Saturday, May 13, 2006

London Day Two

At every turn, games. Gin. Cribbage. Backgammon. Repeat. Leslie is slightly edging me in total victories but we basically even. Off to the National at 2 p.m. to see a revival of Peter Shaffer's "Royal Hunt of the Sun." Leslie and I indulge in our never-ending argument about whether it's quicker to take the tube or the bus. She won't just admit that she hates the tube; she also has to argue that the bus is quicker, which 90% of the time it is most assuredly not. We take the bus and it CRAWLS through Picadilly Circus. People on foot are walking past us. Old people on foot are wlaking past us. Leslie insists the bus is much classier, even though an old lade with sores on her leg (and a bandage covering them) has her feet up right near us and squawking away about how the sores hurt. At night, of course, the buses are filled with drunks, but Leslie is never on the bus late at night. We get off the bus near Charing Cross and have to RUN the entire way. The lead Alun Armstrong is out with a sore throat but he performed last night. I switch the tickets for the evening performance (hoping he just took off the matinee) and our seats are even closer (third row almost center) and still just 10 pounds. To her credit, Leslie doesn't blink or suggest we go anyway. We RUN to the Globe, where the first season without Mark Rylance is just beginning. Leslie refuses to stand, even though it's great fun and only 5 pounds. (I'd pay extra to stand; you're right in front of the stage and have unique, wonderful views.) I check the top ticket price of 31 pounds and front row (in the seats at the back of the Globe, which is mostly standing and then three tiers of seats along the round wall). Leslie won't let me check the next lowest price and just buys them. We're seeing Coriolanus, with Jonathan Cake. It'as directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the new artistic director. Lots of fun, if not complex. Coriolanus is a bit of a pill, rather proud and rudely disdainful of the crowd. The show must be a favorite of dictators. The woman playing his mother has the most fun and it's all energetic, with some nice supporting turns. But of course, they make abundant use of the Groundlings. Two ramps lead into the standing room area and many entrances come from there. Actors also stand in the crowd and mill around repeatedly. Cake goes among the crowd when halfheartedly trying to win the people's support for him to enter council. And when he's stabbed in the back, Coriolanus falls into the crowd, absolutely astonishing a woman in the front who doesn't realize two actors are planted there to catch him. They rip out his heart and the cast pulls a shroud over the entire Groundling area. And then they dance. (A traditional end to a night at the theater and one the Globe wisely continues.) If ever you wanted to be in the standing area, this was the show. ** 1/2 our of four.

Then it's 5 p.m. and the next play begins at 7:30 p.m. Instead of just grabbing a bite and perhaps going into the Tate Modern and having a relaxing stroll around, Leslie insists we go home, grab a bite to eat, play a game and then RUN back, this time by taxi since we'd never make it otherwise. We can both agree the taxi can be quickest of all, depending on which theater you want to go to. Leslie always insists every cabbie in London is independently wealthy, with a second home in Spain and always just coming back from vacation, usually to Disney World in Florida. Our cabbie does in fact have a little place. Though not in Spain, Leslie insists it's a very posh place. He spends most of his time chatting amiably about how hard it is to make any money with petrol and the new rules and how you have to work six days a week or seven and share the cost of the cab with someone else. Leslie hears none of this; all she knows is that cabbies are super-wealthy and it's absurd to tip them.

Royal Hunt of the Sun -- *** out of four. I can see why others might have been bored by it. But a competent, decently done show for 10 pounds is a joy forever. I'd have to go to a lot of shows for many years before I got bored by that. It's all about Francisco Pizarro conquering the Incas. Their leader, who styles himself a god, promises to fill a massive room with gold in exchange for his freedom. Pizarro agrees, knowing it will be impossible to do. The room is filled and now Pizarro has to decide whether to break his word and free the Incan, whom he naturally has come to like very much. (Even if he hadn't given his word, wouldn't he feel bad about killing someone who has become his friend.) The Incan makes clear he made no guarantee of freedom for Pizarro's men and has every plan to slaughter them (160+) because they massacred 3000 of his attendants who were unarmed and came with the Incan to greet Pizarro. In among all of this are some typical religious debates, along with a scene of Pizarro dancing with the Incan that made me think of "the King and I." Good intelligent fare, with about 30 to 40 people onstage. Armstrong was good as Pizarro. It's the sort of show that would never be revived in New York (who could afford to do it?) so I'm very glad to have seen it. Back home to more games.

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