Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Queen's English

I don't know if Alex's request for more food photos still stands, but here is yesterday's lunch. It was really yum, from a place on the South bank.

I should really take a photo of my delicious breakfast smoothies. I'm getting 5 star service at Chrissy and Piet's - my homemade fruit smoothie was delivered to me in bed this morning!

Yesterday I got the tube to Waterloo and headed to the National Theatre to see if I could get any on-the-day tickets to London Road, which has excellent reviews and an extended sold out season. I was very lucky to get one of two returned tickets for 32 pounds. And while I was looking through the National Theatre's programme I saw that James Corden from Gavin & Stacey is in a show there at the moment, it's sold out for the next week or so too, so I will have to try turning up and getting a ticket for that on the day as well.

The South bank is officially my favourite place. Being right in the city is just annoying as there are so many people, whereas along the river bank it's busy but not crowded and at the moment they're having a cool summer festival with little beach huts, sand, outdoor performers etc. These two little girls were too cute not to take a photo of.

With many many hours to kill until show time, I walked over Westminster Bridge (where a couple of buskers dressed in brightly coloured gowns with hideous masks of the Queen were dancing to catchy foreign music), past St James park, and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. I recognised the Mall thanks to the Royal Wedding - I don't know if they have these Union Jacks up all the time but I recognised those as well. Those are some big tassles.

While I was sick at home the week before I left Wellington, I watched The King's Speech (which I really enjoyed, I loved Helena Bonham Carter and the portrayal of the Queen Mother as a bit sassy), so I had more appreciation for these statues of the Queen Mother and King George VI. Interesting choice of giant feather headwear for the Queen Mother.

The British are clearly into these 3D things at the bottom of their statues.

All around Buckingham Palace was teeming with people. I took a photo of The Balcony just because I could and half expected the Devil Child from the Royal wedding party to pop up at any moment with her hands over her ears.

However, I did not get to go into the rooms that are open at the moment while the Queen is on her summer holiday. The tickets were sold out for the rest of the day and the next day. Can I be bothered buying some online and going back? I would quite like to see The Dress in real life - not that you could get very close with so many people there.

My feet hate me, so after my Buckingham walk to and walk by, I went and sat in Green Park, next to the Palace, took my shoes off and snoozed for an hour. Weirdly, museums in London are free, deck chairs in the park are not. I had been sitting in one half asleep for about 10 minutes before a man came along and said, 'The chairs are one pound fifty for an hour, please.' For a moment I thought it was some kind of scam, but then I realised it explained why so many people were sitting/lying on the grass when there were empty deck chairs all around them. I was too comfortable to get up so I paid the ridiculous fee and continued sitting in the sun (wearing sun block of course, don't worry Mum) for an hour.

Then I wandered along Picadilly and turned down some interesting streets, tried on a very Kate Middleton dress (navy blue, cowl neck, tiny waist) and nearly bought it except it seemed pretty poorly made, realised I was in Soho which made me feel like Kate Moss, and then realised I had completely lost my sense of direction. I ended up on Charing Cross Road which annoyed me because I'd been there the other day and I would rather be walking along a street I hadn't been down before. Anyway, after one of the best strawberry milshakes and burgers I've ever had at a place called Byron, I crossed back over the river ready for some theatre.

Photo from here, where there's also an interesting article

No wonder, London Road is sold out. It's in a pretty small theatre by National Theatre standards. Having done a backstage tour of the National Theatre and been to a show there in 2005, I was expecting it to be one of the giant ones. But it was nice being so close to the actors, it probably works better that way than in a giant theatre.

But aside from the small venue, it's clearly also sold out because it's a great piece of theatre. Turning verbatim theatre (which is created with the actual words from interviews with real people, and in some cases with the actors mimicking exactly how the people interviewed have said things) into musical theatre sounds kind of impossible, but it works really well, even with every 'um' and 'you know' included. It makes you realise how musical people's everyday speech patterns are anyway. The show is about people who lived on London Road in Ipswich during and after the murders of five prostitutes who worked on the street, by a guy who had recently moved to the street.

Because the show is made from actual things people said, some of their opinions can be pretty controversial. In the second half one character was saying how she didn't feel sorry for the murdered prositutes because they had been a nuisance when they worked on London Road (rude to residents etc) and were a blight on society, so they were probably better off ten feet under (I don't know why she said ten feet instead of six feet). This American woman began yelling out, 'Shame on you! Shame on you for saying that, you are heartless!' and at first I thought it was part of the show but the actress seemed momentarily taken aback and then just started repeating parts of the previous lines, so I think it was entirely unexpected. The American woman didn't stop, she kept replying to the bits of the lines, 'You don't say that, you might think it but you never say it out loud, shame on you!' until another actor came on and the scene changed (luckily I think it had happened at the end of a scene anyway). It only lasted about 2 or 3 minutes all up but it was pretty uncomfortable. I guess in one way it's great that the American woman was so engaged in the show, but in another, it was just a weird thing to do because the actress wasn't speaking her own personal opionion, she was truthfully recounting someone else's exact words. And being verbatim theatre, you can't just start making up new lines to respond to some hecker. Or can you?

All the actors were amazing. They all played a number of different characters but each had a core London Road resident they returned to. I kept wondeirng whether the interviews had been video as well as audio recorded because every single character had really strong physical characteristics as well as strong speech ones. Or whether the physical traits grew out of the speech ones.

The set was simple but really effective and sometimes very surprising. The lid of a hot water urn from the Community Watch meeting in the first scene suddenly lifted off and rose up to reveal a hanging basket of flowers as the second scene began which was set during London Road's street garden competition after the murders.

The feeling after the show and the mesaages behind it were complicated, because obviously the opinions of a group of people are complicated and it's not easy to create one overarching theme. Prostitution is still illegal in Britain which seemed archaic from a New Zealand point of view. But the show was more about the residents of London Road than the situations of the women who'd been murdered. And for London Road the murders ended up being a positive thing because it brought the residents together, which is both awful and nice at the same time.

I bought the CD of the show because the technique was so interesting. Some of the songs are catchy but they're pretty bleak so I don't think I'll start listening to it all the time. Actually, all this talk about murdering young women at night didn't make the tube trip home by myself seem so appealing, but actually Waterloo was really busy and there were lots of people still around at 10pm on a Wednesday night so I felt fine. I even saw two women waiting on the platform I'd meet through barbershop a few years ago, so chatted to them on the way home. Small world. I also saw a mouse scurrying around right by the edge of the platform. I guess tube stations are rich pickings for mice, as long as they mind the gap and stay away from the tracks.

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