What I did on my weekend mini-break

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After the unprecedented blogging success of my post about my holidays (it got three whole comments), I’ve decided to see if I can repeat the trick. Obviously, in the true spirit of sequels, this post will be not quite as interesting, and feel disappointingly lacking in originality.

So here we go – what I did on my weekend mini-break in London Town, ranked in reverse order of fun-itude! We saw 3 shows  and did 3 museums, so read on to find out which were charttoppers and which fell flat. Feel free to play some Top of the Pops style chart rundown background music in your head to get you in the mood.

 

6. Wicked – the Musical

This is the musical based on the Good and Wicked Witch characters from The Wizard of Oz. The basic idea is that the story is retold from the Wicked Witch’s point of view, and the show makes us consider who actually decides that one person is Good and another Wicked, and whether we might take a different view if we heard the other side of the story. It’s a clever and interesting idea, and the show had absolutely stellar reviews both on Broadway and the West End, so it might be a surprise to see this coming in in bottom place on my weekend chart. Unfortunately, for me (and much beloved accompanying husband),  it was just a bit meh. Very ballad heavy, lacking in memorable tunes (Defying Gravity excepted), and the stage set, whilst aesthetically impressive didn’t really contribute much to the performance. Add to that some pretty ropey diction from the performers, which undermined the impact of a lot of the songs, and the overall experience was never more than ok. Worth seeing if someone springs you a free (or very heavily discounted) ticket. We had £55 tickets, discounted to £30 and still felt like it wasn’t worth the money.

 

5. The Science Museum

A museum of highs and lows. Highs – being free, LaunchPad (the kid’s bit with lots of stuff to play with), the space gallery. Lows – the history of medicine galleries and the history of maths/computing gallery – both suffer from very dry, old-fashioned displays. The major low though seemed to be the lack of science. Lots of the museum is taken up with objects which are never really linked together into a story of scientific progress or endeavour. It’s just big rooms of stuff.  I also docked big points for them calling themselves the Science Museum and having a display about homeopathy that at no point mentions how there’s no reliable scientific evidence of anything beyond a placebo effect from homeopathic treatment. Just an asterix and a footnote saying “Of course, this is bollocks” would have sufficed. It’s the SCIENCE Museum, not the RANDOM THINGS SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE Museum. Tsk.

 

4. Tate Modern

Another mix of highs and lows. Highs – being free (sensing a theme at all??), and some individual works, particularly some of the Picassos, the Alberto Giacometti sculptures, a Jackson Pollack and a Kandinsky painting which was my personal favourite. Lows – the feeling that I must be a bit thick cos I don’t really understand most of the art. Yes, I see that you’ve cut out some red paper. I totally get that you’ve stuck it to the wall. Yup, you have stuck it to the wall in quite a nice pattern. I can read on the little explanation card that this can be seen as a comment on the nature of materials and disposability, but I’m not really feeling it. Now, I’m not going to just diss Modern Art. I completely accept that some people get something from these installations that I don’t. But I still don’t.

 

3. The Globe Theatre Tour & Exhibition

Lovely tour guide who was super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Beautiful theatre. Interesting exhibition, which felt just the right size for the information being communicated. (Science museum take note – no endless cabinets of loosely associated objects here). Would have liked a little bit more time to see some of the live demonstrations (sword-fighting, costume making etc) that were going on, but I can’t really blame the exhibition for us not allowing enough time.

 

2. We Will Rock You

The surprise hit of the weekend. We bought tickets to this because we wandered along to the late tickets booth in Leicester Square on Saturday morning and this was what they had. It’s the Ben Elton scripted musical based on the music of Queen. The basic premise is that 300 years in the future rock music has been banned in favour of computer generated homogenised pop. Our hero and heroine are two teenagers who go on a quest to rediscover the old music and reinvent rock. It’s a terrible premise. Every rational expectation is that this show should be awful, but somehow it’s kind of briliant. I think there are basically three reasons it works despite itself. Firstly, Ben Elton’s script embraces the lunacy of the premise, makes lots of jokes about it and then cheerfully steamrollers through. The sheer gusto is hard to resist. Secondly, the familiarity of the music gives an instant feeling of audience involvement and engagement. Thirdly, the performances and production values were generally excellent throughout, and this was in a performance where three of the main characters were being played by understudies. Fully expected to hate this. Didn’t. Pretty much loved it. It was sort of the opposite of Wicked which has a good idea, poorly executed. This was a terrible idea, somehow elevated into a really very good show.

 

1. Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theatre

The standout event of the weekend, and the reason for the whole trip. I’d never been to a play at the Globe before. If you haven’t either, then you really should. Standing tickets for the yard immediately in front of the stage are only a fiver. That’s cheaper than the cinema and you have the possibility of being hugged, jostled, and spat on by the actors. The Globe experience is unlike a modern indoor theatre. The audience are much more open to distractions from outside the play, and the actors have to be completely engaged with the audience and the wider environment to keep the audience within the story.

The play itself, Much Ado About Nothing, is one of my favourite plays (so much so that I’ve based on novel on it), and this was a brilliant production. The scene stealing characters in Much Ado are always Benedick and Beatrice – if you get those two characters right, you’ve generally got a pretty good production, and this production got them both bang on. I was particularly impressed with how well all the actors played the comedy in the play. Comedy in Shakespeare is tricky with modern audiences. There’s a lot of wordplay, much of which doesn’t quite survive the jump across 400 years of development of English. This production played both the language and the physical comedy beautifully.

 

So to conclude, I think I’ve decided, through the method of gallivanting around our rather brilliant capital for three days, that I really am a very word-oriented girl. I’m not really moved by music when I can’t hear the words (Wicked). I’m not that interested in physical objects if I don’t have a sense of their narrative (Science Museum). I don’t really respond to a lot of visual art until I’ve read the card that tells me what to think (Tate Modern). I do very much like a good communicative tour guide (Globe Exhibition), a song I know the words too (We Will Rock You), and a bit of 400 year old romantic wordplay (Much Ado About Nothing).

Come back later in the week (or you know, maybe the week after) when I shall be thinking more random thoughts about things. In fact, why not click on the lovely “Subscribe” link up at the top of the page and I believe you’ll get a rather charming little email notification whenever I actually get around to thinking something new.

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8 thoughts on “What I did on my weekend mini-break

    John Harrison said:
    September 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Well I feel richer in my soul for reading this….. yes okay it’s mainly because I like the word fun-itude and your mutter-wangs about homeopathy. Have you read “The End Of Mr Y”? Homeopathy on toast. Hmmm so you reckon “We Will Rock You” is worth a skeg then?

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      alisonmay responded:
      September 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      Fun-itude is a good word isn’t it? I think I shall use it liberally in conversation from now on.

      We Will Rock You is an interesting one. I really enjoyed it, but had fairly low expectations. It’s definitely one approach with an attitude of “It might be fun,” rather than in the hope of finding great intellectual enlightenment through art. On the plus side it is fabulously rude about X-factor and Simon Cowell, which is nice.

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    hollyannegetspoetic said:
    September 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I am hugely jealous on a couple of fronts here. Firstly the Globe! It’s too long since I saw any proper theatre… But possibly more enticing for me is the Tate…. Oooooh! I remember seeing a Turner exhibition there in 1993 (feeling a little old seeing that date written down) and being completely mesmerised by the vast scale of the canvasses. You don’t need to read the explanatory notes, I reckon – art is something that either moves us or it doesn’t. I’m almost anti explanatory notes, thinking about it – as greatly trying to resist the temptation to attach them to the poems on my blog. After all, art, literature and indeed buns, are subjective: we either like or we don’t. It’s not for writers, artists, etc, to tell people what to think of it (although have just been told someone sensed a “theme of fear of abandonment” in a completely unlinked selection of mine… odd). Perhaps the red paper on the wall was just a bit “meh”.

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      alisonmay responded:
      September 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      The red paper wasn’t actually the most meh. There was less inspiring stuff, but I can’t remember any of it now… which kind of demonstrates the point. The sort of art I really struggle with is the video and object installations. Just don’t really get it. Don’t mind a bit of explanatory note – don’t want to be told what to think, but can be interesting to contrast the gallery or artist’s interpretation with your own reaction. Also, you do sometimes get your attention drawn to something you hadn’t noticed before. Am definitely in the running to be the least arty and romantic romance writer around though!

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    alisonwells said:
    September 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    This is a lovely post. I feel satisfied and productive in my procrastination.

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    Elaine Simpson-Long said:
    September 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I ramble boringly on about my life and doings in between reviewing books and I loved this post. I simply adore going to the Globe, the atmosphere, the audience the entire experience is something else and I just wish I could have seen Shakespeare like this in my youth and not be put off it for over 30 years because of the teaching at my school. I have not made it this summer but last year saw The Merry Wives of Windsor and I don’t think I have laughed so much in yonks. Also Henry IV parts 1 and 2 – both brilliant

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      alisonmay responded:
      September 13, 2011 at 9:40 am

      Oh, don’t get me started on the way Shakespeare is taught in (some) schools. I teach adult evening classes, and seem to spend a high proportion of time trying to encourage people to revisit things they hated at school! I think teaching any play has to involve either going to see or performing the play – you can’t just read a play off the page and expect to get a sense of the whole thing. Grrr…

      I’ve only seen the musical version of Merry Wives that the RSC did 2-3 years ago, but that was brilliant. Involved Judi Dench doing a cartwheel (although given that she’s about 70 I suspect it may not actually have been her!)

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    Elaine Simpson-Long said:
    September 13, 2011 at 10:28 am

    It was being dragged to the cinema by my then 15 year old daughter to see ken Branagh in Much Ado that got me interested again. I remember just laughing so hard at this and amazed that I could enjoy WS and I then started to revisit him. It was a slow process but what finally did it was seeing HIV Parts 1 and 2 at the National with Michael Gambon as Falstaff. part 1 in the afternoon, break for supper and back. I went at the behest of a friend and was not sure I would enjoy it but I ame out at 10 pm at night and could have danced across Waterloo Bridge so exalted was I by it all. After that, I started going to the Globe and loving it. Still cannot take the tragedies though…

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