It is the last day of this trip. There is still much to do but, I am getting anxious to be home. First up today is our final class. We have three shows to discuss and Christina likes to have each student tell their favorite show, performance(s) and favorite design (scenic and costume) and this year we decided to do an honorable mention for shows they say outside the program.
After class I wanted to go to the National Portrait Gallery since I haven’t been there this year. I hurried down to Charing Cross, cut behind St. Martin-in-the-Fields and into the museum. I wondered what might be different from my last trip. Starting with the Tudors and working my way forward, I found some painting I didn’t remember and some that I did. I didn’t even try to get through all the museum. I made quick visits to both shops and thankfully was able to leave without any packages.
Returning the way, I came, I went back to the dorm to get ready for tea. We always have tea on the last afternoon and we are going to the St. Pancras Hotel. Before I left, I did a little more packing and went down to see what students would walk with me to the hotel. Picking up about half the class, we headed down. It’s about a 20 minute walk.
The tea was perfect. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The waitress that took care of us was delightful. All in all, it proved to be a great setting. It went on longer than I expected and so, I had to excuse myself a little early, so I could go meet Vikki for dinner. When she texted me the details, she only gave an address and I couldn’t find anything on the map telling me where I might be going. I’ve also never been in this area of London.
After a long ride on the tube and a little confusion on my part, I finally met her, and she took me to a restaurant and bar on the 35th floor of the building. It was a great place. The food was delicious, and we were able to visit for a bit. I already miss her. She is one of those special people you meet in your life and I am grateful. After dinner, I find my way back home, not the way I came but, nevertheless got there. This trip has been, of course, very different from the other trips. For one thing, with Christina having her family with her, I’ve had to rely on myself more. Getting around has become easier and I’m not as panicked about getting lost or losing my way. That has been very gratifying. Tomorrow I fly home and it will be good to see Mr. Lennie, Sheba, Suri and sleep in my own bed.
Today’s class is our final guest speaker and I always enjoy listening to this man. He is Matt Wolf and he writes for a variety of publications: online and print. Perhaps most notably the New York Times and on-line Art’s Desk. He always brings a mature point of view to the conversation about the British theater. Today was certainly no different. The students asked several good questions before we left for the Globe Theater and our last production of this tour.
We walked along the South Bank to the Globe which is a fairly quick walk. Today is going to be hot. The last few days have been very warm by British standards and it looks like it will be that way until we leave. My room last night took a while to cool down. Anyway, the shady path along the Thames was enjoyable as we walked to the theater.
We went to pick up the tickets and then for water. We are queuing early since this production included Mary Rylance. Christina has convinced me to stand against the edge of the stage. I have agreed with some reservations. We took our place in the line before noon for a 2 pm show. This time passed quickly although sitting on the concrete began to wear on my backside. Since I was going to be standing for at least 2 hr 30, I figured I should sit as much as possible.
About 1:30 they moved us into the courtyard and then in short order into the theater. Against the stage we were in the sun. I was glad I watched the play from this vantage point. It is truly in you face. In fact, Iago (played by Mark Rylance) murdered Rodrigo within 6 inches of my face. It was thrilling. The production was overall wonderful. This is the first live production of Othello I’ve seen. Rylance is almost a legend at this theater. He was the first artistic director and has since moved onto a successful film and television career. Andree Holland playing Othello is an American actor whose films include Moonlight, 42 and Selma. I loved the costumes because they, while based in a reality, did not adhere to a period. Yet, they suggested another time and place. There were elements of the Italian Renaissance and other nods to historic accuracy but, the designer created a world of its own. I want to be able to do that myself more easily. I was trained and to some extent, feel it is part of my own aesthetic to make everything as authentic as possible. It doesn’t have to do that. Being that close, I could see construction details very well and they were not these exquisitely constructed garments. They were well made but no hesitation to take short cuts.
The other thing I love about this theater is the endings of all the plays are a joyous dance and sometimes song. Even with the tragedies, the actors come on for their bows and dance. It is a great reminder that you are watching a play and we are all here for a good time.
This morning there was no class officially. We went to Hampton Court, one of my favorite places to visit. This will be my third trek out so, I am hoping to find some new things so as not to bore anyone reading this with the same old same old.
We met up early and took the Northern Line down to Waterloo in order to catch the train to Hampton Court. Christina and I bought the tickets yesterday, so we just had to get down and catch the 9:06 train. Of course, it was delayed. It’s a busy time of day at this station. Not too much however. We were headed down by 9:20 or thereabouts. It’s about a 30-40-minute train ride to the castle. We arrived, and Christina and I bought the admission tickets and turned everyone (including ourselves) loose. Christina was accompanied by her family and they had invited Adam and his girls down so Marlena might have a companion. They quickly bonded and headed out to look for the maze. I went in search of coffee and breakfast since we did not have time before leaving. I enjoyed a quick breakfast in the Queen’s Privy Kitchen before beginning my explorations.
Since I have been in the apartments several times, I planned to spend some time in the gardens but, first there was the Cumberland Art Gallery. I spent some time there as well as going through the chapel, always a great look. You can’t photograph in it so I found a picture on the web (see below). After that, I headed outside to explore the gardens. The palace is really two parts: the Tudor half (of which not a lot of the original is left) and the Baroque half (the half created by Christopher Wren and the Stuarts). The style is more Baroque. I first went to the gardens on the Tudor half most of which you can’t really walk through the Pond Gardens. These are sunken gardens recreated as they think might have existed during the Tudor period. From there I moved onto The Privy Garden which was re-created by William III during the Baroque period. It gave me the feeling of Versailles although not as large.
Below is a link to maps of the palace and the gardens, so you can get an idea:
We stayed until early afternoon and then traveled back to London. I wanted to take a break before the evening show.
This evening we saw Fun Home at the Young Vic. Terry saw this show in Washington and said he loved it so I’m hopeful. Christina and I went down early to get the tickets and I had dinner at a burger place across the street named Byron. It was very good. They had a “light” burger with mushrooms mixed into the meat to cut down on the amount of meat. I enjoyed it very much. We browsed through the theater bookstore two doors down. I am trying to find some plays for Rhoda but, I haven’t’ had a lot of luck on this trip. This bookstore did not yield anything either. Crossing the street, we met the students, passed out the tickets and headed into to a sold out house for this production.
Fun Home is a musical and it premiered on Broadway in 2013 and was adapted from a graphic memoir first released in 2006. It is unique in that the protagonist is a lesbian and her story involved her growing up with gay father and the struggles they encounter prior to his suicide when she was in college. It is a moving piece and I loved the production. I could relate on a very ‘extraordinary. It was very moving for the entire audience I thought. There was a lesbian couple sitting next to us and they cried (as did we all). It was obvious how much they were moved to see their story on stage. I feel this production reinforces how important it is that we tell everyone’s stories because we learn what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes and that makes us all better humans. Of course, I’m being selfish here because this play is partly my story.
Today’s entry may be a little brief. I didn’t really get out because we had a couple of guest speakers and I spend the mid-day having lunch with Vikki and touring some fabric stores with her in Soho.
This morning our guest speaker was Vikki Medhurst, my former student now working in the film industry in London. She spoke to the group about her work on a number films as a maker, a cutter and recently she received an associate or assistant design credit. She is working primarily in film but also television. Currently, she is cutting costume for a new Netflix series about Henry V. She has also worked recently on a new film with Chris Pine, Outlaw King. She was also an assistant cutter on the recent academy award winner for costume, Phantom Thread. I enjoyed listening about her work and she seems to be enjoying it still but, is ready for a holiday. She says in September and October.
After class, she, Christina and I went for lunch at Koox around the corner. We had a very pleasant lunch and conversation. After, Vikki and I went to the gallery next door. They were holding a piece for me and I wanted her opinion. From there, we headed down to Berwick Street to look at some fabrics stores before she had to return to work.
I returned to the dorm for brief break and went down in time to meet our afternoon guest speaker, Stephen Wrentmore. Stephen is joining our faculty in the fall and we were able to convince him speak to the class since he has been working in theater in and out of London for a number of years. He spoke about some of the differences of working in the UK and America. He recently spent a couple of years working in the western US for LORT theaters. I felt he was very engaging and the student seemed to appreciate what he had to offer.
After that, we said goodbye to him and headed off to the South Bank. Tonight we are seeing A Monster Calls at the Old Vic Theatre. This is one of the most storied theatres in the city and has existed for over 200 years. Christina and I picked up the tickets and went around the corner to the Bar & Kitchen for a light dinner. Mine consisted of ice cream. I wasn’t hungry but, it’s hot and I wanted something cool.
We met up with Yoon Bae (Stephen’s wife-also coming to UK on our faculty in the fall) and the students for the show. This is a new play based on a book of the same name and a film. The piece was an ensemble work with emphasis on movement and visual imagery. It is based on a popular book of the same name for children. The production is about young Conor (abt age 13) dealing with his mother’s cancer and ultimate death as well a distant father and bullying at school. It is also a fantasy. I must confess, I was not a big fan of this production. While it has gotten very positive reviews, I thought everything about it was sub-par from the acting to the design. It looked cheap and the ensemble was not particularly convincing. Movement was weak. I could go on and on but, I felt very quickly after it began, “I saw this play four years ago: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night while in London and they did a much better job.”
This is our long weekend and as I’ve stated in a previous post, “I’m tired”. So, I decided not to kill myself and take a break. I spent most of Friday working in my room. I began to get caught up on these posts, took a break and sat in the park and then went in the evening to the Charlotte Street Hotel for a nice dinner.
On Saturday, I was off to meet Graham in Chertsey. Since my visit two years ago, I have been working with Graham on his forthcoming book on tailoring trying to help him get illustrations ready for publication. It has been a lot of work but, I’ve greatly enjoyed the collaboration with him and am looking forward to seeing him again. He has just returned from holiday and is in this area visiting with family before they return home. I’m meeting him in Chertsey to see the little museum where he found the last coat for his book. I provided three of the suits for his book between the UK collection and my own. He picked me up at the train station and we went to the museum first to have a look/see. It is a small community museum as you might expect with some rather exceptional surprises inside. There is an unusually large collection of clothing and textiles (The Olive Matthews Collection – http://www.chertseymuseum.org/Fashion and it houses a collection of Greek pottery which totally took me by surprise (see my previous post from the British Museum). The museum in housed in a mid-19th century house and there is a well-done history of the house as well as images prior to it becoming a museum. They have also recently acquired a Worth gown as the ladies at the counter proudly beamed and bragged. Of course, it is currently at the restorers and won’t be put out until sometime in fall. In the meantime, they told us we could read about it on the Facebook page. You have to scroll through to find all the entries on the conservation but, it is well worth the time. They have obviously invested a great deal of money to preserve this garment which if I’m reading correctly we worn to the coronation of Edward VII.
After the museum, Graham treated me to lunch at The Rose & Crown (est. 1650). We caught up on the book and family and he then provided a tour of the area as he took me to the station to catch the train to Waterloo. This county includes Runnymede, Windsor Castle and Ascot. I got a closeup look at the race course made famous in My Fair Lady as well as hosting the royal family each year for the famous Royal Ascot.
Coming back to London, I met up with Christina and family for dinner at an Indian restaurant. We went to Palms of Goa on Charlotte Street and the owners were delightful, welcoming hosts. The food was delicious and much better than our go to restaurant in Lexington.
On Sunday, I continued getting caught up on work in my room. A skype session with Alecia, Marc and Colson. He’s sitting up so well and ready to crawl looks like. After noon, Christina and I journeyed over to St. Pancras to check on our tea reservation. We hadn’t heard anything and were getting nervous. Not to worry. We are set. After a snack and some other mundane chores we met up with Jack and Marlena to head up to Vikki and Adam’s house for dinner. This trip would take some work. We had to buy a ticket to the end of the tube line which went out of our zone. Once there, we had to catch a train for which we had no ticket but the man at the station just sent us through. It was a quick two stop trip to Highams Park where Adam picked us up.
Vikki is a former student of mine now working in the film industry in costume. She works hard and very long hours but, she seems to be enjoying the work. She has been fortunate enough to work on some very high-profile films, most recently Phantom Thread last year’s academy award winner for costume design. We spent the evening visiting and getting caught up on the latest she is doing. She and Adam have purchased their house and it is charming. We had a lovely dinner out back in the garden and they were the best hosts. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. This is one aspect of this trip I so enjoy. Getting to spend time in people’s homes and getting a sense of lives that are different and yet not so different. I look forward to Vikki coming to speak with our students this week and spending a little more time with she and Adam before I head home.
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.
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.
This will be a relatively brief post as I am tired and did not do much today. Yesterday evening I went clothes shopping. Still no luggage. However, I won’t dwell on that at this point. The great part of the trip was winding our way through the remnants of the Pride celebration. The streets were still packed though the parade was over for a time. I found some new clothes, enough for 2-3 days and we headed home.
Today the students arrive. This morning I went for the breakfast served in the dormitory. I was pleasantly surprised that it was mostly people my age. I sat with another theater group speaking at length with a woman in London doing research on 18-19th century French literature (as best I could tell). She said she was going on to Vienna from London. She was not part of the theater group but seemed to know them.
After breakfast, Christina and I met to plan the orientation and the go over the first week with the class. I sent out an e mail letting them know what they should do on arrival and then we headed out to check on possible restaurants for the group dinner this week. She had found a possibility down near the Globe. We are doing the group dinner after the matinee at the Globe on Tuesday.
We took the Northern line down to Waterloo and transferred to the Piccadilly Line to Southwark. It was a nice walk down to the restaurant and we discovered several restaurant possibilities. After looking at menus and prices, we decided to have lunch at the Swan Restaurant in the Globe. It was a great place to relax and the food was superb and I got some decorating ideas for the dining room.
After lunch, we made our way back up to the restaurant and secured the reservation for the group and headed back the way we came. By the time we returned to the dormitory I had had texts from a number of the students and at the dorm they were looking no worse for the wear. We had told them we would meet at 3 pm and as Christina and I still had some planning to do and hour till the meeting, we told them to get checked in and relax for a bit.
At 3 pm we assembled in the basement and Christina went over some overall items for the course. I had to deliver the safety lecture and what to do in case of an emergency. We try not to give too much because they are tired and don’t can’t be expected to retain a lot. We encouraged them not to go to bed before 6 or 7 and set them loose.
Christina and I went for gelato and I returned to my room early to relax and read. I’m reading a history of the Old Vic Theatre which is required for class and I must say I am thoroughly enjoying the recounting of this storied theater’s history. It is one of those magical places for me (see blog entries from 2014).
As of this post, still no luggage. However, Christina and her family did get theirs so, I guess there is some hope.
5 July through 7 July
Well, it’s time to leave whether I think I’m ready or not. I have prepped the house for my house and cat sitter, the wonderful and thoughtful Melanie Turner. Melanie has done this for me numerous times and I appreciate having someone in the house that considerately looks after my animals and the house. It is definitely peace of mind for me.
On the other hand Sheba and Suri (my cats) are not very sure about what is going on (again). It’s hard to believe the last time I went (two years ago) I had just gotten Suri. She has grown into a beautiful cat and calmed down considerably. They now get along pretty well. I will miss them terribly but, it’s only three weeks.
I’ve packed much lighter this time. I had this fantasy I would take my smallest suitcase. Almost made it but, no such luck. By trying to pack in the smaller suitcase, it did cut down on what I am taking. I managed to cut a few more items as I switched to the larger luggage. I finished once Terry arrived with my new razor. The old one died as I tried to change the blade. We had few moments together before he took me to the airport. Thanks Mr. Lennie.
At the airport, Christina and her family were already checking in at the counter. Thanks to Mr. Lennie, I’ve joined the digital age of travel and had checked in from home. Dropping off my luggage I was happy to see it only weighed 43 pounds. I told the guy at the counter, “great that means I can buy 7 pounds of junk to bring back. Without Mr. Lennie, I didn’t get TSA pre-check so, I had to take off everything (shoes, belt etc) at the security screening and in doing so, forgot I decided to bring my tablet. They had to send it back through which meant longer scrutiny for me at the security gate.
At the gate we relaxed and very quickly they announced our flight was delayed for a time. At this point the story begins to downhill for the rest of the day and continuing into arrival day. The flight was finally boarded. The delay was due to air traffic congestion in Philadelphia but, we were cleared to take off. Once on the tarmac however, we were stopped and they announced it would be an hour before we could take off from Lexington. Sitting on the hot plane we determined we would never make our connection and it seemed we would get an opportunity to opt of this situation when they next announced we could go back to the terminal and deplane if we desired. We all decided we could re-book for tomorrow. Then another turn of events, no, we were leaving for Philadelphia.
The flight continued and we arrived with no time to spare. We hurried from Terminal F to Terminal A and just made out connection. Long, overnight fights are never easy for me and I slept not at all (of course). I did watch a movie, Love Simon. I missed this when it was at the Kentucky. I highly recommend this film.
We arrived the next morning on time and the line at the passport check-in was very long. It took about 30 minutes to get through I think. Once through we proceeded to pick up our luggage which, of course, was not there. I told you it was a tight connection. Checking with the agents, we told it was indeed in Philadelphia and since I had checked departing flights the day before when it looked as though we might have to re book, I knew the luggage wasn’t going to get to London before 10 pm that evening so, that means no luggage until the next day. That process of reporting and arranging all that took forever which I don’t understand.
We caught the Heathrow Express and headed to London. This year is very different. We are staying in a new dormitory and Christina is here with her family. They are staying at an Airbnb away from the dorm. The dormitory, this year, is a vast improvement over last year I am happy to say and I secured an en suite room with a shower and toilet in my room. Still no a/c but, that is negligible and I always adjust to that.
We were all extremely exhausted with no sleep and I was feeling very dirty since I had not showered since the morning before and it is now after noon the next day and with no luggage and few toiletries (I had packed some essentials in carry-on. We spent most of the afternoon just getting everyone settled. During this, I was making a list of essentials to get me through till the next day. We spent some time in Regent’s Park. It was a calming and cool place. The temperature is supposed to be extremely hot this weekend but, on this day not too bad. Of course, I’m wearing jeans which isn’t helping but, I got nothing else.
We went for dinner and then to Boots (drug store) to get some additional toiletry items and I came back to the dorm. As I prepared to shower and try to feel normal, I now realize I have no way to charge anything. My suitcase contains all my electrical converters and my clothes are now basically disgusting because I’m sweaty and smelly. I tried to accomplish a few things but, I’m so tired and so . . . . . .
I woke up at 2:30 am London time and panicked thinking it was later in KY and I wasn’t going to be able to sleep. When I realized that wasn’t the case, I was able to go back to sleep eventually (not before working on this blog for an hour or so). However, my phone is still dead so, I woke late the next morning with no way to contact Christina. I tried to clean up. I showered but, I had to put on those dirty clothes. I went out trying to find Christina’s hotel but managed to get lost, wound on the other side of the British Museum, never
did find her hotel. I did find my ways to Tottenham Court Rd and some breakfast. I returned to the dormitory, still no luggage but, I did find Christina and her family waiting for me in the lobby. We ventured out to accomplish the tasks that needed to be done which hopefully would include getting the first week’s tube passes and some of the theater tickets. As we traveled to King’s Cross station (it is Saturday) the crowd’s seemed to swell larger than usual and there seemed to be a lot of my people (gay) about. I didn’t have my phone (because it was dead) to confirm but, I was pretty sure the Pride Parade was about to happen somewhere. That would be odd since it has never coincided with previous visits. More on that later. We made to King’s Cross and no travel center to purchase tube passes so, we went to Euston Station and found the center where we went two years earlier. They couldn’t process the order because the computer was down and unable to handle the credit transaction. He suggested we go to King’s Cross where, he assured us there was travel center. By this time, we were very hot (heatwave in London), sore and I was convinced very smelly. It was only 10:30 am. After a little pick me up, we went back to King’s Cross and they told us there machines were down as well but, we could go and get cash. We weren’t certain the university procard would handle that but, surprise, it did and we managed to finally get the tube passes. Meanwhile I managed to get all my steps in well before noon.
We got on the tube and headed to get theater tickets. We took the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square. Expecting a crush of crowds in that busy part of the city we were pleasantly surprised to find the crowds somewhat smaller for a Saturday (Pride Parade). Making our way to the Noel Coward, theater we were able to pick up tickets for our first show The Lieutenant of Inishmore. We see this on Monday evening. It stars Aidan Turner. For all you Poldark fans on Masterpiece, you know of who I speak.
We weren’t so lucky on the second set of tickets because they would release them without the reference number and with no phones that work we couldn’t pull it up.
So, here I am mid-afternoon on Saturday, I had to miss the Pride Parade (I did live stream it while I worked on budgets and getting organized. My suitcase still has not arrived. I did manage to pick up a converter while traveling back to the dorm so, my phone is charged and I feel a little more connected. I’ve tried to look at this inauspicious beginning as the universe telling me I need to make some adjustments. What those are I will keep for myself at the present but, recognizing those things helped regain my center and I feel lucky to be here and happy despite all the things that seem to go wrong. If my suitcase doesn’t arrive by 5 pm, I am going clothes shopping.
As of this post, I am on my way to buy new clothes.
Getting ready for this trip is always a challenge. I am still almost a week out and feeling overwhelmed but, excited. We have a great group of students this year and I look forward to spending three week in London once again, despite the threat of a tube strike. I am looking forward the theater season which this year includes Julie and Exit the King at the National, As You Like It and Othello (with Mary Rylance) at the Globe, Machinal at the Almeida, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, An Ideal Husband, The King and I to name a few. We are also seeing production at the Old Vic and the Young Vic. In addition, I’ve managed to secure two tickets for Hamilton.
I’m planning trips out of London to Bath and to visit with my friend Graham at present. Of course, we will be going to Hampton Court as a class.
I am returning with my colleague Dr. Christina Ritter. I always enjoy traveling with her. She is a great traveling companion mostly because she puts up with my total awe of being in England. I look forward to visiting the museums as always and hope to expand my experiences to some lesser known parts of the city.