Monday, 11 October 2010

Coincidences and the final engagement

With so many people living in such a large expansive city one would easily be under the impression that coincidental encounters would be extremely rare. I've already related a fortuitous meeting when Erika hailed Benedict and I from an outdoor table at bakery in Southwark (south of the Thames) as he and I sought a bottle of wine for our hosts that evening. Another occasion I haven't yet mentioned occured when Erika jumped on the same tube carriage at the Gloucester Road station when Benedict and I were already speeding to St. Pancras to meet her for the train to St. Albans. Then last Thursday Benedict and I found our guests, Karin, Ruth, and Michael, waiting for a train on the platform at the Holborn tube station as we and they were making our way to the Globe Theatre. Mind you, there are almost always scads of people wherever we go, so such occurrences ought to be rare.

But on top of these coincidences, Erika, Benedict, and I also ran into our Cambridge tour guide, Clarissa, at the Globe on Saturday night. The Globe was sold out for the final performance of the season, the play Henry IV, Part II. The maximum number of 'groundlings', the members of the audience who must stand, crowded around the stage. That's 700 people. Clarissa stood among the hoard. Recall that she was to serve as the tour guide for the LA Lakers last Saturday the day after she guided us through Cambridge. Turns out the players skipped the tour in favor of practice, the tour being only for their families and the Lakers' staff. The players might as well have skipped practice instead for all the good it did them in the games against the Timberwolves and Barcelona team (they lost).

The plays were both tremendous, with the same actors expertly playing the same roles in both productions. The actor playing Falstaff portrayed his character's playful rogueness with great sympathy and comic timing. One can understand why Hal rejects his friendship upon becoming Henry V. A king cannot afford to have the friends he had when his youthful indiscretions could be overlooked. Falstaff was needed for comic relief for the political maneuvering and intrigues could be depressing all by themselves.

Unfortunately, for the second play we didn't get there early enough and the only space available was on the sides. Often we had great views of the actors' backsides or our view was obstructed by a column in the middle of the stage. Seeing plays from the front, as we did in The Merry Wives of Windsor and the first Henry IV, gives us the full flavor by letting us see the actors facial expressions and to hear their words more clearly. Watching from the side it was too easy for the mind to wander. This happened to me and moreso for Benedict and made this production less interesting for him. Erika had not felt well for a few days, and since Benedict was not enjoying this play as much as the others, they left at intermission. It was quite late already. By the time the play was over and the artistic director gave his end-of-the-season speech thanking everyone from the volunteer stewards to the seamtresses who made and maintained the costumes to a very appreciative audience, some with sore feet like mine, the hour was nearly 11pm.

A wisp of fog put a chill into the air and a slight haze into the dark sky. The Thames was low and  lights streamed dramatically onto the dome of St. Paul across the river. I had to pause for a minute or two to absorb the scene. I wanted to impress it on my memory.

I shouldn't have been surprised after 2 months in London. But the train on the Piccadilly tube on the way home was absolutely packed, like rush hour except these people were dressed for partying and not for work. The pub near the tube station on Northfield Avenue buzzed with people, many spilling out into the sidewalk. It was nearly midnight on a Saturday and the city was still wide awake, even in Ealing. In Georgetown the traffic signals would have been off for two hours.

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