Wednesday, June 20, 2012

no place like london

I confessed to my students this morning in class that Sweeney Todd might be my favorite musical. This confession came out quicker than I expected, especially since I try not to claim "favorite" artworks. Things are always "one of my favorite" but rarely the full-on, bottom line, de facto favorite. But it's true. Sweeney may be my favorite. It's dissonant, it's dark, and it's disturbing. It's also one of the most gorgeous musical scores, one of the most clever plots, and some of the richest, most interesting musical theatre characters ever written. I sort of hate the Tim Burton movie, but I've loved every stage version I've seen.

Our matinee of Sweeney started at 2:30 so I had some time to explore between class and curtain. I decided to finally check out this year's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. Every year the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park commissions an architect to design a temporary pavilion. Some years it's been all glass, some years it's been mirrors. Last year it was a giant granite block filled with a secret garden. This year the architects were Herzon & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the same architects who designed the Beijing "birds nest" for the 2008 Olympics. For this pavilion, they decided to dig down. They found water in the ground and created a natural well. The roof of the pavilion is a giant fountain which collects London rainwater. If there's no rain, it stays dry and becomes "a dance floor." Underneath are varying steps and little toadstool seats. It's a nice place to sit and eat. Today it was filled with hipsters. Hipsters aplenty! Hipsters ahoy!

I then took the double decker into town, and snagged myself a front upstairs seat. It's the best place to sit because it feels like you're flying. It also affords you a little shelf to put your feet up. Look here! It's my feet at Harvey Nichols:

And here are my dogs barking at the Ritz!

Following this podiatric pilgrimage I ended up on the Strand, where Sweeney is playing. I had lunch at LEON, which I didn't know existed outside of the one in Southwark. I love LEON, and you would too if you like chicken, rice, and yogurt sauce. In handy boxes with chopsticks.

I have been hearing nothing but how great Imelda Staunton is as Mrs. Lovett in this version of Sweeney Todd, and everything I've heard is absolutely correct. And possibly not superlative enough. She's really that fantastic. To see Laurie Metcalf last night and Imelda Staunton today was a master class in acting. This version was set in 1930's London, and it was gritty and creepy and wonderful. I can't get enough of the music. The atonal, dissonant sounds meld and blend into the most beautiful harmonies. And it's stirring, and moving, and the performances were so clever and funny. Staunton played a Mrs. Lovett who was darker and needier and funnier than any Mrs. Lovett's I've seen. You couldn't take your eyes off of her. Michael Ball, who played the original Marius in Les Mis, was Sweeney, and he was great as well. His voice is insanely good. It was such a stirring show for me. I loved it. I also loved sitting by Mr. Emma Thompson, Greg Wise (he played Mr. Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility) and Thompson's mother, Phyllida Law. I love minor celebrity spotting. I'm good at it.

Today was a double header for us, and our second show was The Comedy of Errors at the Roundhouse. So we headed back up to Chalk Farm. We ate some nice Thai food at a restaurant near the venue. We got to take our shoes off and sit on a bunch of pillows. They had slippers we could wear instead, but I think I was the only person who actually used them. Is it gross to wear random slippers in Thai restaurants? Computer says nooooo.

The Roundhouse is the same venue where we saw Twelfth Night, and the same cast. It will also be the same cast next week for The Tempest. This is particularly good news for Jena, who has fallen in love with the actor who has played Sebastian and Antipholus. The show tonight was fine. It was clever and funny in a lot of ways, and the Dromios were great. But it was also kind of chaotic and unfocused at times, and the design was lifeless and cold. I liked Twelfth Night a lot more. Hopefully this was just a slight mis-step and The Tempest will be phenomenal. I guess we'll see! I can always work on my Instagrams if I get bored in the show! Just kidding, I don't do things like that during shows. Sometimes I just fall asleep, though.

After the show tonight I gave Bonnie and Kaitlyn a demonstration on how to rent Barclay's bikes, and we decided then and there to take a late night bike ride around Hyde Park. It was perfect weather - summer evenings here are cool and fairly quiet - and the perimeter of the park is open and murderer-free, so we gave it a go. It was really nice. Great to get a breath of fresh evening air and see the Serpentine lit up along the park.