Tuesday, July 19, 2011

theatre history

Today was a reunion of sorts with Richard III, who led us on our ghost tour three years ago. I didn't specifically book Richard for our theatreland walking tour today, but we were assigned him and I was thrilled by that. Richard is pretty amazing as tour guides go. He's funny and dramatic and knows how to tell a story. Nobody can punctuate a legend the way he does, and nobody else has the same talent with pause and effect. He's awesome. So funny. Richard walked us around the West End and gave us London Theatre History 101. We learned about fires, Shakespeare, ghosts, and Nell Gwynn, King Charles II's mistress who called herself the "Protestant whore." Richard, if pressed, will tell you what he thinks of current plays running (hint: he hates most of them) and will do impressions of the leading actors. He loves to go to the opera, but hates all the operas he goes to. He's in a perpetual state of curiosity and snark, and there's nobody quite like him if you want to walk around Covent Garden. We had a great time.

After this we were left to our own devices. Many of us headed back to Covent Garden, since Parliament was covered by a mass of international media for the grilling of Rupert Murdoch. It was exciting to be just blocks away from where Rupy was getting a pie in the face. London is never boring.

We stopped first at the Angel & Crown pub, one of my favorites. I had my traditional bangers & mash, though most of the students opted for a half plate of fish and chips. Greg ordered a "full man" plate, and proudly ate it. Zoe, as you can see, is suitably impressed.

After lunch we headed back to Covent Gardens and went our separate ways. Greg and I visited Benjamin Pollack's toyshop, a non-stop source of inspiration for me as a director. I love toy theatres, and I really love Punch and Judys. But today we were fascinated with these snow globes with naked babies in them. Naked babies standing up. I wondered if, when you shook the globe, the babies put some clothes on, but the salesman reassured me that they didn't. They just stand naked in the snow. He then took the globes out of the case and told us all about them, explained why they are such big sellers, and informed us that they carry white babies and black babies and (in a whisper) "we've got a couple of Chinese ones." We also had this conversation:

Me: But naked baby snow globes are so creepy!

Him: Yes. Creepy sells.

Me: It looks like the baby is about to walk.

Him: Yes! They are full of potential.

Tonight we saw The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre. This is the second time I've seen The Cherry Orchard over here, and my hat is off to anyone who attempts Chekhov. People always say that Shakespeare is the Olympics of acting, but I think it might actually be Russian realism. It's so talky, and there's no action, and everybody talks about going to Moscow but nobody ever goes to Moscow. That's a giant preface for me telling you that this was a fantastic Cherry Orchard. It was a new adaptation by Andrew Upton, Mr. Cate Blanchett himself, and it was so funny and thoughtful and sad. They hooked me from the beginning and held me - I didn't even notice the interminable discussions. I was really amazed that Chekhov could be this interesting, this fresh, and this beautiful. Kudos to Zoe Wanamaker, Claudie Blakley, and Conleth Hill for their fantastic performances.
To balance out our evening of high art, we all took the tube to the High Street Kensington McDonald's. And no one apologized for it! The best part of this meal was that the ice cream machine went on the fritz and soft serve kept coming and coming. They couldn't shut it off! It was exciting to watch. Also, we caught the "murder" tube home. But that's a story for another time.