Travels: London: Saturday 9th December 2000

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Highlights

The Mikado, Life x 3, Porter's English Restaurant, Royals Indian Restaurant.


I didn't get to sleep properly till about 01:45 due to some noisy and selfish young British people in nearby rooms - banging on each others' doors, shouting through doors and chatting in the corridor. Consequently I didn't surface till 09:30 and then headed via Embankment Station to Pimlico and Tate Britain. [For future reference, a good route to the Tate from Cambridge is a Liverpool Street line train to Tottenham Hale and change to the Victoria Line.]

The William Blake exhibition was very impressive - many rooms and well worth the 5 ticket (with my NACF discount). There's a Blake Interactive site too. Blake's life work is well represented and in particular his personal mythology.

I'd missed a rain shower while inside (yet again). I popped back to the hotel and then went to the nearby Porter's English Restaurant (Henrietta Street), recommended by the The Earl of Bradford's London Restaurant Guide, though he explains it's his restaurant! The menu is superb: proper, traditional English food done with flair and style and at a sensible price. There's a fine selection of wines, some available in three sizes: ordinary glass, very large glass (1/3-bottle!) and a bottle. There are also real beers and ciders. By 12:45 it was about 3/4 full at the street level, though there are other areas to the rear. Over the bar there's a wonderful [Victorian?] ventilation contraption: a row of paddles are worked to and fro by rods, in turn driven by a camshaft. The bar area is partitioned off by an elegant frosted glass screen. A good selection of pop music was playing unobtrusively on the PA.

This was the first restaurant I'd been to all year in which I was given an appropriate amount of time to study the menu before being asked. I chose lamb steak with (their own) tomato sauce and chips and a large glass of Merlot. A tray (as in an Indian restaurant) containing three pots arrived: a white sauce, mustard and mint sauce - I had the mint. All delicious! For pud I had spotted dick plus custard and finished with coffee. All refills of coffee or tea are free. The bill was 17.55 with no service charge added - excellent value.

As I headed back through Covent Garden market my path intersected with Simon Callow, currently starring solo in The Mystery of Charles Dickens and looking very much the part. I feel as though I should see the show (it seems highly recommended) yet I don't care for Dickens, finding him grossly overrated, like Shakespeare.

After popping back to my hotel room, I crossed the Strand to the Savoy Theatre to see the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company perform...

The Mikado

My seat (booked via FirstCall) was in the Upper Circle, very high up but still a good view. I was longing to see The Mikado performed again by the D'Oyly Carte, having seen it around 1970-2 at the Wimbledon Theatre, performed once by the DC and once by another group.

The set was in what seems to be the current style - elegant and brightly-coloured but essentially minimalist, with the cast manipulating objects on stage to suggest larger structures and with subtle drop-downs such as curtains. The costumes were of UK high society of around the 1890s but with inspired touches suggesting Japan. For instance men wore morning suits (including spats) but with wide cummerbunds with large double bows at the back. The make-up also referred to Japan: heavy white around the disk of the face. The orchestra were under a forward projection of the stage and the auditorium looked to have been refurbished fairly recently (and sumptuously). The audience featured all ages, unlike some other productions I'd been to recently. There were many foreign accents audible - I always wonder to what extent such folk can follow all the subtleties and especially the jokes.

The performance was polished, as ever, with Koko and Poo-Bah stealing the show as usual. The classic "I've got a little list" ad-lib section featured GM food, the Bush/Gore election arguments, French beef and many other current references, as is traditional (and intended).

When the Mikado finally appeared it was in a costume inspired by Henry VIII (but with Japanese touches) and with an enormous and complex head-and-back piece. It featured bagpipes with Union Flags on each pipe. He carried a sceptre and orb in one hand and a fan in the other. Gloriously over-the-top!

For the record the performance lasted from 14:30 to 17:05 with an interval at 15:40 of about 25 minutes.

[Months later I heard that some of the costumes had come from Mike Leigh's film Topsy Turvy.
Background: A Knight at the Opera edition of Trouble at the Top from 1998.]

***

I returned to my room but misjudged the timing and had to rush across Waterloo Bridge to the National Theatre Lyttelton for 19:30. I paused on the Bridge to take pics. of the multicoloured illuminations on the London Eye, specially set up for the Christmas period.

Life x 3

Yasmina Reza's new play opened on the 7th and was already receiving some acclaim, mixed with suspicion that it's a bit similar to Art. The cast of two couples were excellent: Mark Rylance (Henry) + Harriet Walter (Sonia), Imelda Staunton (Ines) + Oliver Cotton (Hubert). The play shows three versions of the same sequence of events, with the "power relationships" between the characters slightly different in each one.

Henry is a struggling research astrophysicist and Sonia a financial lawyer, with off-stage interruptions from their young son. Hubert is a power-broker senior scientist with Ines a bored suburban housewife. The setting is a quiet evening at home for Henry and Sonia, interrupted by Hubert and Ines arriving a day early for dinner.

Various interrelationships are explored, such as whether Hubert will get Henry a promotion, whether Hubert and Sonia should have a fling and whether Ines should "get a life" (YR plays the character in the Paris production). As with Art, it's a fascinating study, with plenty of laughs along the way, many involving chocolate fingers!

This time there seemed to be few people in the audience under 40. I welcomed the lack of an interval in the 90-minute performance. [I always wonder about the apparent complusion to buy small tubs of ice cream in theatres but rarely anywhere else in daily life.]

***

It was raining again yet there were still plenty of people about as I walked up Bow Street to Endell Street and into Royals Indian Restaurant. I was surprised at how few people were there, especially since nearly all other restaurants in the area seem packed every evening. In any case it's striking how few Indian restaurants there are in Theatreland compared with central Cambridge. Whilst I had my meal (delicious and only 15.40), lots of groups peered in. [That's another thing I can't understand - what are such people looking for? If they want Indian food and there's room, just come in!] There were a fair few drunken idiots of both sexes about: some tried coming into the restaurant but were tactfully handled by the staff.


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