A Few More Days in England - London

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October 6th 2008
Published: September 3rd 2015
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Great CourtyardGreat CourtyardGreat Courtyard

Glass enclosure to integrate and save the historic British Library
Arriving Monday afternoon in London with no problems, Deirdre and I left our luggage in our room at the Euro Hotel in Cartwright Gardens and walked the few minutes to the British Library. There we took a look at the George III Library and the overwhelming Treasures Room. This time they had two Jane Austen manuscripts on display; an early work as a teen, and Persuasion. Between her carefree teen years and her much later years, her handwriting got much smaller and she resorted to writing on small leaves of paper, apparently to allow her to push them under other papers if anyone came in. Since we saw where she wrote in Chawton, and on what a small table, this was very easy to imagine.

We left the library at 6:00. Since we had eaten only snacks on the train for lunch, we were hungry. Tom, on the St. Ives walk, had recommended The North Sea Fish Restaurant from his student days; however, it has gone up scale since then and was too expensive. Actually, last year I did eat there because it was the first open restaurant, the rain was pouring, and I was exhausted. This year we walked down Leigh Street and ate real Szechuan food – delicious
Ife Bronze PanelsIfe Bronze PanelsIfe Bronze Panels

Priceless expression of faith and culture in Benin
but different than home.

As forecast, on Tuesday rain was falling when we woke, predicted to last all day. Wednesday was forecasted to be sunnier, so we trusted that and had our “indoor” day today. That meant walking about ten minutes (no rain) to the British Museum. It wasn’t quite open when we arrived, so we walked the long way around the block and came through the main entrance.

Which led directly to the Great Courtyard, roofed over – bright, even on this gloomy day. The special exhibitions are in the former British Library, a round building fully enclosed in the courtyard. Admission is charged there but nowhere else. We just went into the main museum building.

The display “not to be missed”, according to the brochure was entitled “The King of Ife”. Being Nigerian, it was of special interest to me, so we went there. It was a collection of 50-60 cast bronze panels, each about 15” square that used to adorn the home of the King (Oba) of Ife. They were collected or looted (political point of view) after a punitive expedition by British forces in retribution for the killing of their representative. Each panel is finely detailed, depicting life
Rifle Sculpture, British MuseumRifle Sculpture, British MuseumRifle Sculpture, British Museum

Artistic destruction of guns and violence
and the officials of Ife. This well-mounted collection was only the beginning of rooms with displays of wonderful African artifacts. I particularly liked the display of textiles, because they interest me and they used to be disdained by museums. The focus was on “kente” cloth and on the familiar cotton printed panels which originated in Ethiopia, unbeknownst to me. Other displays were of carvings, modern pieces, masks and a couple of artworks made of confiscated rifles and armaments.

Before we finished the African rooms, it was time for our first volunteer-led “Eye-Opener” tour, which I had enjoyed so much the last time I came. This tour was about Roman Britain, in keeping with our visit to Bath. The half-hour talk focused on the religious aspects of the Roman occupation of Britain, and the guide related it to the history of Bath. Shortly afterwards we attended a tour on the Chinese Collection that showed mundane but finely worked objects. The carved lacquer-work was very well explained and opened my eyes to this technique.

By this time we had filled our brains, and it was time to discover if we could get theatre tickets. We walked for about twenty minutes to
Leicester SquareLeicester SquareLeicester Square

Centre of theatre in London
Leicester Square. “Walking” meant searching for the right street sign, moving along in the streams of people, checking the map, searching, moving, checking, searching, moving – until arriving at our destination at the time we expected. So, at the TKTS agency (tickets half price on the day) we did get what we had hoped would be possible – matinee tickets to 39 Steps . This choice was mainly because few matinees are on Tuesdays, i.e., virtually no choice; and, Rosemary said it was a must-see. We paid £47.50 for two seats, a price that made me wonder if anyone ever pays full price!

Now late, it was definitely time for lunch. We found a Lebanese restaurant that resembles Falafel King in Calgary - not nearly as efficient, yet offered table service. I had a delicious lamb shwarma – best lamb of the trip. Then, off to the 3:00 matinee.

This production was a spoof – although it claims to use the original script from the John Buchan novel. Four actors played all the parts (reportedly 139!), making less and less effort as the play progressed to create any illusion of reality. They dropped heavy innuendoes about other Hitchcock mysteries, for example Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much . They played on a relatively bare stage, using minimalist props. The best one was the door in a wheeled frame, which they flipped around to indicate inside and outside and room to room. They also held up window frames as they looked through or climbed through to escape. For the scene of escaping on the roof of the train, the actors stood leaning forward, flapping their coattails. Probably I’ve never seen so many techniques used to quickly convey a scene as well as make us laugh. This play has lasted in my imagination.


3rd September 2015

39 Steps
So glad you enjoyed The 39 steps. Sadly it is closing but it has had a good run! Just for completeness the current list of London shows with a matinee on a Tuesday (in addition to The 39 Steps) is The Woman In Black, The Mousetrap and Jersey Boys
7th September 2015

39 Steps
Sad the play is closing. Glad there are more options.
3rd September 2015

39 Steps
We've seen this play in Ottawa and it *is* funny, although maybe our local theatre production wasn't quite as innovative or memorable as the version you saw! Comedy/farce is under-appreciated and its difficulty often underestimated by audiences, I think. As for the British Library - I admire their commitment to heritage preservation and the vision that would even think to enclose it. Talk about thinking outside the box.
7th September 2015

39 Steps
As expected, the London production was the best! As is the British Library.

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