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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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

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

The Pitmen Painters and Cultural Capital

September 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments

I am very sorry that I am constantly bugging about anthropology, but I think the field has very interesting things to say about class, and it can help to understand class in London.

After seeing The Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre, a play I enjoyed very much although I could not understand some of the things the actors were saying, I thought how important cultural capital is. Cultural capital is the knowledge that most of us in the course have, because we attend a college, but that so many people do not have. Knowledge is capital, because it can take us places beyond our imagination and change us in many ways without us realizing it. The problem is that most of the times, the elite or canon will decide which kind of knowledge is valuable. Why is it important to know about Van Gogh, and not other painters? Why is there a way to speak proper English? Why do we have to behave a certain way in a museum, or in a restaurant?  Because someone decides what “proper culture is”, and as we saw very well reflected in the play, many people do not have this “proper culture” or cultural capital. The pitmen painters, did not have cultural capital, because after all, they were pitmen. Nobody ever taught them how to appreciate art because they never needed that knowledge to work at the mines. What is heartbreaking about the play, is to see that in the end, the pitmen are so alienated by their condition, that they cannot pursue what might have been their true nature as artists. After all, is any of us born to work in a mine? 

This thought made me think on how lucky we are that we have the cultural capital needed to understand the museums which we visit, to appreciate the classical music at the BBC proms, to know have connections through Dickinson, that allow us to have a talk with a top executive at Barclays. And yes, how lucky we are that we do not have to work in a mine.

Tags: Azul

class struggle, identity, ART & The Pitmen Painters

September 12th, 2009 · 1 Comment

How do you write about something that inspires you? How do you describe something that reminds you why you love to create? How do you interpret something that teaches you the importance of people of all classes? Well I guess you could start by giving it a name: The Pitmen Painters play at the National Theater. Now I am not a theater person myself. And although we have seen quite a few plays up to this point, Troilus and Cresida, Alls Well That Ends Well, Arcadia, none of them have sparked my interest enough to blog about them until the Pitmen Painters last night. It was so much more than a play about the struggle of the lower classes, or the search for IDENTITY in London society, or even the importance of art to modern society; it was about DISCOVERY. It touched on the heart of what it meant to strive for more, without even knowing you were striving for more, yet knowing you DESERVED more.

While the theme of artistry was what I related to the most in the play (which I will go into more detail about later on), the idea of class and personal identity separate of class identity was another theme I found moving. The class system has traditionally been very prominent in British culture. As we have seen in our various reading thus far in the class, it is still very much an existing prejudice here in London. Although we have spent most of our time studying the prejudices against many immigrant and ethnic communities of more middle to lower classes, this play focused on the disadvantage lower class uneducated miners. As these men took this art class, and began to create and fmailiaritize themselves with art, they still tried to retainer their IDENTITY as miners. Yet, when their instructors strives to use them to prove that all “lower classes” are capable of artistic achievement, the miners reject this, and strive for their own individual identities as artists, separate from other people of their class. In this way I think that the play was able to capture the essence of what we have learned from our readings, visiting various religious sites, and seeing the immigrant communities and markets. Essentially, how does one balance personal identity with group identity. At what cost to the group—whether it be religious, class, ethnic, or other social structure—does one get to be an individual, or a Londoner? Or a native? Or British? In the same way that these miners tried to maintain both identities and form a new one, migrating and immigrant groups to London must find a balance between who they were in their group, and who they want to be to fit in in London. The play also touched on a another more personal level. As an artist myself, I found the play to be especially moving on an artistic level. Since I have been to London, I have hardly drawn and have certainly not embarked on any larger scale artistic projects. There have been reasons and justifications of course, too busy, too tired, not enough space. But Oliver’s struggle to balance the pressures of his role in society as a miner, with his desire and growing passion for art and learning reminded me that art is more than a hobby. When Helen Sutherland confronts Oliver about his artistic future, she does not try to sway him by reassuring him of his talent or artistic ability, instead she tells him that he “thinks like an artist.” Art is not a thing you do, it is who you are. I found this to be one of the most touching parts of the play. It reminded me why I create. It’s not because I like to, or want to, or even because I am good at. No, I create because I have to. ART is not something I do, it is WHO I AM.

If you’re interested in my own personal art, check out my weebsite: MNL.

Tags: Megan · Theatre

Sir John Soane, The Pitmen Painters and Life

September 12th, 2009 · No Comments

During the past few days I have been trying to tie up a few loose ends before preparing for the big presentation Anya, Audrey, Maddie, Megan and I are putting on in front of the Alumni next Tuesday night while simultaneously  packing for UEA. This morning I decided to visit the Sir John Soane Museum. Going into the visit I had heard very mixed feelings about it. Some of my classmates loved it while others did not at all. 

One thing that distinguishes the Sir John Soane museum from other prominent London museums is that it is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 6 days a week so people only have a slim window of time to visit. This morning I arrived in front of the museum five minutes before ten and there was already a queue of people lined up in front of me anxiously waiting to get in. Looking at the outside of 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields nothing about the building struck me as spectacular. Once I stepped inside however this changed dramatically. The Sir John Soane museum essentially showcases all of Sir John’s home which contains, to put it colloquially, a whole lot o’ stuff. Walking through I wondered where he obtained many of the objects he had sitting throughout the building. 

After walking through Sir John’s library and his two studies I made my way into his picture room. Here I was utterly amazed to see a multitude of works by William Hogarth, most prominently a series of paintings entitled ‘A Rake’s Progress‘ which Hogarth is best known for. ‘A Rakes Progress’ depicts the life of a man named Tom Rakewell who abandons the mother of his baby, makes poor choices and spirals his life out of control before going mad. Hogarth elegantly displays this transformation on eight works of art, all of which Sir John had hanging on the wall of his picture room. 

The other part of the Soane museum that amazed me was the crypt. Down below Soane had a large variety of sculptures and other fascinating objects. Perhaps the most intriguing was the Sepulchral Chamber which featured the sarcophagus of King Seti I who ruled Egypt from 1303-1290 BC. Soane purchased the Sarcophagus from Giovanni Belzoni in 1824 outbidding the British museum and adding just another piece of history to his already vastly historical collection. 

After completing my tour of Sir John’s humble abode I was struck by the sheer amount of objects Soane had in his home. In certain parts of the house there was almost no room  to move around because there were so many things hanging on the walls. I can’t imagine anyone today keeping all of that fortune sitting around in their home. It would be stolen in a heartbeat. I also can’t imagine obtaining the sheer number of sculptures, paintings and trinkets that Soane had lying within. 


On Thursday night our class saw a performance of the Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre. Based off of a true story the play focuses on the life of four miners and how their lives are transformed through their appreciation of art. What’s significant about the Pitmen Painters is that they have next to no material possessions, are some of the most simple minded fellows on the planet and are unable to think in the abstract. The catch is that they are content with their lives for the most part. They don’t need much else. 

It’s funny how everyone’s definition of wealth is relative. When Oliver, one of the Pitmen Painters, started to appreciate art a whole new world was opened up to him and his life felt that much more expansive. The Pitmen Painters had a chance to go to London and upon coming back they saw that there was more out there than their little world in the mines.  I wonder what Sir John Soane would do if  the reverse happened and he had to spend a some time in the life of a Pitmen Painter? Somehow I think Soane would be a little bit thrown off. When you have the ability to get anything you want whenever you want it makes it hard to take a step back and take life as it comes to you. 

But is it?

To connect this to William Shakespeare’s As You Like It (which we saw at the globe theatre on Thursday) i’d like to point out the example of  Duke Senior who is usurped from his thrown and sent to the countryside where he forms his own court. Duke Senior is immediately thrown from a life of wealth and power into one of simplicity yet he seems to react completely unfazed. As we observe his actions throughout the play it actually seems that he enjoys the simplicity of  country life a bit more. He welcomes in Orlando and Adam when they have nearly perished from starvation even though he does not have the unlimited supply of food to offer that he would have had as Duke.


So…drawing from these three examples found right here in London I am about to get deeply philosophical. What is it we desire as students, with our  Dickinson education that costs us thousands of dollars? Do we wish to live a life where material possessions run our lives and collecting antiques becomes simply a hobby? Or do we wish to live a life of simplicity where all that matters is what is immediately around us? I’m guessing most people will fall in the middle somewhere. We have made the choice to take this year to learn and be immersed in another culture. Even though the majority of people in England speak the same language as us we have already realized that there are vast cultural differences here beyond our wildest dreams.  At the end of this trip we will have expanded our horizons and seen things that we’ve never had the opportunity to see before. That is a given. The key is what we take from these experiences. If there’s one thing i’ve learned from London so far it’s that things can change in a heartbeat here. It may be something as simple the weather, or something as vast as a new ethnic community moving into the east end. I hate to get cliche here but I think we can view London as a metaphor for life. There may be times where we find ourselves in Duke Senior’s situation where everything we thought was ours is completely taken away and we’re forced to adapt. Perhaps we’ll be faced with a life changing revelation like the Pitmen Painters when they discover art? Maybe we’ll even have the chance to live like Sir John Soane? All I know is that I am going to take in all I can of London in these next four days. Who knows what else can be found?

Tags: Henry · Museums · Theatre

A Marxist View of the Pitmen Painters

September 11th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Yesterday we all went to the Pitmen Painters at the National Theater. I greatly enjoyed the show however I found it sad, yet sadly true. The story is about five Pitmen who are able to take an art appreciation class thanks to the WEA (workers education association). Their teacher, Mr Lyons, soon realizes that the Pitmen know nothing about art and decides to have them learn through painting their own works. As the Pitmen progress they catch the eye of heiress  and art enthusiast Helen Sutherland. Helen buys some of their paintings and is at first astounded by the honesty in their works. She also attempts to pay Oliver, one of the pitmen, a weekly wage so he can paint without the interference of his pitmen work. Eventually Helen grows bored with Oliver’s work and moves on.

Helen claims that she and Oliver met across the boundaries of class, but I really find this to be untrue. I think that Helen only appreciated the Pitmen’s art because it was a commodity for her. She wanted to OWN Oliver and his work like she would any other commodity. And just like with any other commodity she soon grows bored with him and moves on to other more trendy things.

During the scene of the Pitmen’s first art show everyone, including Lyons, is refering to the Pitmen as Pitmen who can paint, rather than as individual artists. The only reason the Pitmen became popular was because they were working class not because they were talented (though they were). Lyons was selling the work of these working class men by making the fact that they were working class a commodity, and therefore made them a novelty. In a way, he advertised them like monkeys in a cage at the zoo or as some sort of side show act “come see the Pitmen Painters! Have you ever seen anything like them? See the working class does have talent! Unbelievable! Anyone can paint!” And of course the public gets tired of the same circus act and they move on. So, the Pitmen are left the way they were before. Lyons left them, Helen left them, and their popularity left them.

I also feel that Lyons used the Pitmen for his own gain, almost like “look what I got these monkeys to do! I could teach anyone, why don’t you hire me?” At one point in the play Oliver asks Lyons “why can’t I live like this? Why couldn’t this be me?” he also says “we are both mediocre artists, why can I be in the place you are?” (Note: not direct quotations, but something very similar) And the reason is of course class. The bourgeoisie is forever exploiting the proletariat, and the proletariat is forever being held down by the bourgeoisie. It is only after the painting class that Oliver is finally able to eliminate his false consciousness and see what was going on the whole time, just to be put back in the same place he was before when Lyons says “well if you want the world to change, you will have to change it.” I love Marxism but I don’t think that the proletariat has the resources to overthrow the bourgeoisie, because part of what makes the proletariat the proletariat is their false consciousness and their inability to get past the glass ceiling. In order for the proletariat to aquire such knowledge would be for them to rise into the bourgeo themselves, which would not stop the problem but rather perpetuate it. This is would be impossible in a place like Britain in the 1930s, where and when the class devisions where so impossibly strong, and as they still are to some extent.

Tags: Rebecca

Shakespeare and Hall: A Look at Rural England

September 11th, 2009 · No Comments

Having viewed both Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Mr. Lee Hall’s new play, The Pitmen Painters within three hours of each other it is hard not to compare the two. At first glance they seem wildly different. Shakespeare’s comedy is about courtiers pretending to be poor, while Pitmen focuses on members of the lower class themselves. One is set in 17th century France, and the other in World War II England, and not any England, but in Ashington, a small suburb of Newcastle in the dreary northern region of Northumberland. One focuses on the trials and tribulations of Love, while the other is a poignant look at stereotypes and one’s duty to oneself.

In short, they are describing two very different types of England. Yes, As You Like It is set in France, but that was simply Shakespeare’s way around censorship laws. He describes an idealistic England, filled with courtly love and beautiful scenery. He portrays the rural working class as idiots without a whole brain between them. Indeed, that is the way Shakespeare usually describes the lower classes. His plays usually feature courtiers of some kind, and the poor are usually treated as comic relief, if not with outright contempt. This is rather ironic considering his audience was mostly the working class of London, though since his patronage came from the court, perhaps not entirely surprising.

It is almost the exact opposite with Hall. He chooses to glorify the common man, while members of the upper class come off looking silly, or just plain sad. I took the character of Mr. Lyon as rather a fool. He couldn’t really see art until he saw it through the eyes of the uneducated pitmen, and when he left to be a professor he lost any sense of artistic discernment, or even humanity, that he had left. He became a shell of a man creating mediocre art. It seemed to me that he learned nothing from his time in Ashington, except that he could never see things as clearly as Oliver, so he ran away and hid behind his books. The pitmen, on the other hand, are the ones that can truly understand the meaning of art. These men who stopped school at ten, who spend day upon day deep in the ground outshone someone who spent his life studying art. Mr. Hall breaks down the stereotypes of modern England. As with Billy Elliot, the underprivileged prove themselves to be more than just hard laborers and thugs. A lot of Hall’s own history went into the writing of his two most well known plays. He was from a small mining town in Northumberland. Instead of wanting to paint or dance, he wanted to write, something that was frowned upon. He overcame the judgments of his friends and family, and the challenges set forth by society, and he is now a successful playwright. Like the author, the pitmen become a huge success, despite the hardships that accompany the journey.

I think it was very eye-opening to have viewed these two shows back to back as I did. Though they are divided by stretches of time and different subject matters, it was interesting to see the ways different playwrights interpret English life. Shakespeare’s portrayal of rural life as happy-go-lucky is a stark contrast to the gloom of Hall’s mining town. They were both excellently done performances, and as such they left me considering the way in which I perceive English culture as a whole.

Tags: Campbell

The Will and Courage to Change Yourself

September 11th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Let me begin by saying that Pitmen Painters was the best play I have seen thus far.  It seemed to me that almost everyone enjoyed the play quite a bit.  Pitmen Painters was full of passion, philosophy and humor.  However, it was the passion and philosophy which truly captured me during the play.

The socialist overtones were quite apparent throughout the play, but I’m not entirely sure if it was a glorification of socialism.  It’s true that Oliver turned down the stipend and instead decided to continue working in the mine; an obvious case of promoting the proletariat.  However, what comes of his actions?  Instead of having a much different life, Oliver (and the rest of the miners) doesn’t seem to grow, either artistically, which Helen points out, or personally.  The miners latch on to the socialist movement hoping for change, but that change never came as was pointed out by the projector screen at the end of the play.

So what is there to show for in the end?  Quite a bit in my opinion.  The play was not a promotion of socialism, art or even the Pitmen Painters.  It was both a warning and revelation about change.  The play wanted to make clear to the viewer that a person cannot expect to latch on to an ideology and expect to be saved.  Ideologies are merely abstract concepts of the world at a particular moment in time.  They cannot be true because the world (and us as human beings) is constantly in flux.  True change, personal rebirth, transcending yourself or whatever you want to call it can only come from within and without the help of false idols or flawed ideologies.  To say that Oliver would have sold out by accepting the stipend is simply not true.

In the end, each of the Pitmen Painters sold out by rejecting the opportunity for personal change.  Oliver, the rest of the miners and the dentist all decided to join the socialist movement, placing the opportunity for change in someone else’s hands.  The unemployed man decided to join the war effort not because he really wanted to, but because he was convinced by recruiters that it could fulfill something missing in his life (probably the “honor” of having a job at last and being part of something “important/larger than oneself”).  In both cases, each character, instead of looking within themselves to find what they truly wanted from life, decided to look outwards for something they thought could fill that meaning.  Though their lives were tragic and their dreams left unfulfilled, the play and the characters in it is a message to the viewers that change is possible only if you have the will and courage to make it so.

Tags: Andrew F

If You Give a Miner a Paintbrush…

September 10th, 2009 · No Comments

So I am quite sure I was not the only one that was moved by The Pitmen Painters tonight. I must admit, this was the performance I was least looking forward to, and it was the one I enjoyed and was touched by the most. I guess it was because, first of all, it struck close to home. My great grandfathers on my father’s side of the family both were coal miners and it just gave me so much pride in my family. My father was the first person on his side of the family to attend college, my sister and I being the next, so I have a strong appreciation and respect for those who earn their living by hand.  I also appreciated this play because it featured the working class.

I am a social historian at heart, so to watch this play was truly a treat and a learning experience. The scene that stuck out to me the most was when Oliver was talking with Miss Sutherland about his refusal to her offer. It reminded me a bit of Great Expectations and Joe. I thought of the conversation Pip and Joe had where Joe, even though he has the capacity to perhaps achieve greater things, decides he is satisfied with his honest way of living and would not change it. Pip of course did not understand why one would want to do that, just like Miss Sutherland had the same sort of reaction. In the play, Oliver says something that miners and painters just don’t mix. They are from two different worlds and they both speak two different languages, he would never be able to fit in. At first, I remember thinking, I really hope he takes this offer because he was an incredible artist. Then, when I saw the opening of the scene and he sat there waiting to tell her the answer, I just thought in my mind, don’t say yes. I don’t really know why I thought that, but I guess I knew too, like he did, that sometimes two different social scenes just cannot mix. In the end though, he was still proud of the work he did and who he was, and that was what was important.

I thought this was an excellent final play to end our time in London because it kind of brought together all of the central themes we had been discussing. From the ever popular juxtapositioning to class structure to identity. The moral of the story is to just be proud of where you come from, like we had learned with Dickens and other authors, and tonight I was definitely proud of my heritage.

Tags: Alli · readings