During the Reign of Terror, refined Parisian ladies attended balls wearing a thin red ribbon around their necks in place of jewels, to signify the guillotine in a graphic way. (I forget if they were pro or con.) Mass executions…
Oh, that this rain would end! I dried my socks by stepping into the Tate Britain this afternoon.The museum collection is divided into three parts – the glorious, the dull, and the querulous. The glorious, all those luminescent Turner paintings, went on tour this year, so the mobs aren’t in attendance. The management left a few strays lingering in various galleries (like the sublimely bucolicGolden Bough and a Venetian water scene where only an outlined gondola betrays that Turner wasn’t painting a celestial city), and these left-behinds glow like yellow sapphires. The dull part of the Tate consists of traditional British paintings, large rooms hung double-decker style with portraits of horse-faced lords and their pale, powdered ladies. I have to squint to read the labels, so it’s work to separate the Reynolds, Gainsboroughs, and Van Dycks from the acreage of peerage that surrounds them. If I sound captious, it’s because the third portion of the Tate Britain, devoted to modern art, exasperated me.
In preparing this review—more in that than in actually witnessing the performance—I had to remind myself that this is not the play which has come down to us as Shakespeare’s Scottish Play with some conspicuous additions by Thomas Middleton, as well as some other cuts and adjustments. It is rather <i>Macbeth 2008,</i> Gzregorz Jarzyna’s adaptation of the play. What made this hard was that it resembled Shakespeare’s play in so many ways that I couldn’t help thinking about it and making comparisons. Jarzyna’s spectacle even includes several excerpts from the best-known speeches in the play, inserted into the crude, obscenity-ridden dialogue that Jarzyna has created in the style of contemporary Hollywood film, especially the work of his hero, Ridley Scott. If I had been able to attend the lecture Jarzyna gave at the Polish Cultural Center about a month before the much-publicized opening of his show, I’d have been better prepared, and perhaps more resistant to comparisons with the Jacobean play, so admirably presented by a company from the Chichester Festival barely a mile distant from its venue in the armpit of the Brooklyn Bridge. All Mr. Jarzyna’a lights, noise, and bodily fluids amounted to pretty feeble stuff in comparison with the all-too-familiar words of the old play. His purpose is to present the story of Macbeth as a nightmare, as if the play were not nightmarish enough in itself.On the other hand, it was great fun to be there in the Tobacco Warehouse, a brilliant arrangement, brilliantly executed by St. Ann’s Warehouse, which itself stands across the street.
Tube riders litter the train with newspapers, which other riders pick up to alleviate their boredom. Coming home last night I saw a grisly headline on one of these throwaways, “Sixth Stab Murder in Week of Death.” In London? The first sentence of the story was horrifying. “A schoolboy has been stabbed to death with a foot-long knife by a gang of thugs in south London.” It was within memory that a single shooting death made national news. Compared to America, the UK is still a kingdom where the lion lies down with the lamb. Verbal and psychological violence are another matter.
Clouds over Sloane Square, and the posh and spicy girls known as Sloane Rangers weren’t tramping around with a slew of shopping bags over their arms. Or not that I could see two days ago.A wag has renamed them the trustafarians, which seems to be sticking. I had a drink with a new friend named Warwick and told him that he and I were the only two people in the bar named after castles. “Presumably,” he said.We had met while waiting to troop into the tiny, dark, primitively ventilated Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre to be assaulted by Relocated, a stage provocation that has divided the critics while scaring off the public.
Walking across the Charing Cross footbridge, wishing the Thames didn’t look muddy no matter how blue the sky, I spied what looked like a Safeway supermarket attempting liftoff from the opposite shore. Actually, it was Royal Festival Hall. The building consists of a multi-storied cube topped with a plain barrel vault. You’d never suspect the interior was devoted to music and dance – it could easily be a widget factory. But gratitude is due the city planners, who plunked RFH down in 1951 when the South Bank was littered with little else but closed factories and depressing detritus from the war. This year the hall reopened after expensive refurbishment, with public promises that its bad acoustics had been remedied.
Part of the Cape Cinema’s appeal comes from the high contrast between outside and in. The church-like exterior is patterned after the nearby town of Centerville’s Congregational Church. The murals you might expect inside–of a Puritan religious gathering or colonists working–are instead of exuberant figures dancing across the ceiling. Within the space of a few feet, just by crossing the lobby, we travel from stern New England to lush Art Deco.
Dennis’s Cape Cinema is open year round, in the summer months for art-house movies and some live concerts and in the winter for Metropolitan Opera Live in HD performances. The movies are selected by Eric Hart, the cinema’s manager, and George Mansour. Mansour has been booking art-house films for more than forty years and is a consultant for the Angelika Cinemas.
What better way to anticipate the Fourth of July than spending time with Richard Strauss, who fiddled while the Nazis burned Europe? He languished in apparent dotage as the Yanks stormed the beach at Normandy. Suddenly the first oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra showed up at Strauss’s mountain retreat in Bavaria. Then a uniformed GI, the oboist commissioned a concerto from the snowy-haired, stork-like composer, and a minor masterpiece was born.