Monday, July 26, 2010

in the trenches

I'm sure I sound like a broken record. I probably am a broken record. But I love the Imperial War Museum. I think it may be the only museum I've visited every year I've done this program. I don't know what it is that touches me so much, or how I find new things to see each time, but so's it goes.

I've been seeing advertisements for the Trench exhibit for a few years now but have never gone. Primarily because it's an exhibit aimed at 8-12 year olds. But I went this year anyway, despite funny looks from the man who took our tickets. Daniel and Alex came as well, as there are safety in threes. There actually is a WWI trench exhibit at the Museum for adults, where you walk through a trench and mannequin soldiers read letters from home and it smells like rubber and gas lamps, but I've done that several times. But a whole exhibit just about the trenches? I'm all over that. Even if it was fairly juvenile. I'm young at heart.

The first thing we watched was this cartoon where they explained WWI in about two minutes, complete with maps and German caricatures with heavy accents. Then we entered the exhibits, where we got to stamp on rats on the floor. You would step on them and they would explode red with blood. So you really just jump right into this exhibit. I got to try on an infantryman suit and hat, and then we watched an informative little video about lice attacking a solider's chest. He was actively trying to rid himself of them, but they were fighting bravely. At one point the captain of the lice shouted "We're losing ground! We can't hold the nipples much longer!" There was also an interesting little depiction of trench toilets, where we learned that every soldier produced "one kilo of pee and poo per day." Later we got to smell mustard, chlorine, and phosgene gas and then we got to hide in the trenches while bombs dropped around us. Basically it was the three of us, a bunch of 10 year old boys, and some really bored parents. But I thought it was awesome.

After the War Museum we walked to the Tate Britain, stopping briefly at the Museum of Garden History, and then stopping again to take a picture at Lambeth Palace. Lambeth is where the Archbishop of Canterbury is based, and it was built in the 13th century. So it's super old. And super not open to the public.
Next stop was the Tate Britain, which I always like. It's airy and light, and I like all of the classical paintings. Not that I saw many of those, however, since Daniel and I spent the majority of our time in the Rude Britain exhibition. "Rude" over here means dirty, though I didn't think the exhibition was that dirty. Only in a Benny Hill kind of way. There was a suggestive can of pork and beans, but that was about it. Anyway, the exhibition explored comic British art from the 17th Century to present, with a special focus on social satire, politics, and the absurd. Here are some highlights:

James Gilroy, Doublures of Characters

George Bickham, The Late Prime Minister

James Gillray, Plum-Pudding in Danger

Thomas Rowlandson, The French Dentist Shewing a Specimin of his Artificial Teeth and False Palates

James Gillray, Following the Fashion

One of the best moments of the Tate Britiain was meeting up with Mark and Stephanie Oram! Mark is a former student of mine who is now studying directing Shakespeare at Exeter. It's the same MFA program I did ten years ago, so we had a lot to discuss. Mark and Stephanie joined us for crepes at the Kensington Crepery, which some of you will be pleased to know has expanded! There is now a "Crepery To Go" next door with an opening connecting the two restaurants, so now you can get the same delicious crepe goodness without all the snooty french service and warm tap water. It was great to catch up with the Orams while devouring the best crepes, literally, on the planet.

Tonight we saw La Bete at the Comedy Theatre downtown. It starred David Hyde Pierce from Frasier, Joanna Lumley from Absolutely Fabulous, and Mark Rylance from a very interesting story in my past not appropriate for this blog. Mark Rylance, it should be said, is a genius and his performance was spellbinding. I've never seen a performance quite like it. He had a 33 minute monologue in the first act that was hilarious, and not even remotely dull for a moment. It's like an Olympic feat what this guy does in this show. The play is about an acting troupe in the Neo-Classical French 1700's, but it's very timely as well. It's a slap in the face to those of us who are unwilling to admit that we are theatre snobs. It makes a case for theatre being entertainment, rather than an exercise in elitism. And it was something I needed to see. I'm guilty of it. La Bete reminded me that there is just as much merit in Grease as there is in Shakespeare, as long as it affects an audience. And possibly more so, if it can be entertaining as well. But it did it in a way that was so clever, funny, and brilliantly acted that I never felt too much reprimand. The show transfers to Broadway this Fall. New Yorkers, don't miss it!