Slightly misleading post title, I know. I mean it’s purely theoretical. I don’t have any plans to leave at any point soon. Why would I? Duh, it’s London.
There are of course push factors: lack of any family in close proximity to us, a moderate to small flat with no outdoor space, Michael Gove, David Cameron, you get the picture. But frankly, nothing’s reached tipping point yet. My son’s in a good school that The Missus and I both like, modest though our flat is, we’ve made it our own and we may not have a
backyard or front yard garden, but we do have a lovely flat roof veranda that we have to struggle to climb through the window to get to adjacent to the bathroom loo. So, why would we want to move from this dreamy place?
I’ve been to more theatre than ever this year, courtesy of a few different online and print publications that I’ve been reviewing for and I feel so privileged to be able to have done it and to keep doing it. The truth is theatre in London is nothing less than phenomenal. Though the first item on your bucket list in one of the greatest cities in the world may not be to spend two hours in a darkened room with crowded strangers, there are good reasons why it should be.
Obviously, you’ve got The West End. Word Famous. Who hasn’t, right? But it really is the overpriced tip of the iceberg. Any chump can wait in line at a kiosk in Leicester Square, part unthinkingly with 100 quid for two seats with restricted viewing to see Billy Elliot and go home happy, having gawked at Elton John’s vision of the working class in the North of England. What you’ve got to do is explore.
Pre-parenthood days, when we first moved to London, the weekend consisted of picking up the Guardian Guide in the Saturday Edition, paying £6-12 a ticket, and seeing some marvellous, or appalling theatre. Whether it was marvellous or appalling, it was always engaging, in only the way that a performance that utilises space, human voice and movement, and the deep connection between performer and audience can engage on that deep, penetrating sort of gut level. I have seen Paul McGann reach heights of magically realist redemption in a backroom space of a pub in West London in Tom Murphy’s The Gigli Concert, took a student group to see a version of The Tempest in West End that was heavy on trapeze artists but fell just short of meaningful, was genuinely touched by Samuel Beckett’s ode to Vaclav Havel, Catastrophe, failed to be moved beyond audible snoring in a dishwater-dull perfunctory attempt at Faustus in The Arcola several years ago, and recoiled in horror at a character’s eyes being gouged out of their sockets in the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall as part of Serpent’s Tooth, written as a response to a production of King Lear. But my greatest, most heartfelt, and most intensely cathartic experience in London theatre was in a tiny little performance space underneath a pub in Baron’s Court, near Knightsbridge. The production was a version of Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre (Blood Wedding), an immersive performance that set you up with a frame story lulling you into a false sense of safety until the actors turned everything on like a switch about 10 minutes in and from there to the end of the night it was a joyfully bleak journey to the utter depths of the human capacity for pathos.
Because theatre’s a risk, always. More often than not, I’ve been gripped and even when I haven’t, I’ve been provoked by what didn’t but should have gripped me. It’s a cognitive process that happens rarely for me with movies, and almost not at all with TV, probably because my most UnAmerican tendency is not watching it much.
My judgement of course could be somewhat flawed having never been much exposed to theatre when I was a kid, hailing from a small rural town in a mountainous region of District 12 and raised by wolves. My first real memory of proper theatre was a local university production of Waiting for Godot, in which the actors pronounced it Godot as opposed to what the rest of the world say, Godot (Cue Beckett’s gaunt and ghostly cyberfist shaking in indignation), beginning a lifelong obsession with Irish absurdist. But that it is the main reason why I review plays; not because it’s good practice or because it adds to my portfolio, but because I find theatre, especially here in this great metropolis, breathtakingly inspiring and that it lifts my mind off the ground nine times out of ten well after I’ve exited the foyer and am out on the street.
So if you’re in town, go to see a play. There’s nothing wrong with paying a lot to see a play in the West End (there could well be much wrong with paying through the nose to see a musical, but that’s another blog post) and you most likely won’t be disappointed by your investment, but it’s more fun, less expensive, and more of a unique experience to get out into the smaller theatres and performance spaces and see what’s out there.
Go on. It’s worth the risk.
It is fair to say there were some of us who were willing to give John McCain the benefit of the doubt in 2008. He seemed principled. He seemed to have good intentions. He seemed to stand for things. He seemed ready to oppose things deleterious to our great democracy like SuperPacs and soft money in politics.
However, It is also true that according to some leading figures on both sides of the political spectrum, you can easily trace the downward tailspin of the Republican effort that year from the moment that an apparently unhinged Alaskan separatist became their team’s main substitution in the event that their somewhat elderly (with respect) contender should take ill while in office, horrifying the nation’s voters to their senses.
We do not often think about it, but VP choices can make or break campaigns, as well they should more often (imagine Dan Quayle with his finger on the button?). This is one of the reasons why all eyes were on this year’s vice presidential debate, especially with the comparatively poor performance by the president in the first faceoff between himself and Romney, and the perceived cool unflappability of his running mate Paul Ryan versus the affably gaffe-prone current number two, Joe Biden. And this is one of the reasons why armchair pundits on both sides are still talking about it, persistently chasing a definitive victory claim. Chances are that it will be forgotten by Wednesday morning with the two contenders for the top job having slugged it out over foreign policies, but there are still a few significant points about this debate that are well worth noting.
I saw the debate with the Democrats Abroad, in a special screening here in London two days after the event, so like the self-respecting politics junkie that I am during election season, I devoured all the reviews from Fox to Mother Jones in hopes of getting some picture of what the debate was like and, perhaps more importantly, what the nation’s reaction was. In much of the US media, Biden was criticized for his “in-your-face” aggressive style, which pundits had said may have been counterproductive to his and Obama’s efforts. I read that he was rude, loud and kept interrupting and rolling his eyes. My heart sank because, being a democrat and knowing what I knew from the reports in the week prior, I knew we needed a decisive win to feel even slightly at ease with a comfortable win.
It was evident from reports that Biden had not scored that decisive win and that there were many who found that Biden’s style was off-putting. So I went into this special screening with a heavy heart expecting Biden to bluster in and charge around like an aggressive animal. I sat down in a darkened theater watching the debate and I kept looking for it. And I looked for it. And I looked for it some more. The more I watched the debate the more I asked myself the same question: How could anyone have thought that Ryan won this confrontation? The next question? In what single moment in the debate did Joe Biden do anything rude, ignorant, or beyond the terms of a political engagement of this magnitude?
For a nation that the world thinks is aggressive, we certainly seem to like our politicians to be pretty timid and reserved. Biden’s style was energetic. He was full of zeal. And he was human. Ryan was cardboard and looked uncomfortable. With what did viewers take issue?
Let’s compare with the kind of healthy and energetic exchange you might see in The House of Commons during the weekly event of Prime Minister’s Questions, when the leader of the opposition and other notable political figures pose questions to the PM with the overt goal of taking apart his policy decisions and exposing them as wrong-headed, weak and generally railroading the nation towards a path of destruction. It’s an incredibly useful tool for continuing to scrutinize the government’s decisions.
Have a look at this one from January of this year in which the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, accuses the prime minister of complacency over the economy:
Note they have to shout to be heard and there is a joy about the robust exchange of ideas and in part, invective, so long as that invective is aimed in the direction of a policy or terrible decision of some kind that affects the public in a pretty awful way.
Compared to Miliband and Cameron on an average day, Biden was a pussycat. In the context of American political debate, he wasn’t. In the context of American political debate, he was more of a fire breathing dragon, but his style certainly wasn’t “mean”, “rude” or uncalled for.
When I watched David Dimbleby, the great national treasure and BBC presenter, hosting John Bolton on his coverage of the 2008 election, they switched briefly to a reporter doing some vox pop at one state’s Republican HQ. The reporter had managed to rile up one of the Republicans in charge and when they flashed back to the studio, we were presented with Bolton in great state of umbrage over the way the impromptu interview had been conducted saying the Beeb’s reporter should be ashamed of himself, to which Dimbleby, very dryly replied, “It was a spirited interview,” which succinctly shut Bolton up, thankfully.
It strikes me that Biden had more to say, as is borne out with an actual examination of the words of the debate and it strikes me that the debate was an entertaining, “spirited” exchange of ideas. I just don’t think Paul Ryan had the spirit.
For the life of me, I cannot see what David Cameron was thinking. Stiff as a waterboard, there he went, onto Letterman to face an audience of my compatriots, supposedly to “bang the drum of British business”. Did he not think that BP had done enough damage? He was very worthy and neither likeable nor wholeheartedly dislikeable, just affirming to America that, like the perception of British food, this country’s people are as insipid and as humourless as salty Scottish gruel. So worthy and so bland.
Somewhat bizarrely, much like his first Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons — not as Prime Minister but in opposition facing off against Tony in his last days — he seemed to come off very left of centre, which may suggest he knows how to play a Letterman audience after all. Facts of existence in the UK like the absence of gun usage and the thought of carrying a gun being incomprehensible drew cheers from the live audience, as did the fact that political parties are not allowed to advertise on British TV. Period.
But the point of the exercise still baffles me. Letterman controlled the banter and all the best lines were his, as they should be, so the only motivation one can possible detect is that this appearance is the latest in the bizarre oneupmanship contest between Cameron and the more affably charismatic Lord Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who also appeared on Letterman in June, and who, unlike Cameron, took an equal share of the best lines and drew a much better reaction from the audience with all his bumbling and foppish Freudian slips (Letterman: Would you ban giant sodas [as Bloomberg has done]? Johnson: I I I… We’re not that… We’re not that… Whilst I am certainly bigger than Mike [Bloomberg], as a city, we’re not that… … fat. YET. [hearty and appreciative, self-deprecating guffaws from the audience]).
Much as it kills me to admit it, Boris is one conservative that I don’t wholeheartedly disagree with on all policies. He opposes a third runway at Heathrow, is pro-public transport, pro-cyclist, and stood up to Romney over the summer when Mitt paraded his blustering ignorance in the field of statesmanship doubting out loud that the capital could handle the Olympics. He’s very far from perfect, but his interview is well worth watching and quite entertaining.