remember the street and headed up to see where Christina lived when she was little girl living in London. It was a charming neighborhood and we got a few pictures to send to her brother. We explored around for a few and headed back to the dorm to put our feet up before we headed back down to see The 39 Steps. We went down and picked up a couple of tickets at the box office and hurried down to Waterstone’s Bookstore for a quick, light dinner.
The play was at the Criterion Theatre which opened in 1874. It is an excellent farce based on a mid 1930’s Alfred Hitchcock film which fortunately I watched just a couple of weeks ago. The performance was very well done by four actors. The leading man played by one actor and the other three actors performing all the other roles. The theatre is rather intimate and lent itself well to this play. The actors, particularly the men were excellent. Act 2 tends to drag but that has more to do with writing. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it thoroughly.
We arrived this morning in London after a couple of minor delays in Charlotte. The flight was smooth without incident. I didn’t sleep though I tried valiantly. There were, plenty of entertainments but, I continually dosed off and never really slept. We took the express into London and made our way to the dormitory where we are staying. Spartan but, clean and comfortable. After a trip out for lunch and some neccesary items we have returned to rest up a bit before heading out to Regent’s Park.
Below are some pictures from Queen Mary’s garden in Regent’s Park. I include the gardens for Rhoda and Terry.
Well, we have reached departure day. My house sitter is ready and Sheba is still very concerned. I am trying to finish last minute tasks including this post, get in a walk and make sure I haven’t forgotten anything like (as i discovered this morning a luggage tag – guess I’ll be making a trip out before I leave at 2pm). Anyway, I have had great time this week having dinner with friends – thanks to all for not making me buy groceries. On Monday, I was able to get in a movie with Rhoda and Sandy (Obvious Child – good film if you are looking for something) and then dinner at their house. On Tuesday, I met Terry at Soundbar to watch the World Cup (sorry USA). We were joined for a bit by Jeffrey and then Terry and I had dinner at Nick Ryan’s Saloon. Last night, Rhoda and Sandy were kind enough to have me back again for dinner.
I have made plans to meet up with a former student while in London. She is taking me to see a couple of operas as well guide me through the V & A. Also, hoping to catch up with Margaret and Jane. They are considering my schedule at present. I expect we will be able to get together. I have one long weekend and plan to to go Bath and Bristol as well as Stonehenge that weekend.
First up, though is helping Christina get ready for the first class on Sunday (which I am skipping to go see Cosi Fan Tutte at the English National Opera with Vikki). Then we are off and running – first up is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at the Gielgud Theatre. I am really looking forward to this production. Fathom Events was featuring this production for their fall schedule.
I am leaving for London for three weeks. At the request on one particular family member, I am creating this blog so she can live vicariously through me (it’s alright Carol, I would do the same thing). Currently I am in the throes of packing, cleaning and preparing for my house sitter. Sheba (my cat) senses something is up and she doesn’t seem very happy.
I am essentially tagging along with a study abroad group from the university where I teach. My colleague, Dr. Christina Ritter teaches this course and she began last winter coaxing me into accompanying the group. It didn’t take a lot of arm twisting. I am looking forward to three weeks of theater and opera, meeting up with a former student and friends and much museum time. I will update as time permits, hopefully every day and we will see where this goes.