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September 29th, 2009

Bitter and Sweet

You'll be getting the rest of the report in bits and pieces, I'm afraid, and perhaps a little scrappier than if I were writing on the road. Life, alas, does not have a pause button, and I'm more behind than I might have been, what with being sick and Yom Kippur. Still, most of the laundry is done, the mail gone through, and the squeakiest wheels greased. The suitcases are even back in their cabinet--although why I bothered, since I'm only going to climb back up there and haul them out again in two weeks, I'm not sure. Didn't fancy tripping over them in the hall on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I guess.

Anyway. London. Plays.

The evening of Sunday the 20th, we went to see Troilus and Cressida at the Globe. I'd never seen it produced and was curious to see what they'd make of that thorny, disillusioned, intractable jumble of difficult poetry and unpleasant characters.

Quite a lot, as it turned out. I still had difficulty following the plot--why was Pandarus so dead-set on pushing Cressida into Troilus's bed, anyway? And what was up with Diomedes? And I was a little distracted by the fact that all the Trojans were heavily tattooed, and half the Greeks seemed to be wearing someone's silk curtains as cloaks, without having bothered to take the pinch pleats out of the headers. And I couldn't think that casting a black man as the boastful moron Ajax and directing him to act like a rapper was the production's most inspired idea. And I won't even go into Achilles's eye-liner and Patroclus's extraordinarily limp wrists. But---

The play was funny. Bitterly funny, meanly funny, nastily funny, ironically funny, but funny nonetheless. It was all in the situation, not the characters--the characters (even the most morally bankrupt ones) were just trying to make sense of a war they didn't really want to be in. For the characters, it was all a tragedy. For the audience, guided by the bitter Thersites, it was the darkest kind of comedy. I found myself laughing in spite of my pity for the gormless and very young and frightened Cressida, the equally gormless Troilus, the basically decent Agamemnon, the neurotically noble Hector. There was some slapstick, but not as much as there could have been, and every scene with Cassandra in it was unrelievedly harrowing.

There was a lot of coming and going among the groundlings, and some desertions at intermission. I don't think I'd go out of my way to see it again, but I'm glad I saw it once. And I shall certainly go see anything that's up at the Globe the next time I go to London. That's a good, good company.

And what did we see the next night? Oliver!

It's by way of being Ellen's favorite musical. Her parents had the original-cast album at home, she knew all the songs by heart, she'd seen the movie and we'd seen a play based on the material, plus the BBC mini-series on Monsterpiece Theatre, but she'd never seen the musical staged. Her parents had seen it the week before, when they were in London, and said it was prime, so she went to the 1/2 price ticket place in Leichester Square, and got tickets for Monday night.

Ellen's parents were right. It was prime.

For one thing, there were plenty of orphans. Not 25-year-olds pretending to be kids, either--real 8-10 year-olds, in period-perfect depressing grey suits, trilling "Food, Glorious Food" in perfectly-rehearsed harmony. The costumes were wonderful--right out of Cruikshank's illustrations, and very like them. All except Nancy, who was decked out in a bright red dress that looked like it came out of some other show, along with her acting, which was enthusiastic, but not skilled, and her singing, which was modern pop-star belting. Everyone else actually acted, if broadly, and sang with nice attention to the meaning and clarity of the lyrics. Fagin is played by the popular stand-up comic Omid Djalili. For the most part, he was very good, but in a scene where he was obviously improvising, fell smack into the trap of making cheap Jewish jokes, which tarnished the enchantment a little. Still, it's a wonderful Oliver!, and because of the huge number of kids involved, it's not likely to be brought to the US. So I'm very glad I saw it. Ellen did not sing along with all the songs, but the elderly lady sitting on my other side did, untunefully, but so cheerfully that I didn't even mind.

Now I want to read Oliver Twist again. Maybe I'll get it for my iPhone, when I've replaced it. Maybe tomorrow.

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