Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Angelico Anglo Adventure - Thomas and Bertie

Thomas, you understand, represents gunzelling. After all, most gunzels since the 1980s have grown up on Rev Awdry's books (or at least the TV derivatives) and they answer all the basic questions like what a set of points does. But Bertie, in this case, isn't a bus but a Wooster. More of him later. Yes, much more. Foine, foine, foine.

So today the humans got up and got going at a decent hour for a day's gunzelling - that is, earlier than they have for the rest of this holiday trip. After wasting a considerable amount of time focusing their attention on food and clothes, they headed off. In two different directions! Asha went for the Shakespeare Globe theatre and Kensington Gardens, but she had a very frustrating day because she couldn't get in to either of them and wasted a lot of time waiting for buses and trains, which I wouldn't have minded (as long as there was a station to study, or something) but when you have something else in mind even studying foreign railway infrastructure just doesn't satisfy. So let's skip over that and talk about the day Midga and I had.

We started by putting a few quiddages onto his Oyster card, we knew it was going to get a work-out today. Then it was off to Kings Cross St Pancras, which on the tube is one station with exits on both sides of the road (ie one to each station). Poor Gordon was so close when he went to London and said it was "all wrong". Anyone who's played Scotland Yard will remember stop 13 with tube connections to anywhere at all. Incidentally we're going to have to have another go at that game now.

St Pancras is, of course, St Pancras International. And it really feels like an international airport! The shops are all up-market (one which is still under construction advertises itself London's oldest bookshop, which is puzzling). International and long distance trains are upstairs, and the Overground and short distance are downstairs. A double decker station, why not?

We took a Class 319 EMU to Farringdon. It's very much like a Sprinter (the trains on the Buxton line) on the outside, but the inside is more for short distance trips. When we got off we noticed Farringdon has 25kV AC overhead and 750V DV third rail on same tracks. That's good to know, like the combination of light rail and O-bahn.

Back we went, and this time visited King's Cross - London terminus of the Flying Scotsman. Today it's a nice mix of old and new - classic brickwork walls and a modern sculpted roof with blue light projected onto it. A footbridge connects the main platforms and it also goes through the wall to the section where local trains run from.

Ask me how they keep pigeons out of the station! Sometimes natural methods are the best, they say. In this case it's the most effective I've seen. Wait for it - they have an official Network Rail raptor handler, who parades a real live hawk around the station to frighten them away. There were exactly 0 pigeons at King's Cross today, giving the bird of prey method a distinct edge over the Caulfield spikes and the Box Hill netting.

Eventually we made our way back to the tube to visit Euston. Actually from King's Cross St Pancras you can't get to Euston itself, you can get to Euston Square which is about 400m away. It's just the wrong distance, not far enough to take a train between them but not close enough to call it part of the same station.

Euston itself is very grubby by comparison with the other two, the platform section has low ceilings and poor lighting. The concourse is nice and open though. Interestingly it still has what looks like a motorail dock, but by the look of it I reckon it's only used for getting freight into station.

By then it was time to head off for Leicester Square, because we're seeing Jeeves and Wooster today! Should I break that out into a new post? Nah why bother, you get a mega post today!

I was a little apprehensive to be honest, because the charm of the books is Bertie's inimitable narrative style, and the contrast between the way the events really happen (which the readers work out for themselves) and the way Bertie sees them. The TV series misses this completely, by telling the story from an external point of view, not Bertie's. But this stage version was great. It existed as a sort of play within a dinner party narrative - it opened with Bertie telling us how Bingo Little had loved the story and suggested he do it on stage, and then saying "I've seen lots of theatre, acting seems pretty easy so here goes!"

The story line was the one about Totleigh Towers and the cow creamer - is that Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit? Or Right Ho Jeeves? I shall have to research this question, woe is me. All the roles in the inner play were played by three guys - in the outer dinner party they were Bertie, Jeeves and Seppings. That was good - it meant they didn't have to find an actress who could do justice to the role of Aunt Dahlia (red face, massive bulk, massive voice, genial nature, breezy manner and love of the use of blackmail to bend nephews to her will) or drag any supermodels away from Hollywood at enormous salaries to play Madeline Bassett. Plus, it meant the petite Stiffy Byng was taller than Bertie, and whenever Roderick Spode entered there was quite a business of Seppings climbing up onto a wheeled truck (Fessick and the holocaust cloak, anyone?) and operating a dummy colossus figure like a glove puppet.

The narrative was shortened somewhat, to get it into a two hour theatre slot. But that gave the authors an opportunity to exchange the policeman's-helmet-out-the-window gag with handing the bally thing to an audience member in the front row. We had bought cheap seats in the crick-neck area, which was a shame for Asha who could see about a third of the action, but great for Midga who got to handle one of the props of a professional London show. He had Asha's Tyrolean hat in his other hand, and had to be very careful to give the right one back when Jeeves came in with his magic wand at the end of the show.

Technically, the show was quite brilliant. The stage was fairly bare at the beginning, with Bertie in his easy chair and not much else. Then there was a noise of hammering off stage and Jeeves rolls in the wall of Bertie's drawing room and says "I thought it might lend colour to your narrative, sir" and Bertie says "I say, Jeeves, did you just whip that up now? That's amazing!" The actor playing Bertie had a grin just like Andy Payne, and I thought he suited the role perfectly.

Later in the show Jeeves brings out a bike with its back wheel propped up, and pedals it as the stage rotates! Bertie acts all confused of course, "I can't find the door Jeeves, where have you put it?"

Changing costumes is done cleverly each time. To play Madeline, Jeeves takes a moment to panic, then snatches a lamp shade off a lamp to be her hat and a curtain off a window for a skirt and speaks falsetto. When Stiffy springs her trap on Uncle Watkin and he summons her to tell her not to marry Bertie, Jeeves comes out in a half-and-half costume (Seppings is playing Sir Watkin's butler Butterfield at the time) and has a dialogue with himself.

I think it can probably be summed up as being a show full of the performers' inner Bugs Bunny - in other words, a great one. I think even non-Wodehouse fans would appreciate it.

After the show we wandered around Leicester Square for a bit (looking for food as usual) and then started heading for Aldgate - there's another dancing lesson on tonight. The way to Aldgate was via Euston, which Midga and I enjoyed but Asha formed the opinion that if she never saw another tube station in her life she wouldn't mind. The narrow twisting passages all alike and pressing crowds in peak time aren't the best environment to be in when you've already done 20km of walking that day and have a broken toe. But that mood passed when we got to the dancing class, because they were teaching something called a "Swing Out". Apparently that's something both my humans have been waiting for. To me it just looked like bodies bouncing around the stage and arms and legs jerking in random directions. No wonder Asha had her feet on Midga's lap (where I usually sit) on the tube on the way home.

Tomorrow we fly home.

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