Sunday, March 25, 2007

Day Three -- The Mystery Play

A friend of Debra's lives in Germany.  She flew in to visit Debra in London for a few days.  So, yesterday (Day three) they went off to do something vaguely touristy (I have no idea what) and I decided to go see another play.

So, I tool on over to the half-price ticket booth, and take a look at the pickins for the matinee.  Not so hot.  Oh, sure, there were about 15 or 20 shows available, but nothing that would really work for me.  Many of them started too late (I was to meet Debra and her friend for dinner around 6:00 -- so the so-called "matinee" at 5:00 was just completely out of the question) and I wasn't really interested in the others.  Figured I might as well pay full price for something I actually wanted to see.

First on the list was Billy Elliott (the musical -- based on the movie).  Figured I'd head on out to the theatre and either see the matinee or -- if decent tix were not available -- buy a ticket for later in the week.  So, I get there (and it's a bit of a pain in the butt, because one of the underground lines that I needed to use was out of commission -- so I had do a little work-around) -- it's around 2:00, and the show is at 2:30.  I get to the box office-- no, I get to the guard in front of the box office.  She tells me that the only seat available for the matinee is Restricted View.  So is the only seat available for the evening performance.  OK, I'll buy something later in the week.  No, I can't.  The guard won't let me near the booth until after the show has started at 2:30.  (Why?  I wonder.  Are they expecting a rush on that restricted view seat?)  I don't want to wait around a half hour, so I'm back on the underground.

My second choice is a show at the Royal National Theatre.  I don't know too much about it, but don't entirely care.  In recent trips to London, I've often rolled the dice on a show at the National, and it's always been good.  (Things I've planned to see there haven't always been great -- but the ones I take a chance on have been.)  High quality acting there, and I recognized the playwright's name from recent work, so it seemed a reasonable shot in the dark.

The National is a three theatre complex.  I hit the box office queue at about 2:25. I duly wait my turn, only to find out that "This close to show time, you need to ask for returns at the individual theatre" -- which is around the corner.  I run like hell around the corner, and hit the box office at 2:31.  They've actually started.  (What?  No grace period?  What's up with you people?)  I ask at the desk if there's any chance of a single seat.  "I'm sorry; all we have left is standing room for five pounds." 

I do a quick calculation:  Have to stand.  But it's only 5 pounds (about ten bucks).  And it's 2:30 now, so I really don't have any other options for the afternoon.  I pony up my 5 pounds and am escorted to my place to lean. 

And am completely entranced for the next two-and-a-half hours.  (My unbroken string of taking chances on plays at the National remains intact.)  The play is called "The Reporter" -- what I knew about it going in is that it is based on the life of a BBC Reporter and sometime spy who committed suicide.  That's pretty much enough to get me in the door.

What I actually got was a theatrical experience (says the program, "The play is not a biography nor a history but a play") which examined the nature of journalism (whether a reporter should remain detached) while dealing with the intensely personal drama of a closeted homosexual (in the 1960s) who figured that coming out would destroy his professional career.  The play actually begins with the reporter's suicide (so you sorta know how things are going to turn out) and tries to determine what it was that led him to take his life (and leave an extremely puzzling suicide note).  Also had some very pointed commentary about Britain's involvement in backing the U.S. in Vietnam -- and you'd have to be living under a rock to not think about Iraq.  Spiffy play.  Excellent way to spend an afternoon (and ten bucks).

Got back across the Thames and booked back out to the Billy Elliott theatre.  The matinee was just letting out and now they were willing to sell me a ticket for Monday night.  Hooray!  Back on the train and got back just in time to meet Debra and her friend for dinner.  We didn't get into the restaurant I had in mind, so just grabbed some eats at a little cafe.

Debra and I then went off for our next play.  (There's a theme to my vacations.)  We'd bought tickets for what I think was the final performance of The Tempest, starring Patrick Stewart as Prospero.

Debra is not a big fan of The Tempest.  I'm not either, but I'd pretty much thought it was because I just hadn't seen a really good production of it.  I mean, I dig Shakespeare in general -- so I figure if this play isn't working for me, I should just keep seeing it until I see someone who actually gets it right.

OK, I can now officially report I just don't dig The Tempest.  Extremely good production (very accessible; very creepy; very effective), excellent acting (although this time I've noticed that Prospero doesn't have a whole lot of stage time), and, all things considered, it just didn't do it for me.  Hey, can't say I didn't try.

Next up:  Sunday.  All theatres are dark.  (What will I do?)

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