Sunday, January 02, 2005

Plays and museums and wizards in short skirts

Well! I was hoping that I would get more time to use the internet cafe here in the mall in London, but our tour group has been taking things at a somewhat frenetic pace, and this may be my best chance to do a little reporting from abroad.

It really has been just a fabulous trip. I wish I had a better word for it than that. "Fabulous" doesn't cut it. Krispy Kreme donuts are fabulous. Being first in line at the post office is fabulous. This should be something else ...

Well, I could absorb and spread some of the local patois and say it was brilliant. Those who watch Brit-TV know that this is a catch-all for anything good, and whereas it's been so devalued by overuse here that I heard one over-enthusiastic cooking show host refer to shitake mushrooms, lobster ravioli and onions in general as brilliant, it's still new to us. So my trip has been brilliant.

The tour group I'm with has given almost equal time to London's amazing museums and its amazing theater. It's like we're cramming for the big, BIG culture exam that's coming next week. Yesterday we went to the National Gallery and saw their exhibit of Raphael work with time at the end to peruse a collection of art that I could literally spend two weeks here dealing with. I really love the great art galleries, and this may be my new second-favorite (the Art Institute in Chicago is still number one, but it's close).

Today was a theater day, and so we toured backstage at the Royal Theatre on Drury Lane and saw Ian ("Gandalf") McKellan appearing in drag in a play for children.


No, seriously. This is a thing that they tried to explain to me before I came, but it didn't make sense until I saw it. The English have a tradition of having plays they call pantomimes over the Christmas/New Year's holidays. These aren't true pantomimes -- people are allowed to talk. It's a play for children, usually one of the familiar stories (ours was "Aladdin") and including lots of the kind of broad slapstick and audience participation -- hissing at villians, responding on cue, doing a sing-along -- that children like. But at some point in its history, the actors began both camping it up and inserting the kind of sly jokes and double-entendres that the Big Folk liked to hear at the music halls. And somewhere along the line, it became the custom to have a major actor perform one of the woman's roles in fairly outrageous drag. And so the imperious and imposing Ian McKellan, without changing his booming, one-ring-to-bind-them voice one whit, appeared as the Widow Twankey and do a completely frightening amount of strutting, mincing and hip-swaying.


Sort of says it, doesn't it?


Blogger Jim N. said...

That IS brilliant. How funny...

Oh, and God only knows how many 1000s of pounds of shitake mushrooms I cleaned during my prep-cook years in fine dining, but I still pronounce it wrong every time I see it printed: shit-take. Which always tosses me back a bit. :)

January 6, 2005 at 9:07 PM  

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