Thursday, July 29, 2010

england then, england now

I spent the morning doing errands. A morning of errands at home might be a trip to Jiffy Lube or dropping something off at the library. Over here a morning of errands is buying train tickets to France, topping up my phone, or buying passes to castles. In the end, it’s basically the same thing. Gotta be done! But when I finished errands I found myself near Regent’s Street, so I worked my way over to Carnaby Street for some window shopping.

I’ve never been to Carnaby Street but I’m familiar with it generally because of Austin Powers. As with most things in England, Austin Powers has done more damage than good, since Americans now assume that all English have horrific teeth, wear ascots, and dance with women in mod outfits. Carnaby Street was famous for fashion in the 60’s, and it’s still pretty cutting edge. There are a lot of well-known shops, most of which you can find at any mall in the US. But there were a lot of shops that I didn’t know; little holes in the wall with plenty of clothes I would really like to buy if only I had the money, or if only I wouldn’t be beaten up for wearing them in Provo.

I also found the Vintage Magazine store, completely by happy happenstance. I found this place five years ago and have been looking for it since. It’s one of those places you only find when you are not looking for it, like Narnia! It’s full of old movie memorabilia and t-shirts.

I ended up eventually at Savile Row, and who cares what you're wearing as long as you're wearing a smile? Savile Row is full of shops I not only can’t afford, but feel too intimidated to even enter; nothing like clothing shop with a doorman to make me feel that the neighborhood Banana Republic may actually be my limit. But I wandered along, stopping briefly at Alexander McQueen and past the Royal Academy of Arts, which was showing an exhibit called “Sargent and the Sea” which sounds nice, as well as something called “Haunches of Venison.” Uh, what?

We spent six hours at the Globe today, and I loved pretty much every minute of it. When I was planning the shows for this trip I thought it would be fun to book performances of Henry IV Part One and Henry IV Part Two back-to-back. It sounded very adventurous. As the day approached, however, I started worrying that 6 hours of standing might be a bit too much for my brain to handle and for my feet to support. But then Part One kicked into gear and it was funny, offbeat, and beautifully directed. I think Henry IV Part One might be in my top five favorite Shakespeare plays. I know how boring it sounds. I wish it had a better title. But it’s so great. And this production, with special note of Roger Allam as Falstaff and Jamie Parker as Hal, was witty, sad, and moving. And the atmosphere at the Globe is so alive; you feel like you are watching the play for the first time. You feel lucky.

In between the shows they kicked us all out, which was fine since we were starving. Our friendly little usher - remember her? – recommended Leon’s, a little nearby deli that I have never been to. They create little boxed lunches for you; I had some Morroccan meatballs. While there I also used the ladies bathroom and caused some panic in the kitchen over a cup of chocolate mousse.

We were first in line for Part Two. You have to line up at the Globe if you want to get the best seating; and by that I mean the best standing. The goal is to get up against the stage so you can rest against it. It’s nice to lean on something. So, by golly, we were there 90 minutes early, camped out at the head of the queue. We entertained ourselves by making up games and doing Little Britain impersonations.Do you know this gentleman? Is he your husband or father? You should know that he walks up to strange women, in this case Alta, and tells them to “mind” their “boobs.” Will you please help him learn that this is inappropriate?
Do you know this gentleman? Is he your husband or father? Maybe your uncle? Well, just so you know: HE BUTTS IN LINE. He thinks no one sees, he assumes no one notices. Well, we did. Listen, we didn’t wait in line for an hour and a half so your Uncle Chester could butt in line. Will you let him know please, thanks.

Henry IV Part Two is not the exciting conclusion to Part One. It feels like a completely different play because it basically is. It tells a whole new story. But it’s all the same characters from Part One and it was fun to see the same actors in both productions so we got a nice sense of continuity. And our proximity to the stage gave us the opportunity to be vomited on (twice), winked at, peed near, and spilled on. It’s very interactive in the sense that you come away slightly soiled. Again, superlative acting, thoughtful and inventive direction. So much fun, and how great to see a play that is rarely performed done with such integrity and passion. It made the 90 minute wait all the more worth it.

On the tube ride home I read a poem that had been taped up inside the car. It's by Gillian Clarke, and it somehow felt appropriate:

Exultation! Salutation
to the long midsummer days,
to the light lost by the minute,
sing, and sing the dark away.

In the park the lovers listen,
blackbird's last song of the day.
Bats are scribbling verse on twilight.
Owls are calling, Kyrie.

Soon a gathering of swallows,
like a stanza on a wire,
voices rising in crescendo,
in hall and stadium and choir.

In the theatre of summer
stars ascending in their arc,
company and conversation.
Sing, and sing away the dark!