Photos: Last Days in London

Quite delayed, but in case you’re curious, here are the last photos that were still on my camera when I came home from London. Most of them are from the Tate Modern, London’s modern art museum–which seemed to have far more legit art than your average modern art museum (I’m looking at you, MOMA). But don’t worry, I found some Duchamp and Rothko anyway.

I will do some sort of retrospective post about the semester at some point, once I’ve had a bit more time to process. I might also do a few other silly travel posts (best things you can climb to see a view of the city springs to mind as an option). For now, have some pictures.

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Review: The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre

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The Book of Mormon has been making waves since it first appeared on Broadway, a South Park of musicals that lambasts the Mormon religion through obscenity-laced song and dance numbers. Yet for all of that, the show has a heart and a compelling story, of two young men who want to do right by their faith and a community of oppressed and tormented Ugandans who must learn to stand together to save themselves from a military dictator.

Created by the comedy team of Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, The Book of Mormon takes your breath away at every possible moment by daring to go where no West End musical has ever gone before, whether it’s shouting ‘Fuck you God’ in a catchy, full–company number (“Hasa Diga Eebowai”) or graphically depicting homosexual sex acts between devils, Jesus, the main character’s father and Hitler, among others (“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream”). Not all of its obscenity is for shock value, however, as the characters also speak with brutal honesty about such problems as female genital mutilation and the AIDS epidemic in Africa that villagers in Uganda have to confront on a daily basis. And even as it mocks the tenants of the Mormon religion, with full reenactments of scenes including Joseph Smith and Jesus as well as musical numbers celebrating the necessity of suppressing all troublesome emotions (“Turn it Off”), the musical seems to approve of faith as a whole and what it can do to help people; the naivete of optimistic new convert Nabulungi (Alexia Khadime) provides a heartwarming narrative as she teaches her village to see beyond the immediacy of their own problems.

Elders Price (Gavin Creel) and Cunningham (Jared Gertner) are both complete caricatures of their stock types–the cool, successful one and the nerd who has always been ignored–and intensely relatable at the same time. Audiences will find themselves sympathising with Price’s horror of the brutal conditions in the district even as they root for Cunningham’s enthusiastic and totally fictional retellings of the Book of Mormon to connect with the Ugandan people. Musical numbers are delightfully catchy and dancing unapologetically camp, a full-on musical experience that will keep you laughing or squirming in your seat, depending on how you react to the South Park brand of humour. You may not find the entire show hilarious, but it will definitely make you think, and perhaps come away with a better opinion of what religion can do for people in desperate need of hope.

Photos: Edinburgh

So. Edinburgh. It’s the one place besides London I’ve most wanted to visit in Europe, and it took until the last week of my time here to finally make it.

I took the train in Wednesday morning (4 1/2 hours) and, after finding my hostel without getting lost for once, I headed down into Old Town Edinburgh to explore. Most of the big attractions in Edinburgh are along like two major streets, so it doesn’t take long to get to them all. I saw St. Giles Cathedral, the National Library, the Writers’ Museum, a really elaborate tartan-making exhibition/museum that I found inside a gift shop and finally Edinburgh Castle. Then I headed over to Princes Street, which has some beautiful gardens, the Scottish National Gallery, the Scott Monument and a lot of shopping.

I made it to the Elephant House for dinner, which is the cafe that J.K. Rowling made famous by writing the first Harry Potter in; unfortunately I ducked in right before the rain (on and off all day) became a downpour, and I was not the only one with that idea, so it was pretty packed. It was a lovely little place, though.

After that I saw Greyfriars Kirk and the various memorials put up for Greyfriars Bobby the dog, then sort of accidentally wandered into the main campus of the University of Edinburgh. I left there and eventually made it over to the pub that happened to serve as the starting point for the Edinburgh Literary Pub Crawl.

I went on one of these in Dublin and absolutely loved it, so when I noticed a sign for the Edinburgh one that morning, I knew I had to go. If you don’t remember, a literary pub crawl is a sort of combination moving theatre performance/guided tour focused on the city’s famous literary figures, which happens to stop periodically at pubs. The Edinburgh one was different from Dublin in that most of the writers they focused on were poets, so there was less theatre and more poetry recitation. Also all of the famous Scottish poets were known for writing in Scots, which is more or less incomprehensible and I refuse to acknowledge it as a real language. It was still really interesting, though, and I learned a ton about Scottish literature.

The second day was divided into two main adventures. First, I went to the National Museum of Scotland, and even just staying in the half devoted to actual Scottish history only made it through half of that in the three hours I was there. Then I wandered down to the Scottish Parliament, where they actually let visitors inside, and saw the palace next to it that the Queen never actually comes to but is still an official residence.

Then it was time for my second main adventure: climbing Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is the tallest of a group of hills in the centre of Edinburgh once formed by volcanos; I like to think of it as climbing a volcano. It takes about 45 minutes to get up there, and the view from the top is incredible. After I made it back down it was getting a little difficult to walk, so I just headed back to New Town to see a few sights (and accidentally ran into a political protest on the way) before taking the overnight bus back to London.

Edinburgh was a fun two-day trip, with less Harry Potter and more actual learning about Scottish history and literature than I was expecting. It was a lovely last trip to have, and I will definitely be coming back some day for the Fringe Festival, the one highlight of Edinburgh I unfortunately couldn’t be there for. Now, time for all the photos!

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Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Apollo

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, adapted by Simon Stephens from the groundbreaking 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, tells the story of Christopher, a fifteen-year-old boy who one night discovers his neighbor’s dog murdered in her yard and decides to investigate who is behind the gruesome death, digging up more family mysteries than he could have possibly imagined along the way. This production, directed by Marianne Elliott, is an extraordinary tour-de-force that combines fascinating lighting effects, innovative staging and levels of meta-narration to provide a telling glimpse into the world of autism.

True to the original novel, Christopher’s act of writing a book based on his experiences proves central to the plot, allowing other characters to pick up and read from it or even hide it for periods of time. The physical presence of the book onstage allows for a significant portion of the action and of Christopher’s thoughts to be narrated by his teacher, Siobhan (Niamh Cusack), and yet this device does not become cliche or uninteresting. Rather, it allows a boy who struggles to express himself to do so deeply and honestly, without having to say the words himself.

Luke Treadaway plays Christopher with a sincerity and steadfastness that would do Haddon proud, maintaining the centre around which the rest of the show revolves. Never faltering in his declarations of what he knows to be true and never holding back from showing us the ugliness of the boy’s meltdowns, Treadaway gives the audience a new insight on what the life of someone like Christopher must be like. Also assisting the actor are a series of dramatic light displays in moments of extreme stress and surreal, slow-motion movement sequences involving the whole cast during chaotic crowd scenes.

Despite the entire book and play being narrated from a single character’s point of view, the portrayals of other characters were remarkably nuanced and sympathetic. Christopher’s parents in particular are painfully relatable, sacrificing themselves and suffering constantly for the son they love. The only exception appeared to be Cusack’s Siobhan, who while serving as Christopher’s guiding voice throughout the play gave a surprisingly one-dimensional performance that provided no insight into her own struggles. The only thing that remained clear was her love for Christopher.

By the interval, it is clear that this play is no longer just about finding out what happened to a dead dog. It is about family and betrayal, ignorance and courage. It is about following your heart no matter how terrifying the path appears to be, and finding out that you can do anything if you try hard enough. It is about forgiveness, love and understanding, which hopefully each audience member gains a little bit of in the viewing of the performance. I know I did.

Photos: Oxford

Oxford is actually a remarkably easy day trip from London, just ten pounds and one hour each way. There’s not a ton to do there besides look at pretty architecture and a bunch of free museums, but it made a good day trip. There’s also the one big highlight of the Great Hall of Christ Church College, aka the Hogwarts Great Hall, as well as a variety of places related to JRR Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and other famous English writers associated with Oxford. The city also has a lot of good shopping, though nothing I could afford. Again, a nice college town, but I’m glad I didn’t choose to study there over my lower quality but better located for adventures London uni.

Most of my photos come from museums, and it is quite likely I mixed up a college or two. Still, the pictures are nice. Enjoy!

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Photos: Tower of London and Westminster Abbey

I am leaving London in 13 days. In anticipation of my imminent departure, I made a list of everything I needed to still do before I leave, and noticed there were a few very obvious London tourist attractions on the list. As such, this week I decided to visit the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. They’re both pretty expensive, which is largely why I waited so long to do them, but still fascinating–lots of history of the British royal family and all that. I’m glad I decided to go. Westminster Abbey doesn’t allow pictures inside the main church, but I still got some good outside pictures.

And tomorrow, it’s off to Oxford!

Review: One Man, Two Guv’nors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

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One Man, Two Guv’nors is a hilarious British farce about love, passion and being very very hungry that has taken the West End by storm. The production, directed by Nicholas Hytner, is a brilliant piece of comedy, toying expertly with the audience and making them laugh and gasp with horror at the same time.

The script is based off the defining Commedia dell’Arte play A Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni, and it does not take a particular education in theatre history to grasp the connections; lead character Francis Henshall (Rufus Hound) refers to himself as the Harlequin and asks the audience what his motivation is in a monologue opening the second act. Yet for all its formulaic Commedia structure, the piece flows organically, moving at rapid slapstick speed or drawing out agonising moments of embarrassing the audience members who somehow found their way onstage during the show.

The setting of the play is Brighton 1963, and I will fully admit that without a deep familiarity with that era of British history, I didn’t get all of the jokes (or why they all seemed to hate Australia so much). Yet the themes developed in the play are universal: lovers torn apart by fate, distrust of police authority, cross-dressing and sex. This play is about base passions and stretching every moment to its comedic limits, and the expert ensemble of actors, led by the powerful, engaging presence of Hound, did just that.

I hesitate to give details of the plot as I don’t want to give any jokes away, so it will suffice to say that this story follows the impersonation of a dead man by his twin sister, the breaking off of one engagement for another and throughout it all, a simple man who somehow ends up serving two masters (or governors) at the same time and must keep the two from discovering one another. It is a high stakes game involving both quick wordplay and extremely physical acting, and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing. And from someone who normally hates comedy, that’s saying something.

Photos: Amsterdam, Paris and Marseille

Hello everyone! I am back from my backpacking-across-Europe solo week, and on the whole, I’d say it was a success. I did manage to break the zipper on the only pair of shoes I brought the first night, and I had some inordinately rude hostel-mates (and got to experience the apparently quite common event of having someone have sex in your hostel room while you are also there), but other than that, I had a lot of fun. I didn’t even spend too much money!

Monday morning I flew into Amsterdam, then after making it to the central train station spent about an hour wandering around lost/exploring Amsterdam before making it to my hostel. Then I went to the main tourist strip, went to the Sex Museum (of course, it’s Amsterdam), a couple of shops and Dam Square before it went crazy for Queensday the next day. Next I headed over to the Anne Frank House (fascinating but rather miserably depressing) and on my way back to the center of town found a random Rembrandt art exhibition that I went through. Then I went on a canal cruise/tour to see the rest of the sites, had dinner, and headed back to the hostel. That night I went to an outdoor concert/festival thing I had seen setting up earlier in the day, which was pretty fun.

Tuesday was Queensday, and not just any Queensday. It was inauguration day for the new King Willem-Alexander, the first king the Netherlands has had in over a hundred years. It was a complete zoo out, and people were being really mean and pushy, but I still made it to Dam Square to see the new king and queen come out to meet their subjects. Then I spent quite a few hours just wandering–on Queensday, literally the entirety of Amsterdam becomes a giant street market where anyone can sell whatever they want on any street. It’s kind of epic. After getting suitably lost and walking way farther than I wanted to (while toting all of my luggage because I had checked out of the hostel already and the train station’s luggage lockers were closed for security reasons), I managed to find Vondel Park and then the Rijksmuseum, from which I have way too many photos. I went and watched a rather awful concert outside the Museumplein in which they seemed to only play American music in an attempt to rest my aching legs, then headed to the bus station for my overnight bus to Paris.

After a nap at the hostel and a free breakfast of unlimited croissants, French bread and hot chocolate (uh oh), I headed out for the day. May Day is essentially Labour Day for continental Europe, so not much indoor stuff was open. I went to Sacre Coeur and then took the train out to Versailles, where the gardens were still open and more than enough to look at on their own. I made it back to Paris, saw the Jardin du Luxembourg, found several famous churches while trying to locate a Metro station, and went back to the area near the hostel for dinner. By this point I had realised that continental Europe doesn’t really believe in vegetarians, and I needed to eat as much as I could whenever I could just to keep from passing out. It was an interesting change in how I approach food.

Thursday was the big tourist day in Paris. I took the metro down to the Arc de Triomphe, shopped my way down the Champs Elysees (and bought a new bikini!) and made it to the Louvre, where I spent most of the rest of the day. After that, I hit a few more odd palaces and monuments, waited for dark to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, and went home for the evening.

Friday morning my adventure was the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the largest green area in Paris which has hundreds of famous people buried in it, including Moliere, Edith Piaf, Balzac and tons of others. The place is a complete maze, and you just pick up a map and find all the graves you can. Then I headed to the train station to get my TGV to Marseille, again spending way too long wandering around lost when my hostel was within sight of the train station, and headed down to the Vieux Port, the downtown area of Marseille. There was this big art installation thing that involved a lot of fire going on, and I took a lot of pictures. Then I headed home for the evening.

Saturday I took another train to Montpeller to visit my friend Julia who has been living there all year, and is actually leaving to go back to the States tomorrow. She showed me all the famous buildings and monuments, though I didn’t take any pictures, and then took me to a bunch of fantastic food places for crepes, gelato and real French macaroons. The place is gorgeous, a typical sleepy French town, though I think I’d go insane spending more than a couple of days there. But, to each their own. I took the train back to Marseille and decided to climb up to Notre Dame de la Garde, the cathedral at the highest point in Marseille. It took ages and was a real workout, but I got there right at sunset and the view is amazing.

Sunday I had planned to be my beach day, but of course, after two days of amazing weather, it was overcast all day. I wandered around town a bit more and then headed down to the beach anyway, though I didn’t spend too long there. But I made it to the beach in the south of France, waded in the ocean in my new bikini I bought in Paris and read for a little while. Then came the long trek back home to London.

I’m leaving London in barely more than two weeks, and it’s finally starting to sink in. My trip was rather nice and I am very happy to be heading home, but there’s still so much more to see! Still, a few more quick adventures and one exam, and I’ll be headed back home, the adventure over. It’s been one wild ride.

Update: Photos have now been captioned! Thank you for your patience.

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Review: The Tempest at the Globe

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Having already seen Twelfth Night, a Globe production that transferred to the West End, I was expecting much of the same for The Tempest–an incredibly authentic to Shakespeare’s time production with phenomenal acting and costumes and a rather traditional take on the script. This Tempest, directed by Jeremy Herrin, was something quite different. While many of the costumes were still authentic and the actors’ dedication to the text was clear, this production made some unique choices regarding staging and characterisation that challenged the text, sometimes succeeded wildly and sometimes falling flat.

In the typical form of a Shakespearean comedy, The Tempest follows three groups of characters, the family, the court and the clowns, as they stumble about and get into various misadventures, all watched over by the guiding eye of Prospero and his spirit servant Ariel. In this take on the show, it was the family story that dominated, becoming the most real and believable narrative. Miranda (Jessie Buckley) and Ferdinand (Joshua James) were just the right degree of over-the-top, young teenagers stranded on a deserted island who, quite naturally, fall madly in love within the space of three hours. Their relationship was as hilarious as it was adorable and genuine, while Prospero’s (Roger Allam) overprotective and meddling parenting was refreshingly relatable. His relationship with the teenagers humanised the sorcerer, turning the all-powerful figure into simply a father who wants to see his daughter happy.

While that segment of the narrative shined, however, much of the story involving the other characters lacked a bit of sparkle. The courtiers’ sniping and bragging went too fast and failed to connect to the audience, losing much of the humour those lines should have had. Pip Donaghy’s Gonzalo, longwinded and oblivious, was too realistic rather than Shakespeare’s farcical character, and without the scorn the other characters feel for him being made clear, quite simply wasn’t funny. Antonio’s (Jason Baughan) plotting and betrayal barely made an impact, becoming a brief side plot rather than the involved meditation on regicide and usurpation that The Tempest often centres upon. These characters never seemed to have the life to them that Ferdinand and Miranda did, falling neatly into Prospero’s plan without a fight.

The comic subplot, that of the drunken butlers trying to usurp Prospero and take over the island, was decently well done, though I could not understand the reason behind Trinculo’s outrageous comic outfit, oversized horns, bright red codpiece and all. James Garnon’s Caliban was more bumbling and lovable than the outrageous African monster who tried to rape prepubescent Miranda that Shakespeare wrote; the audience on the whole seemed to enjoy it though I am undecided on the interpretation. Colin Morgan’s Ariel, meanwhile, was more a monkey than a spirit, swinging around the stage on handholds and lacking the sort of emotional range and melancholy that makes the character fascinating.

The staging made good use of entrances through the pit, surprising and delighting the standing audience. The puppetry, both the harpy and the wild dogs, was phenomenal, the pieces beautifully constructed and deeply haunting at the same time. (The addition of the Roman gods spirit pageant during Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding ceremony, however, was just bizarre.) While some scenes were too solemn and quietly symbolic rather than embracing the full chaos that is a Shakespearean comedy, the production on the whole was a crowd-pleaser, doing the Bard’s words justice at the same time. It was oftentimes difficult to follow, and I would recommend having a decent familiarity with the play before attempting to see it or you may frequently feel lost in the story. The narrative of Prospero’s redemption and forgiveness, however, was always clear and believable, becoming the central story around which everyone else revolved.

Photos: Margaret Thatcher, the Globe, etc.

Hello everyone! I haven’t been posting much lately because on the whole, my life is rather boring right now. It’s finals, what can you do. I have written two of my three essays so I just have one paper and one exam left. Of course, said exam is exactly a month from now, so I’ll still be around for a while yet.

Anyway! This smaller photo post has the various interesting things that I have done this week. First is Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday. I couldn’t get close enough to St. Paul’s to see the Queen, Prime Minister, etc. arrive, but I did get a pretty good view of the parade. I have decided that there must be a rule that every military uniform in the UK must involve a silly hat. I know there were protestors along the route, but there were none where I was. Everyone was very respectful, applauding when the coffin came by and then when the entire parade reversed itself as the soldiers left. Then, later that day since it was gorgeous out and I was in the area, I went to Regent’s Park.

The other photos are from today. I went to Brick Lane, famous for its market and amazing Indian food (which did not disappoint), then swung over to the Globe for the Shakespeare’s birthday festivities. This was the children’s portion and it was totally packed, but I still enjoyed getting to see everything. Finally, I couldn’t be out today without running into the London Marathon somewhere. Apparently there is this thing where people in the marathon dress up as various ridiculous things when they run. There were a lot of superheroes and animals, and Sonic the Hedgehog was a particularly popular choice, but others were just bizarre. Anyway, if you thought running a marathon was hard, try doing it in a full bodysuit costume. I caught as many oddities on camera as I could manage.