‘The Odyssey’ Live (Almeida)

It’s something you might do in college, if you had a certain kind of drama department, except it was with some of the best actors in the world and more people watching than just a few very patient boyfriends. The Almeida Theatre read through all of the Iliad in a day in August (starting at 10am, finishing around 1am), after which artistic director Rupert Goold presumably turned to his actors and crew and said, “Well, that was quite good, shall we do another one?”, because last week they also did all of the Odyssey in a day, livestreaming the whole thing both times so people could follow along at home.

The Iliad reading started at the British Museum, where a series of actors got up to read at a podium in the Great Court, and ended at the Almeida itself (in Islington, north London). It was fun clicking over to the livestream across the day, especially the energy pop every time a new reader took over and reminded that gosh, our actors are really good at acting! The main ones I remember are Tobias Menzies’ biceps exulting as Achilles taunted Hector; Hattie Morahan looking alarmed and tall as Odysseus tried to reason with the Greeks; and Adjoa Andoh letting her voice roll and luxuriate in Agamemnon’s persuasive list of gifts. Oh yeah, you kept going, this is why!

And the Odyssey was even more fun; instead of lots of famous good actors walking up to a podium, reading their bit, and walking off again, the production went on a trip around London. Starting on the roof of the Almeida at a sharp 9am, cameras followed actors in cabs down to the Thames, where the reading got on a riverboat (Stephen Fewell winning and holding an early MVP of the day, for flawlessly managing an interruption by an uninformed official – which also led to his winning saddest tweet), and on to the London Eye on the South Bank (for the bit with the Cyclops – geddit, geddit), onto an open-topped bus back across the city, up to Islington Town Hall, over to a building site nearby, and finally to finish at a bar on Upper Street, at an extremely enviable-looking party with most of the day’s readers and general Almeida people. Read more...

National Portrait Gallery and restaurant

Last December I had an afternoon unexpectedly free up, so I decided to spend it at my favourite big art gallery near Trafalgar Square. Not the grand one with the pillars, the National Gallery, but the one around the corner on Charing Cross Road, across the street from Pret, the National Portrait Gallery.

Both arrange their collections by chronology, so you go forward in time as you move through them. But while the National Gallery’s halls are just by century – “16th: Leonardo, Cranach, Michelangelo, Raphael, Holbein”, you can practically hear the curator yawning – the National Portrait Gallery, which has to fit into smaller rooms, has also grouped each era into themes.

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Drunk Theatre: Earlham Street Clubhouse and “City of Angels” at the Donmar

city of angels ft

The drinks: Earlham Street Clubhouse

The evening’s story actually started last October during London Cocktail Week, that most magical of times in the capital. A £10 wristband gets you cocktail bars across the city, from Mayfair hotels to Bethnal Green dives, throwing open their doors and sliding over £4 drinks, most of which are specially created for the festival. Read more...

Reading Shakespeare at Crisis at Christmas

Christmas in London is really impossible to not take part in. Even if you don’t go into shops, drink in a pub or bar, work in an office or watch TV, it’s all over the streets, and good luck going anywhere because transport shuts down for a day and a half. I used to be stroppy about this and feel very self-righteously oppressed, since I grew up in the US, where public Christmas actually is about public Christianity. But in the past three years or so I have got over this and come to appreciate that the general British aversion to public religiousness extends to this holiday, and in London especially, ‘Christmas’ in practice is really just a secular festival about light, booze and food, all things I can well get on board with.

This year I signed up to volunteer at Crisis at Christmas. Over 23-30 December, the homelessness charity Crisis takes over donated buildings (mostly schools and colleges, which are closed over the holidays) and turns them into centres where homeless people can eat, socialise, be warm and indoors, and have free access to services like legal advice, dental and eye care and haircuts. Depending on volunteers, there are also things like manicures and massages, films, musical performers, yoga lessons, and football matches.

The volunteer sign-up form asks if you have any services or special skills you can offer, including an option for ‘leading performing arts activities’, and I decided to sign up to lead Shakespeare workshops. Two days later I got an approval email, for the three days I’d said I could do – December 25, 27 and 29, working shifts from 10am-7pm – as well as a general induction on December 14. Read more...

being rich

At 4pm on Friday, the last day in the office for most people before Christmas, the fire alarm went off. Without having to say so out loud, everyone knew that most of us wouldn’t bother returning for half an hour’s worth of work, so we shut down our computers properly before walking down the three flights of stairs to the ground floor. Outside we stood in the cold for half a minute, looking up at the Shard, then as one mass moved to the pub and ordered twenty cups of mulled wine.

We got to talking about the best food in London. My company has small offices across the world, and a lot of British employees use their annual plane ticket back to come home for Christmas. What they were most looking forward to was eating. A Berlin-based editor was planning a pile of ‘proper’ dim sum on the weekend. A Johannesburg-based writer lovingly described the pho he’d had for lunch. Someone mentions crispy aromatic duck, and it lodged in my mind, mentally crackling.

At around 4:30 someone from another department stuck their head in the pub and gave us the all-clear, and the poor souls who still had work to do finished their drinks and pulled on scarves and coats. The rest of us pointedly waited a few minutes, luxuriating in the pre-emptive weekend atmosphere of not having to do anything, then said our goodbyes and merry Christmases and peeled away. Read more...

The Witch of Endor in ‘Witches and Wicked Bodies’ at the British Museum

Wow the second half of November went on rocket boosters! I have little to no memory of the past two weeks and not for the good reasons (although yes, some wine was involved too). So um  AT SOME POINT LAST MONTH I had a few hours free from work, and went to take a breather at the British Museum, one of the secular temples of London. Having already ‘done’ the Greatest Hits when I first moved here – the Parthenon room, the Rosetta Stone, the Lakhish reliefs, the mummies – now I feel more freedom to go straight to the smaller rooms and see how many treasures aren’t shown so dramatically, that the museum can afford to throw away in patchily lit plexiglass cases.

There’s an exhibition called ‘Witches and Wicked Bodies’ on until 11 January, looking at European artists’ representations of witches from 1450-1900. I’m always up for some historical witchcraft, especially when it covers Shakespeare’s time, although starting at 1450 does miss my favourite medieval witch-related incident, in 1441, when the Duchess of Gloucester allegedly hired magicians to try to become queen (Shakespeare showed this in Henry VI, Part Two). It’s true that medieval European anxiety around witches is very focused on their bodies – often distorted, ugly and unnatural, sometimes titillating and sexy – so I was looking forward to the art as I walked up around the reading room, past Iran, Japan and Mesopotamia, to the little Print and Drawings room.

The first text box says this, which immediately seemed wrong: Read more...