Experience Theatre in London’s West End

On 22 December 2016 I went with family to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. What I would describe as “3D” extras made the play interesting to watch. These included lighting that danced across the walls, audiovisuals that reflected the main character’s state of mind, a moving model train to simulate a journey and (spoiler alert) a real live puppy that elicited uninhibited “aahs” from the audience. A lovely experience.

But the actual act of going to London’s West End at that unimaginably

The wonders of underground station advertising. Photo: Brenda Daniels

The wonders of underground station advertising. Photo: Brenda Daniels

busy time of year was also part of our atmospheric evening out. The theatre at which the play is being staged (until June 2017) is the Gielgud in Shaftesbury avenue. To get there from home we took a tube (or three) and stepped up onto the heaving pavement of Charing Cross Road. Being London’s bookshop street Charing Cross’s first offering for us was Foyles bookshop. We squeezed into the store and wormed up and down six storeys, just managing to get a coffee before staggering out again. I can’t understand why some writers support the notion that writing in coffee shops is romantic and inspirational. I found it completely distracting.

A gingerbread city we stopped to look at in Knightsbridge. Photo: Brenda Daniels

A gingerbread city we stopped to look at in Knightsbridge. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Next up on our journey was dinner – McDonald’s (limited budget you see) which is apparently on the site of the original bookstore of 84 Charing Cross Road. After our feast we crossed the road and passed the Palace Theatre at which Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being performed. Theatregoers enjoying a feast of their own had come out onto into the open for a breather; the play is in two parts and, together with two intermissions, runs for a whopping five hours and 55 minutes. I read in The Telegraph that marathon theatre sessions like these might catch on as a new trend. Phew.

We turned off Charing Cross Road and jostled our way to the Gielgud

Christmas lights at Knightsbridge in London, December 2016. Photo: Brenda Daniels

Christmas lights at Knightsbridge in London, December 2016. Photo: Brenda Daniels

passing Christmas lights and “Mulled Wine” signs. Our booking was for the cheapest seats in the house (budget, remember) which had warnings like “obstructed” view and on the computer seating plan looked like we would need opera glasses just to see the stage. No fear of that. The Gielgud is quite small and spacious and the “obstruction” was merely a roof overhang which really didn’t spoil our view at all.

Back out into the cold air after the show we fought our way back to the tube station, past runners in Father Christmas gear, buskers in the underground and pedestrians everywhere sporting Christmas jumpers. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was for us an entertaining theatre event indeed.

Book Time: Ancient & Old

On a single day in London in December 2016, the written word and time formed an interesting theme for our tourist travels. The first port of call for my daughter and myself was the British Museum which was founded in 1753 (according to britishmuseum.org this museum was the first national public one in the world).

img_0076The museum’s clocks and watches gallery was for us a fascinating account of the development of timepieces. I was amazed that this one (see picture), dating from as long ago as 1763, ‘goes for one month on a single wind’, and has a ‘central disc that rotates back and forth throughout the year to show true solar minutes (sundial time)’. The aperture at the top shows the date.

 

Next, a free tour of the Ancient Iran (Mesopotamia) section of the museum revealed a culture, sadly unlike today, that had centuries of peace and therefore the continuity to develop a rich cultural life. This picture below shows a section of an ancient stone library which, thanks to the translation of cuneiform, is now able to be read.img_0077

 

From the British Museum we walked ten minutes to Charing Cross Road. This road houses a number of book stores. (I noticed elsewhere the practice of putting similar stores together in one place; in Southgate for instance I walked along a whole section of road full of dentists and orthodontists; and in one part of the East End was a supply of hairdressers and barber shops [see this one below in the famed Jack the Ripper area]).

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Of the five shops we visited in Charing Cross Road my favourite was ‘Henry Pordes Books’. Displayed in the window was the book 84 Charing Cross Road. This delightful book comprises a series of letters written between American writer Helene Hanff and an English bookseller. The story captures the nostalgia of the 1940-1950s era and is well worth a read. When I asked the book enthusiasts in Henry Pordes Books if this store was the original number 84, they replied in the negative. The ‘real’ site was now – gasp – a McDonald’s. But Henry Pordes was most like the original they claimed. Whatever, the shop was full of ancient editions, first editions, books I remember from my childhood (such as Beatrix Potter), and a whole section of J R R Tolkien books I didn’t even know existed.

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img_0079img_0075As the sun set before 4pm on the eve of the winter solstice I pocketed some of the books I had felt compelled to purchase. I was delighted with the feeling that I had stepped into 84 Charing Cross Road itself, and into my childhood memories. What a wonderful time we had enjoyed.

All photos by Brenda Daniels.

Two films that made me think

Two film reviews by Brenda Daniels

That Sugar Film

Do you remember Super Size Me, the 2004 film that featured Morgan Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for a month? In that documentary-style movie the vices of fat, particularly trans-fats in food, are exposed. Spurlock experiences weight-gain, liver problems, lethargy and nausea. That Sugar Film, released in South Africa on 31 July 2015, follows the same format, with a similar outcome for experimenter Damon Gameau, only this time it’s sugar that is the enemy. And the low-fat diet.

The low-fat diet, promoted for decades as the healthy way to eat, is responsible for added sugar in processed food, the film contends. This is because food still needs to taste good. In order to keep the food tasting good once the fat is removed, sugar is added. That Sugar Film’s proposed solution is that we go back to fat and cut out the sugar. Tim Noakes of Banting fame will be pleased.

I rushed home after seeing this film and read the ingredient lists on my cereals and instant meals. I was horrified to see how much sugar was in them. But I was also left feeling confused. Is fat in or out? Is sugar really all that bad?

I’m no nutritionist so feel unqualified to say for certain. But, whilst I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and vilify sugar, I think the sensible thing to do is cut out processed foods as far as possible and cook from scratch. That way I can control the amount of sugar and fat I add.

Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold is another interesting film released in South Africa on 31 July 2015. It features the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish victim of World War II’s Nazi Germany. Before Maria and her husband escaped the regime for America, the Altmann family’s wealth in the form of jewellery, ornaments and artworks were confiscated.

Woman in Gold, by artist Gustav Klimt, was among them. After the war the painting became famous Austrian property and grew to be synonymous with that country’s national identity. More than 50 years after the war reparations to war victims were initiated in Europe. This is where the Woman in Gold story begins. Maria (Helen Mirren) enlists the help of a friend’s lawyer son, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), and the pair pursue the return of Woman in Gold to its rightful owner.

There were some elements of this film I did not like. Its Hollywood flavour, its intimation that justice can be found only in the USA, the unbelievable passion displayed by the lawyer, and the indisputable monetary attraction of the value the painting: several hundred million dollars.

What did give me food for thought, however, was the parallels Maria’s story draws with reparations to victims of apartheid in South Africa. At one point in the film, Randy asks why Maria is concerned about something that happened so long ago. Her response: “And you think 50 years is a long time?” Likewise, 50 years is not a long time for casualties of apartheid, real people who lost possessions, land and homes.

That Sugar Film and Woman in Gold are on at Cinema Nouveau countrywide.