Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Cheerful Chinwag...then Pinter at the Playhouse

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cabin Fever has set in seriously and I spent a good half hour on the phone booking tickets to a number of plays that I want to see at the West End. Since the actors in these productions are usually big stars of the stage and screen, they have a limited engagement and I do not want to miss the opportunity to see them. So I was very pleased to get tickets to three plays this week, figuring that all I had to do was take a bus to Leicester Square and stay put in my seat for three hours. How damaging could that be to my feet, right? Well, I'd find out at the end of the evening after I'd kept my date with Harold Pinter at the Duke of Yorks' Theater.

When my friend Bina Samel Ullal arrived at a quarter past eleven, I greeted her warmly, thrilled at the knowledge that I'd be out in a little bit in her company. Bina arrived with magenta delphiniums and a bag with the Waitrose gourmet nibbles I had requested--the Fig and Walnut Bread, Stilton with Stem Ginger and Cold Pressed Tongue. The two of us go back a long long way--we were teenagers together in Bombay and high school chums and we spent our salad days exchanging romantic pulp fiction, drooling over Donny Osmond and Rajesh Khanna and swatting for our exams late into the night over her mother's inimitable cups of steaming coffee.

So it was little wonder that we curled up with mugs of coffee at my flat and chinwagged about our old acquaintances and friends before we set out to Boots so I could buy the gel heel lifts that the doctor recommended I insert in my shoes. We also picked up coriander and ginger naan from Sainsburys, some batteries for my tape recorder and a Top-Up for my cell (sorry, mobile)phone SIM card. I cannot even begin to express how fabulous it felt to be out in the world again! The weather had taken a chilly turn and the rush of cold air against my face felt absurdly welcome as I crossed the street and headed for the Farmer's Market to buy a few figs. I walked slowly and gingerly, still feeling the pull on my plantar (I cannot believe the ease with which I use this term when only one week ago, I had said, "Plantar, what?!?") I know that my recovery will be very slow indeed but at least the worst of the pain seems to have passed and I am functional again.

A half hour later, having rustled up a salad, we were seated at my dining table sipping chilled white Muscadet, making a meal of Sainsburys' Chicken Jalfrezi and Naans and gabbing nineteen to the dozen. Time always just floats away when we are together and we regress to our giggly youth as we recall our former years. Now, of course, we talk about our kids and their doings and we tsk, tsk, as all parents will inevitably do!

Bina had to leave before the peak hour rush began, having to make her way back to Harrow, a good hour away on the Tube. This left me time to start planning my Spring Syllabus and catch up on email. After I had designed my course on South Asian Civilization that I will be teaching next semester, I washed up and cleared away the remnants of our meal, found the time to do my exercises, massaged my feet with the ibuprofen gel and indulged in a few ice massages. The tip that my friend Amy Tobin sent me from New York--to freeze water in Dixie cups and then roll them on the arches of my feet--is so simple but so practical.

With the clock's hands creeping towards 6.45 pm, I excitedly got dressed for my evening at the West End. Harold Pinter's No Man's Land features a galaxy of stars at the Duke of York Theater which is right near the Church of St. Martin's-in-the-Field near Charing Cross. I was attracted by the name of Michael Gambon who plays Hirst, an alcoholic ageing scion, who is visited in his home in the country by a stranger named Spooner, played by David Bradley. As his reserves of whisky dwindle at his well-stocked bar, the pair are joined by two younger, menacing men, Foster (David Williams) and Briggs (Nick Dunning) apparently Hirst's employees who guard him and his doings fiercely.

The two older men reminisce about their younger days in Oxford, realizing that they have a lot of friends in common and that they once hated each other. Though Spooner has evolved into a somewhat successful poet, he hopes to find patronage under Hirst's influence. The two younger men are determined to keep the older two apart and the four of them fall into a 'No Man's Land' in which the dialogue (in classic Pinter terms) takes strange, even poetic turns and seems to cast them almost in a dream or perhaps even a nightmare.

As in all Pinter plays, the end remains inconclusive. The curtain came down on some riveting theatrical dialogue and some truly brilliant acting. Gambon, of course, has a magical stage presence that has endeared him to me in such films as Gosford Park and I can't wait to see him as Lord Marchmain in the new version of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (which will be out in the theaters any day now). Bradley (who has featured in all the Harry Potter films) made an equally impressive Spooner, his craggy features and his wiry gait working effortlessly to portray the slight seediness of his character despite the spit and polish of his lines. As for the two younger actors, Williams (whom I have seen in Little Britain) and Dunning (whom I have seen in a number of TV series, most recently The Inspector Lynley Mysteries), they played their roles to perfection, keeping the audience on edge throughout as we wondered what their next moves would be. This was contemporary drama at its best, Pinter at its most potent, and I was glad I braved the journey alone and witnessed the synergy that can result when truly brilliant dramatic writing meets the genius of a great performance.

I was still shaky on my feet when I got home and went straight to bed...but secretly pleased that I had not allowed my affliction to prevent me from enjoying one of London's greatest offerings--world-class theater.

I am looking forward now to the next show... because despite my pesky plantar, the show/s must go on!

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