Thursday, May 24, 2012

Random Adventures in London

- The other day, I saw a production of Sweeney Todd.  When I mentioned that I was going to see it, my friend asked, "Haven't you already seen that show?"  I confess to a moment of total confusion -- the idea that I wouldn't want to see another production of Sweeney Todd was absolutely foreign to me.  I wanted to see different actors' takes on the roles, see what a new director did with it.  it was as if she'd asked "Haven't you already seen Hamlet?"  Sweeney isn't a show I see once and strike off my list; it's a show I keep seeing again and again, watching what new people bring to it.  I think I've just figured out how I define a "classic."

(When composing this post, I asked myself if I've seen more Sweeney Todds than Hamlets.  It's an interesting question.  Adding up stage, film, and television, I've seen, I think, eight Sweeneys and six Hamlets, although I feel like I'm missing a Hamlet.  This isn't to say I give the edge to Sondheim over Shakepeare -- Shakespeare wrote rather more, so it isn't surprising that I've spread out my viewings of his works.)

- Y'know, I'm kind of annoyed at all those jokes I hear on British TV about Americans being obese -- because I've seen a lot of Brits that tip the scales around here, and it isn't all tourists keeping those McDonald's restaurants open on every damn corner.  And then, while watching TV here, I caught the American export "Man vs. Food."  I apologize on behalf of my country.

- Had an adventure on the way to the theatre tonight.  I was going to the National -- I love going there, but I always get lost finding it from the nearest underground station (Waterloo).  Always, always, always.  That's just my way.  I often walk there from a different station (Embankment) -- it's further away (other side of the Thames), but at least I know the way.  I intended to leave 45 minutes to get from my flat (I've rented a flat for the week) to the theatre tonight, but got started a bit late, and only had a half hour.  I figured I wouldn't have time to walk from Embankment -- I'd have to go the Waterloo and hope I could find the damn place on the first try.

So, here I am, on the underground, three stops from Waterloo, and the train stops in the station and doesn't start moving again.  It's less than 20 minutes to showtime and I can't help but notice the train isn't going.  The helpful voice over the loudspeaker tells us that there's a suspicious package at the next station, so we're just going to sit here in the station before until they give us the "all clear."

Well, poop.

I give it about 2 minutes, and then realize that they probably haven't even approached the package yet (with the team in super suits).  I jump off the train.  I can walk it, but not in the now-fifteen minutes left.  But I could get a cab.  I am at Leicester Square -- tourist central -- the good news is: there will be a lot of cabs.  The bad news is: there wil be a lot of people in them.  I see a cab dropping off passengers and I pounce on it -- simultaneous to a local pouncing on it as well.  She asks where I'm going and it's the same general direction in which she's going.  She offers to share with me, have me dropped off at the theatre on the way to her destination, and pick up the tab for the cab.  (Those British, so very polite.)  I gratefully take her up on it, and we start driving to the other side of the river.  He's taking an odd route, and we eventually realize he's going to her destination first.  Polite British Lady (who had also been on the train stuck at Leicester Square) tried to get the cabbie's attention and have him drop me first -- I was on a tight deadline and she wasn't -- but he was on his cell phone and there are limits to how far you can go to get someone's attention and still be polite.  He drops her at her destination, she kindly pays him the meter plus an additional amount to get me to the theatre, and I, as politely as possible, tell him to step on it.

He drops me about a block from the theatre about a minute before showtime, and I run like hell.  As I enter the building, I hear the last-call bell.  The theatre is on the second floor (that's the third floor, to you and me) and I figure the elevator would be quicker.  I jump into the elevator, and share a ride with another American who was also stuck on the tube.  (She transferred to a different train and ended up on a two-line detour.)  We both go to the box office -- two of us, two box office attendants.  Other American goes to one attendant and is asked to show the credit card with which she purchased the ticket.  Other attendant asks me my surname and hands me the ticket while I'm still reaching for my credit card; she says, "Forget that; the show's about to start; you better run and get inside."  Very grateful to the attendant who put practicality over rules, I followed her instructions and ran.  Got my seat, apologized to the fellow next to me for my lateness, and had a good 30 seconds before the play began.  I noticed empty seats beside me and told him that "those people must be later than I am."  They were -- weren't allowed to sit down until the first convenient break in the performance, about 15 minutes in.  I'm sure they were on the same train, too.

- I've got a (potentially) tight connection on Saturday, between two plays in two different cities.  It should work  If the first show starts and ends on time, I should have plenty of time to make it to the train station, and if the train leaves and gets back to London on time, I should have plenty of time to get to the theatre.  But if I miss that train, I'm ... screwed really.  It's funny -- I depend so heavily on public transit when I'm here, but I tend to forget how fragile it really is.

- When I walked back from the theatre tonight (to Embankment), I walked across the Waterloo Bridge, which is a favorite walk of mine.  At the end of the bridge, though, I tend to hold my breath, as it requires walking past a place the homeless tend to use as a urinal, which smells a bit unpleasant.  This time, the bad smell was almost totally gone.  And I thought, "Wow, thet really are cleaning this place up for the Olympics."

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