Saturday, June 6, 2009

Seeing Samantha Bond in Stoppard's Arcadia and Liberty of London

Saturday, June 6, 2009

In keeping with my resolution to always get substantial work done before I goof off, I awoke at 7. 30 am, read some Potter, proofread my blog, caught up with my email, then stopped for a spot of breakfast--make that a whole cup of coffee and some toast with preserves. I am trying to finish up all the odds and ends of food stuff left over from my pantry supplies as I do not want to take any of it back to the States. And time is flying...

Then, it was back to the drawing board for me as I began transcribing an interview I did with Gerry in Wembley. This neighborhood is quiet, quieter than Holborn, if that is at all possible. While Holborn did carry the occasional screech of tyres up to my third floor window even on weekend mornings, I do not hear a squeal here at all--the better to get my work done.

It was while I was hammering away at my PC that the email came--offering me free tickets to see Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. This is a play I had toyed with the idea of seeing for a while--not only do I think Stoppard is quite the most brilliant living playwright in England (I speak here with knowledge of The Real Thing, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and, of course, his unforgettable Oscar Award-winning screenplay for Shakespeare in Love)--but the play stars Samantha Bond whose performance in Distant Shores I had loved when I saw her play the very feisty wife of a physician (played by Peter Davison) on a PBS channel in the States. So, when the offer of free tickets fell into my lap, I grabbed it. A few calls on my cell phone and I found company--my buddy Rosemary agreed to drop all her scheduled cleaning chores to go with me (I didn't have to do too much arm-twisting!) and we decided to meet at the Duke of York Theater at 2. 15 pm. This gave me enough time to have a relaxed shower, get back to my transcription, dress, and leave the house at 1. 15 pm to pick up tickets outside Covent Garden at 1. 45 pm.

I have yet to figure out which bus stops are closest to my new roost, which routes they serve and how to make connections--but I am sure all that will be sorted soon. What I did find when I set out was that the entire Smithfield Market area was barricaded. Apparently, there were to be some major bicycle races there in the evening. I did find an odd Number 11 stop by (all buses were re-routed) and hopped off at Covent Garden and, against all my expectations, made it there on time to pick up the tickets.

London is just crawling with tourists right now and the attractions are buzzing with buskers. It is difficult to cut through the crowds and though, at most times, I do enjoy the travel energy associated with these folks (God knows I have enough of it myself!), I have to say it was annoying this afternoon.

However, I did pick up the tickets and a hearty ham and mustard sandwich from M&S Simply Food which I munched en route to the Theater on St. Martin's Lane which kept the hunger pangs at bay.

Rosemary was waiting for me in the lobby. It wasn't long before we found our seats and chinwagged until the curtain went up. She had bought a program while awaiting my arrival and I was glad she did. Not only did it have an extraordinary amount of information on the actors, but it was full of notes about the history of landscaping in England as the play is themed around the changing fashions in English garden design from the classical to the naturalism of Lancelot (Capability) Brown to the Picturesque style that followed. Hannah, in the play, speaks of Brown who was influenced by Claude Lorraine (French landscape painter) who was, in turn, influenced by Virgil (Italian medieval poet). She says:

"English landscape was invented by gardeners imitating foreign painters who were evoking classical authors. The whole thing was brought home in the luggage from the Grand Tour".

These have to be among the most striking lines in the play and a perfect example of Stoppard's erudition--and this is only one example. . Of course, those of us who have kept up with the trends beyond the 19th century know that in the 20th, English garden design continued to evolve with Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens collaborating to create the concept of Garden Rooms--a venture in which they were joined by the redoubtable Vita Sackville-West who presented us with her famous White Garden at Sissinghurst.

I know I digress when I say that perhaps it was fitting that I should see this play the very weekend I am beginning to make plans for a week-long tour of the Grand Country Estates and Gardens of England. This is another one of the items on my List of Things To-Do before leaving England and since June is possibly the best month to visit English gardens, I can think of no reason to waste any more time. Besides, my friend Loulou in whose fabulous loft I am currently staying, was just telling me only a few days ago that she has to get her garden ready for a local garden club that is about to visit her estate garden in Suffolk. For she is a dedicated gardener and if her home (whose en suite spare room I am currently occupying while she spends most of her week in Suffolk) is anything to go by, her garden must be ethereal! I can't wait to take her up on her offer to visit her there and see it for myself. By comparison, I am sure that my Connecticut garden, a tour of which is on my website, must seem like a blooming traffic island!

So there was I familiarising myself with the vocabulary of English landscape design from 'hermitages' and 'hahas' to 'gazebos' and 'wilderness' as much as I grappled with the more esoteric aspects of the script that derive from mathematics about which, I have to admit, an abiding ignorance--one of the characters deals with chaos theory and utilizes it to help figure out the grouse population on the estate. Infused into this rather abundant pastiche of allusions are those from literature--from Lord Byron (who is central to the plot) and Lady Caroline Lamb, to Mrs. Radcliff and Robert Southey--so that the creative arts constantly intersect the sciences. Newton is thrown in for good measure as are Euclid and Fermat and Carnot. Stoppard is nothing if not intellectual, so go prepared for a cerebral roller coaster ride in the theater.

After you have stopped gasping at the verbal and conceptual pyrotechnics of this play, you will have a chance to be swept away by the engaging performances especially of Bernard Nightingale (played very energetically by Neil Pearson whom we have all seen in the Bridget Jones films among other things) and Bond herself (who brings to this role the same mixture of sensuality and physicality I had grown to love in Distant Shores). The set design lends itself perfectly to the juxtaposition of two different eras (the early Romantic Age and our own early 21st) and the comings and goings of historic and more contemporary characters who waltz around each other literally and figuratively on the stage. Prepare to be enchanted.

Inside Liberty of London:
When the play was over, we went our separate ways. Having equipped myself with a map and bus guide, I found my way to Liberty of London which is on Great Marlborough Street just off Regent Street but closer to the Oxford Circus (not the Piccadilly) end. And what a building it turned out to be! Just charming! I mean, I had seen pictures of this store and was prepared for a Tudor building. But how cleverly the space inside has been employed. It is simply stunning. I have yet to read up a bit about the history of the building. Is it a genuine Tudor building? Or a Victorian masquerade made in imitation of the Tudor idiom? God knows...and I will find out, I know, soon enough from the garrulous Web. But for the moment, I have to say I was delighted I stepped in.

It really is a London institution and I cannot for the life of me explain why I haven't been in here before! Why is it that I have always visited Harrods? Why is Selfridges always on my list of stores to sample? Well, better late than never---so I guess I can say Been There, Done That to Liberty to London and tick another item off my List. Needless to say, everything was screamingly pricey, but then what did I expect if not sticker-shock? And this is perhaps the very first store in which I have ever browsed where every possible precaution has been taken against those endowed with sticky fingers. I mean as if the CCTV thing (such a fixture in London) were inadequate, there are locks and long telephone coil-like extensions attached to all the big label items! Watch out Winona!

Nor did I walk out empty handed. Indeed I was presented with some pretty nice samples--Dr. Perricone's skin care products for face and eye area--the deep penetrating night creams, said to work wonders in two weeks. I've seen the good doctor peddle his wares on the box in the States but never have I seen his range in a department store. Well, try them I will. Hopefully something lovely will come out of my gallivanting into Liberty!

I had half a mind to undertake one of my walking tours in the St. Paul's Cathedral area but then it had turned nippy and I wasn't adequately dressed (nor did I have the right walking shoes on) for a gad about the graveyards of the East End. I decided to get home instead and finish transcribing my interview as I have another full day ahead of me tomorrow (a Thames-side visit to Osterley House and Park), so I figured I'd better conserve my stamina for the hike that lies ahead.

The area around Smithfield Market had been transformed. Crowds had gathered to cheer the cyclists on and provided me with the opportunity to take a few pictures as the competitors warmed up. I do not believe that this sports meet has a name yet, but the commentator kept raving about the fact that it is becoming more popular each year and poised to take its place soon as one of the capital's most exciting events. Well, if that ever happens, I will be able to say that I caught the races while the event was still in its infancy. For I did stand around and take it all in and then I continued to stay abreast of what was going on as the commentary floated up to my loft home while I ate my dinner.

Yes, indeed, back home, I ate an early dinner (chicken noodle soup out of a packet and pasta with Chocolate mousse out of a pot) and I returned to my room to continue my transcription. When it was all done, I stopped to brush and floss my teeth, get ready for bed and write this blog.

I'd say it was rather a productive Saturday, wouldn't you?

June 8, 2009:
PS: Did have a chance to read up a bit about the history of Liberty of London and this is what I have found out (Courtesy of The English Home magazine):
Liberty of London was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875. "The creation of a recognisable look for the shop was always a conscious aim of its founder and his most shrewd move was the building of a Tudor shop, which was completed in 1924. This addition meant that the building itself became the shop's trademark and a symbol of its founding values".

I would also agree with writer Harriet Paige who says, in the same magazine, that:
" And it is perhaps the buildings themselves--Liberty's timber-frame structure, Fortnum and Mason's eccentric time-piece and Harrod's Edwardian frontage--that has ensured Britain's great department stores have become true London landmarks".

I mean, I think this is absolutely true. Other than Macy's which does have an iconic building all its own on an individual block at 34th Street and Sixth Avenue, none of the New York department stores stand out in any way in terms of their buildings. Each one looks exactly like the other--there is no character, no individuality, indeed no imagination whatsoever that has gone into their making. This is what, I suppose, has always made England so enthralling to me and the States...well, so blah!

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