Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

The Final Countdown

September 15th, 2009 · No Comments

Like many of my classmates I decided it would be worthwhile to summarize all of my discoveries this month in London. During this post I will focus on six main themes found within London: Parks, Churches, Pubs, Other Religious Institutions, Theatre and Museums. 

Parks

Each park that I visited had its own distinct characteristics that separated it from any other. Green Park was the first I visited and after perusing a few others, I realized there was nothing that exciting about it. Located right across from Buckingham Palace, Green Park certainly provides a good place to go and take a break from the busy atmosphere of the area. Besides this however there is not much going on and I would recommend that potential park goers walk the extra distance over to St. James Park.

In addition to the large number of waterfowl heckling people for food which offers consistent entertainment St. James offers some picturesque  flower beds throughout and various monuments along the way. It has the relaxing atmosphere of Green Park with a bit more excitement sprinkled in.

Regents Park offers a completely different feel from Green or St. James. Located in a separate area of London, Regents Park has a history of being used by a higher end crowd. I could tell this immediately from the feel of the park. The decorative shrubbery and elegant architecture throughout gave me a feeling that Regents is not as well used as other parks.

Since I was one of the members of the Parks group that gave a walking tour of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens I could go into a lot more detail about these two green spaces but I will choose not to in an effort to be concise. In summary Hyde Park is the largest green space in London and is often used for larger events such as concerts, festivals etc. It also contains a large number of monuments throughout including the 7/7 memorial and the Diana Memorial Fountain. Kensington Gardens is home to a variety of key monuments but is not as well trodden as Hyde. Overall it makes for a quieter atmosphere, more conducive fo reading or “snogging”.

Regents Park were my two favorite green spaces in London. Regents, is both beautiful, and extremely large and I continually felt the need to go back and explore. Kensington Gardens appealed to me in that it was quainter than Hyde Park but contained a like amount of history and monuments throughout. Although I would be content spending a length of time in any London green space Regents and Kensington would be my top choices.

Theatre

Overall I enjoyed going to the theatre on so many occasions. What better place to do so than in London after all? Here I will discuss my favorite performances and theatre venues.

All in all I enjoyed all but two of the performances we saw. The two Shakespeare productions at The Globe Theatre were fantastic. Although I did not particularly enjoy reading Troilus and Cressida it made a huge difference to be there so close to the actors. The fantastic drum chorus at the end really sealed the deal. As You Like It was probably my favorite show I saw here in London. Although it is one of Shakespeare’s simpler plays the actors really made it jump off the page. Being down it the pit was fantastic because of all the ad-libbing and constant interaction with the crowd. I even felt traces of Touchstone’s saliva on my arm at one point.

The other Shakespeare performance I saw, All’s Well That Ends Well, was lackluster. Although the Olivier was my favorite performing venue (this is what an auditorium style theatre should be like…why can’t Dickinson have something like this?) the play itself was odd and ended on an abrupt and odd note.

The other play we saw at the National Theatre, The Pitmen Painters, was fantastic. Although I was dozing a bit because of the Benadryl I took right before the show, the actors kept my attention and I appreciated that the play was based off of a true story. 

Easily the oddest play we saw was Arcadia. An extremely intelligent performance the play juxtaposed two different periods in time and created a singular storyline in which the plot was based. Overall it was an entertaining performance that made me think early and often.

Finally there was Blood Brothers. The lone musical I saw produced feelings of disbelief, anguish and held back laughter. The ridiculous 80′s sound track and creepy narrator just didn’t do it for me. I think it’s safe to say that I was not the only one from Humanities 309 who was a bit surprised to see just about everyone in the audience give it a standing ovation.

I had a very positive experience with the theatre here. I would go back to the globe again and again. I loved being that close to the action. I would also enjoy seeing another show in the Olivier. There really is so much to choose from here. It’s simply a matter of figuring out your tastes and saving your money so you can see a lot of performances.

Churches

From Westminster Abbey to St. Paul’s Cathedral we saw most of the major churches/cathedrals during our month in London. St. Paul’s was easily my favorite. From the fantastic crypt to the hundreds of stairs up to the tower it had so much to offer in the way of history and mystique. Westminster Abbey fascinated me primarily because of all the literary figures that had been buried inside as well as the room that was dedicated to “The Order of the Bath”. Other churches that I really enjoyed taking a look at were: “St. Martin in the Fields” which sits just outside Trafalgar Square and Nicholas Hawkesmoore’s “Christ’s Church” which is located in very close proximity to Brick Lane.

Other Religious Institutions

Overall the Sikh Gurdwara was my favorite place that we visited. I appreciated the simplicity of the religious doctrine as well as the conviction and honesty with which our tour guide, Mr. Singh spoke. The morning was capped off with a fantastic sit down meal together in which everyone was served the same food and drink.

I had different feelings about the Hindu Mandir. It was clear to me from the very beginning that the Hindu religion is not nearly as modest as Sikhism nor are they trying to be. From the extremely decorative prayer room, to the museum located right in the center of the Mandir I never felt particularly comfortable inside.

The only religious institution I wish we had gotten a chance to visit is a Mosque. I had been to one many years ago but I did not remember a whole lot from my experience. I wonder how much more lively the East End, and all parts of London would be if Ramadan were not taking place during our time here. 

Museums

I could go on and on about museums so I will attempt to stay as concise as possible.

The British Museum was massive, convenient since it was so close to the Arran House but a little one dimensional at times.  One of my favorite exhibits at the British Museum was a special exhibit on Living and Dying that drew information from all different time periods and cultures.

The National Gallery was fantastic. Although I have a hard time appreciating some visual art the gallery kept my attention for a number of hours. Seeing so many famous works of art was phenomenal. 

The Tate Modern was my least favorite museum here. Although I am trying I have a hard time understanding modern art. After about 45 minutes in this museum it ended up being too much for me.

The Cabinet War Rooms/Churchill Museum were two of my favorites. The realization that I was standing in one of the most important places in World War II history was unbelievable. The War Rooms felt so authentic. I really felt as though I had been taken back in time to the 1940′s while inside.

The Victoria and Albert was easily my favorite museum in London. There was so much variety inside and so much to see. I could have easily spent a few days inside. Two of my favorite exhibits were the silver and jewelry exhibits. I’m not sure what this says about me as a person but I found it unbelievable that individuals could even own such treasures. I also enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of the V&A staff. At most of the other museums I visited I felt like I was doing them a disservice simply by being there. Although I understand that taking pictures of an object in a museum doesn’t do it  justice I like to be able to have the option of doing so.

The Sir John Soane museum interested me but it wasn’t really my cup of tea in the end. It also had a stuffy atmosphere to it that I didn’t really appreciate. 

One thing I can draw from my experience at museums here is that each and every one has something that distinguishes it. With so many museums I thought that it would be impossible to avoid some overlap but I never really felt that. Cheers to London and its museums.

Pubs

Finally we have pubs. What would London be without it’s public houses? In some cases pubs are the true museums of London, designating what an area was like in the past and what type of clientele it attracted. During my month here I had a chance to visit a few pubs and get a general sense of what some possible differences could be. It is clear to me that each pub brings something different and unique to the table. The Marlborough Arms was convenient being so close to the Arran House and was a great place to enjoy a pint over a meal with friends. The Court was conducive to socializing in a different way. The music was louder, the people louder and the drinks cheaper. Other places I visited offered other things that made them stand out as well. One thing that i’ve learned about pubs is that it’s hard for one to please everyone. Since everyone has different tastes and desires when it comes to pubs you are better off going to one with a small cohesive group.

To conclude this novel I would just like to say that I think we saw a lot of different faces of London this month. I realize there is much more to see here but between walking tours throughout the city, trips to major monuments and museums and individual exploration I have learned a ton about London, it’s history and where it is going. I look forward to more London explorations in the future but for now, ON TO NORWICH!

Tags: Churches and Cathedrals · Henry · Pubs · Theatre

Pitmen Painters V. Blood Brothers

September 14th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Overall, I have really enjoyed being able to go to the theatre and compare the different productions that we have seen. But now that we have seen our last performance, I feel prepared and capable to tie in the themes that these productions present into a few of the overarching themes that we have experienced on the walking tours, class discussions, and readings. For time’s sake and space, I mostly would like to focus on The Pitman Painters and Blood Brothers in this particular post. The Pitmen Painters was undoubtedly one of the best straight-play performances that I have ever seen. The depth and layering of the dialogue really portrayed the time period in a realistic, yet humorous way.

This draws me to my next point: the playwright brilliantly conveyed the realistic themes of class struggles and economic differences while still managing to couple the drama with a relatable sense of humor. I felt that this performance creatively discussed the struggle and tension of the time. All of the men enjoyed painting, especially Oliver, and this simple act of painting morphed into a larger, more important symbol: a symbol of unfulfilled desire, and of the vain hope for a better future. As simple and unimportant as painting may seem to us now, it became an unmistakable symbol of class division throughout the play. For example, as much as Oliver wanted to paint, to leave the mines, and be paid for doing something that he loved, he was unable to liberate himself from the burdens of his class position. This internal and external struggle was highlighted by his benefactor, a woman of wealth who desired to collect his paintings. This brings up another distinction: while Oliver would be working tirelessly at painting, this wealthy woman would simply pay a small sum of money to collect his work and though he would leave the mines, Oliver would still be under the rule of another person. I think Oliver recognized that his paintings wouldn’t change his circumstance and in his mind he believed an escape from the mining world would be futile.

As a member of the audience, I can attest for the fact that I was hoping he would leave the mines, work as a painter, and become famous and wealthy enough to bring his friends out of the mines and support them until they were old men.  But this vain hope makes the ending even more jarring and eye-opening. We all hope that Oliver’s life will work out happily ever after, but in reality he was a slave to the constraints and prejudices of his class—much like the immigrants in London are still laboring under today. As a group we have traveled to market after market and it is here that I have noticed a vicious cycle. Certain people are always “the outsider” the “laborers” and it is generally frowned upon for anyone to try and move up the ladder, so to speak. Reaching way back to the beginning of our stay in London, we discussed Great Expectations. This same theme occurs in Pip’s life. People are to stay within their class and not deviate from the norm or else pain and struggle will befall them. Better to remain in one’s class with one’s struggles than to risk the climb to the top- to achieve more.

Overall, the Pitmen Painters offered me a visual and emotional insight into the plight of the lower class. I thoroughly enjoyed this play, and though it was essentially a work of art, a fiction, it was based on the lives of actual people.

Now the Blood Brothers on the other hand, lacked the heavy reality and depth that the Pitmen Painters possessed. Though I generally love musical theatre, this particular performance struck me as vapid…though I did notice a similar theme of class division. I don’t really feel the need to go into detail here simply because there was no real depth to the performance other than the fact that one brother struggled throughout his life and the other didn’t because of his wealth.

 Though the musical was extremely dramatic, it actually lost its sense of any authenticity that may have saved it from becoming complete crap. Now although I am railing on this, it also echoed the Pitmen Painters by emphasizing that class and wealth have a profound effect on the outcome of one’s life. These two plays, though both very different, have really helped me to connect and visualize the theme of class and economic struggle through both thought-provoking dialogue (mostly in Pitmen Painters).

Tags: Maddie · Theatre

The Pitmen Men Painters versus Rubbish just like Marilyn Monroe….

September 14th, 2009 · No Comments

So this past week has been filled with a variety of theatre experiences that have made me laugh, think, cheer, clap, be moved, and even ask “wtf.” The two pieces that I would like to focus on, completely juxtapose the other, but nevertheless illustrate London’s diversity in the theatre going experience.  Both this play and the musical made me ask questions, but in two completely different ways.

On Thursday just after finishing my practice for the Brixton group walking tour, we rushed over to the Globe theatre. Since we had been there before, we knew that the play was going to be wonderful, and to our surprise it didn’t disappoint.  However it was the evening play,that would make me fall in love with British theatre.

After grabbing a bight to eat and relaxing at the hotel for a moment, Flo, Jeyla, and I headed towards the National theatre. I was not at all excited for this performance, in part because I was exhausted from the days’ events and partly because I didn’t want to sit through a second three hour play. Little did I know that from the beginning of the play I would be on the edge of my seat, completely drawn in to the characters of The Pitmen Painter’s.  Immediately when the play began I was forced into the lives of these diverse men of the working class. The “realness” and authenticity that each actor/character brought to the table was extraordinary and noticeable from the first moments in the play. As the play continued I was lost in a world that I had a deep connection with. The symbolism for art and their understanding of it was beautifully connected to how these men lived. They learned that it wasn’t fame, or money that made u successful as artists but their ability to paint. This had a profound effect on me and my connection to dance. For years and even to this day, I imagined my life as being a professional dancer, but because of this amazing opportunity I had to grow as a student in a higher academic institution, I put my plans on hold. The Pitmen painters made me realize that not only do I still have time to do all that I want and more, but that what makes me a dancer and choreographer is not the fame and recognition that o would receive for my pieces, but my ability to create dances and the satisfaction that I get from performing. It isn’t about anybody else, and I thought that the Pitmen Painters taught me something that I was never ever to realize before and I am grateful to have experienced such an amazing piece of work.

However, on Saturday going to see Blood Brothers I felt like I my ears were going to bleed to death because of how terrible it was. Blood Brothers is easily the worst “musical” I have ever seen in all my life. In the beginning it seemed as if it would be a great performance and because it was a musical I was way more excited than the other performances. But I was sadly mistaken. The play began with the potential of being a well performed musical, until Marilyn Monroe. She was, throughout the entire bloody musical, and the funny thing, is that she has been dead for decades, but I can tell you after Blood Brothers she is no longer resting in piece.  The singing was great but I could not stand how everyone overacting. The most dreadful part was the narrator, playing god. At every turn he would come in and ruin a scene that had the potential of being somewhat descent.  At the end of the performance the rest of the crowd gave a standing ovation, while the Norwich Humanities group looked in awe questioning the sanity of the rest of the audience.

Overall my theatre going experience in London was phenomenal. London has the most diverse performing art venues I have ever witnessed. From Shakespeare to Dickens and all the in-between whatever you want to see you can find in London. Most of the plays were amazing and the theatres and their architecture was unique in every way. All in all I can say that I have fallen in love with British theatre, and I can’t wait to return.

Tags: Anthony

Cheers to All Things Not Made in the 1980′ (Besides Me)

September 14th, 2009 · No Comments

Just when I thought things had taken a turn for the better in my London Theatre experience. Ah well, it’s probably for the best. Everyone knows that happiness is unhealthy for you, but I digress, let’s make structured arguments on how Blood Brothers managed to be so awful.

I think the greatest problem of the play had to have been the music. Premiering in the West End in 1983, I would not be surprised if the score has not changed by even a note since then. With crashing synthetic drums on every number (why people got it into their head that actual drums were simply not good enough is simply beyond the scope of imagination. That being said, the single greatest success in synth drumming: The Pinacle of the Synth Drum) and saxophones trumpeting at seemingly random times, the score was disorganized at best and a reason to pop a handful of Advil at its worst. All of this can hardly go being mentioned without also adding also that this music was being played so loudly, that it was actually drowning out the actors and actresses trying to sing. Amid complete the complete chaos that was the soundtrack, I feebly tried to pick out whatever words I could, the most frequently heard phrase being “Marylyn Monroe”. After having a generally pleasant time going to both theatres and concerts in London, I was shocked to see how something like this could be in existence. I realize that show has been playing for nearly twenty years, but at some point the directors of this show have to realize that this is a theatre performance and not a museum exhibit. It seems that at some point along the two decades of Blood Brothers, the producers and directors and even actors forgot that Theatre is something that grows and changes over time. While I’m sure that several people would be upset if the writers cut out half of the pointless and sometimes tactless references to a certain blonde-haired actress, most of the audience would understand that at some point the show has to grow beyond its original conception.

Take the Shakespeare performances at the new Globe Theater for instance. It’s pretty safe to say that the performances that go on today are quite far from how they were a few hundred years ago. In As You Like It, Touchstone’s role in the play was expanded to play more of a comedic role. While this was in no means necessary for the progression of the plot, Touchstone’s added hilarity only added to the jubilant and light-hearted nature of the play.

After walking out of Blood Brothers into the fading afternoon with a profound headache, I was struck with a slightly twisted thought. Maybe Blood Brothers should stay at the Phoenix as an exhibit more than a production. People can come from around the world to see what happens when complacency replaces ambition and something that lives and breathes as theatre does can be turned into nothing more than a VHS tape (no DVD’s back then), playing the same video that lost its significance somewhere between the 500th and 1000th showing (I’m actually slightly scared to even imagine the 2nd showing, much less the 1000th).

Tags: Paul

Cultural Differences and London Theatre

September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

     I almost cried at the end of Arcadia, did cry during the Pitmen Painters, and wanted to cry after seeing Blood Brothers – clearly for different reasons. When London theatre is good, it’s incredible, but when it’s bad, it’s atrocious.

     I’ve been to countless theatre performances outside of London, and never took much notice of the lighting. I am usually so wrapped up in the dialogue, sets, costumes – or, if it’s a musical, the song and dance – that I never took into consideration lighting as a component of the production. However, after talking with 2 time Tony Award winning lighting designer Rick Fisher, I made sure to pay special attention to the lighting during Arcadia. Once I was – excuse the pun – enlightened by Rick as to the intricacies of lighting design and how important it is to shape the mood of a show, I was amazed by how exactly the lighting did just that.

     Tom Stoppard’s brilliant Arcadia is set at different times of day and those natural changes in the color and intensity of the ‘sunlight’ were recreated beautifully in the lighting. Morning was soft, dawn was blue-green, and midnight was obscure and the moonlight realistic. What really touched me, however, was the closing scene in which Thomasina and Septimus waltz around the room and their silhouette is flung against a wall lit with orange-pink light. The sight was stunning.

     The plot and dialogue of The Pitmen Painters, as well as the themes they addressed, struck a deep nerve with me. My mother is an artist, one who has always been very insecure about her abilities, (and she need not be) just as Oliver was. The painters’ monologues about the value and universality of art touched me viscerally, and reminded me of my own mother’s struggles with identity. An effective play is one like The Pitmen Painters; one that is relatable and emotionally moving.

     Blood Brothers was neither of these. This musical was undoubtedly the worst performance – not the worst musical, mind you, the worst performance, period – that I have ever seen. The actors (this term might be too kind) all wore microphones in a small theatre – a sign of weak singers. The sound mixing was terrible and only served to amplify the flaws in the voices: the inability to properly belt(maybe if ‘Mrs. Johnston’ learned how to open her mouth when she sings, she wouldn’t need to tape a microphone to her forehead); flat notes; narrow vibrato; no vibrato at all. The sets were lackluster, the costumes unimaginative, the score repetitive and the lyrics forced. The plot had the potential to be interesting, but it was poorly developed. And one final piece of scathing criticism: Now, I have no problem with the omniscient perspective, but Blood Brothers gives a new meaning to the term “intrusive narrator.” If you’ve has the misfortune of seeing the show, you’ll know what I mean, and those of you who have not, do keep it that way.

     In conclusion, Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, call baked potatoes “jackets,” use way too much coinage, have great taste in plays and terrible taste in musicals. Just another cultural difference.

Tags: Anya · Theatre

Inescapable Class

September 13th, 2009 · 1 Comment

This summer I went to my local bookstore to pick up some of the summer reading for this course. I also decided to splurge on some travel essays and one very large guidebook. One of the books that caught my eye was Kate Fox’s Watching the English. In this tome of valuable information, Fox breaks down the hidden rules of English behavior…everything from food rules to dress code. Fox is not only an anthropologist, but also an English woman and her ability to laugh at herself and her people make her observations both accurate and amusing. I was laughing the entire time I was reading. The way she writes is so witty and entertaining that I found myself both apprehensive and even more excited to come to London. How was I going to survive in a place where it was not socially acceptable to smile at strangers as I walked down the street? I was also particularly worried about my laughter. As most of you now know, when I find something funny, I will laugh… loudly and for a long time. I can’t control it. I was worried everyone in England was going to think I was just the stupid American who is always loud. More about that later…Fox concludes that all these behavior rules revolve around class. You do things the way you do because of your class, plain and simple.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this theory has to do with language. I’m sure most of us have noticed that even though we are in England, there is not one generic English accent. And, according to Fox, “one cannot even talk at all without immediately revealing one’s own social class.” The indicators are in both the pronunciations and word choice. I’ll elaborate on one of my favorites…. ‘Pardon.’ The English apologize for everything, even if it’s not their fault. If you bump into an English person on the street, they will probably apologize anyway. However, the word they use is an immediate indicator of their class. A lower-middle of middle-middle person will say ‘pardon.’ A upper middle will say ‘sorry-what?’ and an upper class person will simply say ‘what?’ Ironically the same response of ‘what?’ is also used by the working class, although they may drop the ‘t’ to make it ‘wha-‘

So, we have leaned that speech is the most immediate and most obvious way to place a person within your class GPS system. In Lee Hall’s The Pitmen Painters, one of the first interactions between Mr. Lyons and the group of pitmen involved differences in speech. Mr. Lyons could not understand their thick accents and different pronunciations. Obviously Mr. Lyons was speaking what is commonly known as “Oxford English” whereas the pitmen were speaking in their own regional dialect. The Ashington group was a group of brilliant artists who just happened to be pitmen. But the people around them would often jump to conclusions when meeting them due to their speech. In Blood Brothers twins Mickey and Eddie were split up at birth and raised apart. Mickey remained with his biological mother in a working class environment. Edward (Eddie) was raised by the upper class Lyon family. Mickey points out the language differences from the first time he speaks with his brother by making fun of Eddie for his ‘posh’ phrases like “shag the vicar” and “smashing.” It’s the little details reveal the most about class differences. Although the brothers were great friend in their youth, it was the struggle between their classes that eventually led to tragic downfall. Your accent and speech does not reveal anything about your accomplishments but it does place you somewhere on that class scale. In a nation where verbal culture is prized over any sort of palpable or physical expression, language is the primary tool for recognizing social status.

The one place where all these class rules are put on ‘hold’ (well, I’ll let you decide) is the pub. The pub is a place with its own customs and is the main place of social bonding. Like in most cultures, the drinking-place tends to be socially equal or at least the differences are based on separate rules from the rest of society. Therefore, the pub is not really place of social or class equality, but the class differences are judged differently or are suspended whilst inside the pub. Only the English would have a completely different set of behavior rules specifically for the pub. I can’t believe these people sometimes. In a striking contradiction the rest of England, the pub is one of the few places where you can start a conversation with a complete stranger…as long as you’re not too forward and ask their name. This rule only applies at the bar counter and the fact that you go to the bar to order food and drink (rather than having someone come to your table) forces one to be social. It just keeps getting more and more strange. The art of queuing is quintessentially English. Always respect the queue, at the store, at the tube stop, wherever. But in the pub this rule changes. Instead of the usual neat and orderly structure, the thirsty pub goes all hang around the counter. This is what Kate Fox calls the “invisible queue,” where both the publicans and the customers know their positions in the waiting line. Everyone knows who is next and if you try and get service before your turn, the bar staff will ignore you the rest of your stay. One evening last week was a part of a group who decided to grab a drink at The Court, a local pub on Tottenham Court Road.  We accidentally placed ourselves outside the range of the invisible queue to disastrous consequences. Not only were we yelled at in front of the entire pub, it was hard to get service the rest of the night.

That aside, I have had a great time every time I go to a pub. It’s a great place to people watch (one of my favorite pastimes) and see the rare interactions between the English. Of course, all pubs are not created equal. I will agree with my classmates that The Court caters to a younger crowd and is the kind of place where our American volume is somewhat more acceptable, whereas the Marlborough Arms is great place to grab a meal and to catch up with your fiends. Nothing against pubs like The Court, but I prefer places where I can sit down and not have to yell across the table to be heard. I guess that’s my inner 60-year-old woman talking. Besides, the chicken and leek pie on Sunday nights at the Arms is fantastic! Pub culture is a valuable part of life in England, and most people have found a pub that really fits their personality or lifestyle. You can lean a lot about the English by observing what goes on in a pub, and at the same time, you have to leave the pub to fully understand the culture. This place is full of contradictions. While I am yet to become a ‘regular,’ I hope I can investigate more of this strange phenomenon of the England when I get to Norwich… I might even find a football team to support.

To recap, everything is about class. Each social class has identifying elements that place one in a certain class. Don’t say ‘pardon’, avoid using fancy French words like serviette, and mind the invisible queue at pubs. We will all be reading Watching the English once we get to Norwich so now you all have something to look forward to. Keep an eye out for these hidden behaviors. I find it all quite fascinating. Also, if anyone feels like pie tonight, meet me at the Arms.

Tags: Grace

Blood Painters and Pitmen Brothers

September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

Throughout our time in London, we have been fortunate enough to go to a large variety of shows.  Some of been concerts, including a stint at the Proms, a free Watch This Space African-fusion band, and the Phantasm piece we heard in the Church of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields, but we have also seen Shakespearian plays, 20th century works, and now a musical.  Despite all of these experiences, many of which I have blogged about previously, I think that the two most recent works we saw, The Pitmen Painters and Blood Brothers, have the most similarities and differences between them.

The first was the Pitmen Painters, a wonderful tale that explored the meaning of art and what art is to each and every individual.  What I really enjoyed about this particular play was the brilliant characterization of the pitmen by both Lee Hall, the writer, and the actors.  Through the progression of time, the characters managed to go from knowing practically nothing about art to appreciating the outlet that art is offering them in their daily lives.  In one part of the play, Oliver has an epiphany that makes him realize that the art class he was taking could allow him to do bigger and brighter things outside of the small mining town he has lived in for his entire life.  Despite the fact that nothing really ends up coming from this for Oliver, this realization, and his turning down of a possible patroness earlier in the play,  come back to haunt him when he realizes what he could have been if his circumstances and social class had been different.

The second was Blood Brothers, a rather mediocre story that explored the lives of twin brothers separated at birth and how they grow up in very different social circumstances.  The first main issue I had with Blood Brothers was that the sound was off the entire show.  I have a music background and I adore musical theatre, so it really bugs me when a professional theatre puts on a show, let alone a musical, and the sound is off for the whole performance.  That was one major strike against them.  The second issue I had wasn’t as much with the performance of the show, but the show itself.  Though I can tolerate her, I am not a big Marilyn Monroe fan.  Why, oh why, was she a reoccurring theme of the show?  There was not only a song titled Marilyn Monroe, but also three reprises attempting to tie the blond actress to the circumstances of the Johnston and Lyon families.  If this musical was a paper being graded, the links between the families and Monroe would not stand up for any professor or high school teacher I have ever met. 

 

Why, oh why, Marilyn Monroe???

Why, oh why, Marilyn Monroe???

The main thing that these two shows have in common (other than a character named Mr Lyons) is the exploration of problems between social classes.  In the Pitmen Painters I got the sense that the miners want to take an art appreciation class in order to get an idea of what the higher classes spend their copious amount of time and money being patron to.  This juxtaposition between the high class art and the working class pitmen is a reoccurring theme.  Throughout the play the discomfort of the pitmenin noble homes and art galleries is evident because they feel that they are not worthy of being in these elegant spaces.  Although the sentiment is similar in Blood Brothers, the comparison of social classes comes on a much different scale.  From the beginning there is a clear-cut comparison between the dingy home of Mrs Johnston and all of her children with the elegant and cleanly-kept Lyons home.  As the show progresses and Mickey and Eddie become the focus as young children, the lines between social classes are blurred slightly for them.  Both Eddie and Mickey know that they aren’t supposed to go to the other’s part of the neighborhood, but they act as children do, playing games and going on adventures.  By the end of the show, the divisions between the twins become even more evident.  Mickey is laid off because of cuts at the factory, while Eddie brings home friends from college in order to have a massive New Year’s party.  From this point on, social class is the most important factor in the show.  In many ways, both boys end up dead in the end because of the constraints put on them by social class.

Tags: Kelley · Theatre

Bloody Hell.

September 12th, 2009 · 3 Comments

I feel the need to pop the Blood Brothers cherry in the Norwich Humanities blog. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly impressed, to put it lightly, nor do I think many of us were. Unfortunately, I’m not a great lover of musicals in general, so I already had a bit of a strike against me going into the performance, but I felt my mind was open enough. After the first number or two, I began to realize what I was in for, though I tried my best to take the play for what it was all throughout the first act. Unfortunately, what it was was an over-the-top, stereotypical fluff musical marred by samey 80′s inspired music, bizarre British superstitions, melodrama, sound mixing that was too loud even for me, and too many mentions of the name “Marilyn Monroe.” By act two I could barely keep it together. Every time the narrator/Greek chorus/God figure made an appearance onstage (which was about every thirty seconds), Sarah and I would start snarfing, and then the Bon Jovi-esque drums would come in, and it was all over for me. I think my lip is bleeding from biting it so hard, and the narrator man is going to haunt my dreams.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but some of my attitude is coming from being a bit punchy from working on my walking tour for too long. In all honesty, I thought most of the acting was quite good, especially given the fact that the actors didn’t often have a lot of character to work with. I also thought the story itself actually had potential to be interesting, even though it’s one of those stories you come across several times a lifetime (I was reminded heavily of the Prince and the Pauper and even White Teeth, though the themes are a bit different in the latter). The “nature vs. nurture” theme is an interesting one to consider in light of the class structure in England, since at the end Mickey laments that if only he had been the twin to go to the Lyons’ his life would have turned out very differently, without pain or struggle. This is an interesting note to end on without further exploration in the play, since the wealthier characters never seem to be happy with their lot, either: Mrs. Lyons was unable to have a baby, and when she finally got one, she lived her whole life in fear of anyone finding out what she had done, and Eddie was torn between two worlds, as well as struggling with his secret love for Linda. I understand that the play is supposed to be a tragedy, but I would have been happier with the ending if I got more of a sense that the characters (or the ones that were still alive) had learned something, rather than just crying over the dead bodies before the curtain dropped. And there was a standing ovation. There wasn’t a standing ovation at Pitmen Painters, but there was for Blood Brothers.

Frankly, I just don’t think there are many musicals out there that will ever grab me (besides Urinetown!, but the whole premise of that one is to mock musicals themselves). I also thought Blood Brothers suffered from a severe case of melodrama, cookie-cutter characters, overproduction (I mean, really, I don’t need a drastic light cue as well as an ominous synthesizer noise to tell me something’s about to happen)…and those damn 80′s hair band drum fills.

Tags: Chelsea · Theatre