… I went to the theatre.
I don’t go to the theatre as often as I should, ‘cos working in theatre makes it hard to find the time to… you know… go to the theatre. But! Topsecretproject3 was finished and within 40 minutes I was pretty bored, really, because sure, there’s editing to do, but it’s usually a good idea to leave at least a week between finishing a novel and editing, as writers already have no objectivity, and a bonkers hyper writer what has just finished scribbling, less so.
And sure, there’s topsecretproject4 and its three sub-projects, but they’re soooo different from topsecretproject3 that to actually dive straight in would be… rash. Shall we say.
To pass the time, therefore, I’ve started trying to re-learn German. And French. And my scores on memrise for my Chinese vocab have shot up. And I’ve been doing a lot of escrima. And cooking. And reading a lot of books for the Kitsches. And basically…
… I have a really low boredom-tolerance threshold.
So I went to see Coriolanus.
The gentleman I went with didn’t know much about the play.
“It’ll be fun!” I may have said. “One of Shakespeare’s lighter works. Giggle a minute. No matching sets of identical twins to speak of, but you know Romans and their mothers – the gags don’t stop coming.”
With an enthusiasm that might not have been so vivid had he known about the Mother-monologue in Act 5, we shuffled up at an early-ish hour of the morning and wandered through London streets via a bacon sandwich and a cuppa coffee to the Donmar Warehouse, where, by 9 a.m., there was already a queue. One gentleman, right at the front of the line, was sat on an inflatable mattress, and the suspicion crept upon us that maybe, he’d been there all night.
“Okay,” murmured my companion as we ambled into line. “Are we not taking this seriously enough?”
“Sure we are! We’re here, we’re queuing, you’ve got a book, I’ve got a book, we’ve had a bacon sandwich each and if it all goes horribly wrong, we’ll go to the British Museum or the National Gallery or both and it’ll be a shame, because theatre is by definition, a unique experience night-after-night and we shall not see this production again, but we’ll still have our dignity.”
At 10 a.m. on the dot, the queue started moving, and by 11ish we were at the front where a rather harried box office manager looked at us like a flu inoculation – needful, but somewhat unwelcome. We gobbled up what felt suspiciously like the last two tickets to the matinee, and rather startled at this turn of events, stood numb on the streets of Covent Garden.
“Well,” said my companion, “That was unexpected. I guess there’s no not-seeing it now.”
First, however, there was time to fill. Having waited in the cold for a couple of hours, the priorities were benches and warmth. Thank heaven for the National Gallery.
When I was very, very mini, I was taken by my Mum and Gran to see a picture in the basement of the National Gallery. An earnest lad in white gloves pulled it out of a mysterious rack of endless canvases for us to admire. It was by a man called Frith, and showed Paddington Station in the late Victorian era, full of chaos, smoke, people, order and confusion. We got to see it, because my Mum’s side of the family are grandchildren of this artist, and so obviously my first port of call was to see if it was on display.
It wasn’t. We wandered past pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, saints and sinners; through galleries of Venetian rogues peering out from ancient canvas, and past faded images of country living in the 1700s. We sat for a long time looking at a painting by Joseph Wright of a man demonstrating his latest scientific experiments to a gathered room. One child turns away in terror from the apparatus, another gives her comfort. One man in enthralled, another pensive, while in the corner of the room, two would-be youthful lovers glance at each other, not as interested, perhaps, in the scientific process as they might be.
Three rooms further on from that, we found Monet. I love Monet. I adore Van Gogh, I can’t get enough of the colour and the movement and… and things that I’m sure there are technical terms for in impressionist painting but to me just look like explosions of life. Had I realised how much impressionist art there was to see, we probably would have spent less time looking at 1500s Jesus.
In short: the National Gallery is an awesome place to get warm.
Further to the themes of warmth was lunch in a noodle bar in Soho – not, I hasten to add, in Chinatown, because a meal in Chinatown is an Event, where as a meal at a noodle bar is simply a meal – and a trip to Foyles. I shouldn’t ever be let into Foyles bookstore. I just want… all of it. Basically… all of it…
But! Shouty Shakespearean Romans wait for no woman, so having done our circuit through WC1, we wandered back to Seven Dials and Coriolanus.
I like the Donmar Warehouse. Even in seats so cheap you don’t actually sit, you’re probably no more than 5m from the stage, and as characters address the riotous people of Rome, you do want to start joining in with a cry of ‘burn the traitors!’ or perhaps just ‘oh no he isn’t!’
The play is, for anyone wondering, not a bundle of laughs. Like most of Shakespeare, it’s got its funny bits, and thankfully there was plenty of playing the funny parts for what they were, rather than trying to intone everything in oratorical Roman fashion. I confess looking at the lighting, but it’s a testimony to how much I enjoyed the play that I only looked at the lighting some of the time. This is a rare, difficult thing to do. My professional sympathy was divided between the actor playing the title role, who was variously soaked, pelted and suspended in ways best not elaborated on here, and the stage management team who had to clear it all up.
But, switching off that part of the brain for a second… I think it was awesome.
Make no mistake, there’s a lot of Men Being Men in the play, and women being… somewhere between funky and horrendous. Possibly both. Probably both, in fact, simultaneously, because if there’s one thing you can expect from a play like Coriolanus it’s a bit of complexity, of so much meaning in even the simplest line that you cannot guarantee that Bob sat on the left side of the stage understood it as Sarah did in auditorium right, even though they heard and saw the same thing.
Which… yes… I think fulfills the definition of ‘awesome’.
And more to the point, I feel knackered. I was pretty knackered when I finished topsecretproject3, the arrival of copy editorials for topsecretproject2 did nothing to ease this fatigue, and having spent a day wandering through halls of incredible art and watching a stonking play full of betrayal, pride and power, I think, finally, even my boredom threshold has broken, and tonight at last, it’ll be a good night’s sleep.